Monday, March 22, 2004

How can you get management at an old-fashioned small-town newspaper to engage in dialog?

Fri: it's up, and as coherent as it's likely to get. See March 26 post.
Wed: still no time, and still waiting for clarification, and mind is elsewhere.
Tuesday update: Got permission, but no time, and some things are unresolved. Not tonight.

[Mon.] Evening update: Union editor Richard Somerville has responded; I've asked for permission to post his email in or near its entirety. Also today Jim Hurleyexpresses much the same reaction as mine to the pre-election editorial, although his points are better.

Jay Rosen had an essay in PressThink last week in which he wrote on how rightwing blogger Patterico's automatic negative assumptions about the LA Times were not borne out ("He e-mailed what he knew about news the paper had missed, alerting it: you have a problem of fairness here...")

Sadly, there's a contrast between what Patterico experienced and what some of us have encountered lately from our local newspaper, The Union. Here's what happened with all the people I know who've had dealings with the paper in about the last five weeks:
  1. Upon reading (on Feb. 12) that Grass Valley had approved a request to cut down the city's historic Giant Sequoia, Mahlon and Bobbi Wilkes submitted (on Feb. 17) an Other Voices column opposing this decision, extolling the history and significance of the tree ("...the sequoia on Neal Street appears to be surpassed in size by only one other planted sequoia in the world, one growing near Madrid..."). Unfortunately, however, "The Union held [the article] for two and a half weeks after we submitted it -- until the tree was cut down (March 2) -- before deigning to publish it." (March 5) and "No, we heard nothing [from The Union, after sending them the article] until it was published".

  2. One person submitted a letter which got published without incident.

  3. Another person sent a letter, via The Union's "letters submission" webpage, before the announced deadline for pre-election letters, but his letter was neither acknowledged nor published. From subsequent correspondence:
    [Submitter asks what happened:]
    I thought your policy was to run all the letters. Anyway, is there some particular reason mine didn't run?

    [The Union's representative responds:]
    We always call to verify the letters before we put them into the paper. If not, we might not have received it...

    [Submitter persists:]
    Is there anyway to tell if the letter got there? Or, if one shouldn't submit over the internet? I'd be a [lot] more comfortable if I knew someone didn't zap the letter because they disagreed.

    [as of six days later, no reply from newspaper representative]
  4. After the publication - three days before the election - of an (unfair and misleading, in my opinion) editorial (post about it, including text of my email with questions, here), I sent a total of four emails over two weeks, from two separate email accounts, to Union publisher Jeff Ackerman asking for progressively less and less explanation (final one: "Please acknowledge that you have received this and the previous emails - for ex. by replying with just an ACK in the subject line, if you don't want to engage in that I can know that you have received them."); Mr. Ackerman did not acknowledge any of these emails. (Editor Richard Somerville did reply to the email I sent him, but did not answer any of my questions.)

    (For background on the editorial - please follow the links and judge for yourself if [what I find to be] the most egregious section ("...Olivia Diaz's recent mailer misuses partial quotes by her opponent, Nate Beason...") seems fair and reasonable to you:
    Here's a representative sample Beason column, responding to these columns by Larry Shumaker and Hank Starr. If you want more details and links on difference between candidate now and pre-candidate then, see the Straight Talk post)

    I'd really like to get responses from The Union's editorial board as to what they think the ground rules for a fair campaign should be - particularly on this:
    When a candidate does grossly misrepresent himself in an attempt to fool the voters, who has the responsibility to bring this to light, and how? Or is it always wrong to, in Olivia Diaz's words, "let people know what the other guy is doing"?

    Anybody have ideas as to how I could get answers? If they were interested in fostering a constructive community dialog, wouldn't "what's ethical and fair in campaigning for and holding public office" be an extraordinarily valuable topic for discussion?

The Union is owned by Swift Newspapers. From the Swift Newspapers website:
With commitment to integrity
We bring light to truth
Excellence to endeavor
And strength to community
How do we get our newspaper to be like that?

I will be emailing Union publisher Jeff Ackerman and editor Richard Somerville alerting them to this post, and I hope to update it with their responses. I don't want to be unfair or to slam them; I do want Nevada County to get a newspaper that's a constructive and civilizing influence on our community, and while The Union has improved a lot in the last year or so, it isn't quite there yet.

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