Thursday, March 03, 2005

'Continuing" might not be the best strategy

Updated March 6,8; updates in italics.

From The Union article introducing its new editor, Pat Butler:
"I want the newspaper and to continue to be relevant, timely, informative and interesting."
Um, yeah. Maybe he doesn't know what else the newspaper has been. Fear not, NCFocus is here to help:

(When we look, we see a pattern. Do you?)
  • Likely county health hazards (asbestos in road gravel and serpentine areas, extensive foothill water well contamination) covered in the Bee, but not The Union

  • (here and here) Sympathetic, "kid-glove" handling of the perp in Weismann (property rights activist) murder-for-hire case:
    • Keeping silent about his increasingly revealing letters to the editor (including the one that the Archive Search is failing to bring up)
    • Printing gratuitous negative information about both the whistleblower and the intended victim; then arguing that this coverage was ok, because they had both declined to talk to a reporter (the case was awaiting trial at the time)

  • In run-up to Nov 2002 election:
    • No support for quality county government (knocking Ted Gaebler) - we got a world-class county administrator, but The Union gave him no support whatsoever when the local right wing attacked him; publisher joined in.
    • (Same URL) Declined to provide space in the paper to expose important information (intent of right wing candidates to remove Gaebler) during run-up to this crucial election, which was decided by 19 votes.
    • Didn't expose sender of pseudonymous "Bob Finch" mailer (which purported to be from a campaign that didn't actually send it); did censure those who did (here)
    • Interpreted the resulting "why aren't you covering this?" chorus from readers as a "conspiracy" *
      which falls into Ralph Nader territory. From Timothy Burke, April 5 2004(?):
      I see Ralph Nader has been popping up in the media expressing bewilderment at the vehemence that his candidacy raises among its critics. Reacting in particular to the similarity in the many letters he received from friends and admirers begging him not to run, he says, "It's a virus", saying there could be no other explanation for the similarity between the appeals. No, Ralph. When everyone disagrees with you in the same terms, it's not a virus. It just means everyone sees the same thing. Generally, the only people who conclude in the face of that kind of mass concord that they themselves must be right and everyone else must be wrong are narcissists, paranoids or the Son of God. Take your pick.

      *This might not be entirely fair; for all I know, some (but not all) letters could have come from a letter writing campaign. (I don't know; if there was one, I didn't hear about it.)

  • In runup to Spring 2004 election:
    • (here) Didn't expose stealth candidate; did censure those who tried to.
    • (here) Multiple non-reality-based claims about communications with readers

  • In runup to Fall 2004 election:
    • Smeared progressive candidate. From here ("charges of smear don't change truth"): "The Union will continue to press for a full accounting of every dollar of the 508k spent on the North Star House project." - but, when the accounting report showed no wrongdoing, this finding was buried on the back page (here)
    • Letters from appalled readers were (perhaps inadvertently) obscured and used to silence support for progressive candidates.
    • No pre-election coverage of "Doolittle machine" encroaching onto Sierra College board (result)

  • Gratuitous name-calling and divisiveness (here)

  • Threatening/insulting email in response to criticisms (e.g. with Haute Trash and with Stuckey)

  • Publisher shows a curious sense of what's fair and what is worth mentioning (it seems threats of violence are not)

  • and more...

All of the above is accurate to the best of our belief. Please report any errors or omissions.

"The second time you get kicked in the head by a mule, it is not a learning experience."
The NCFocus staff is a bit slow; we know our concerns quoted in this column last summer are relevant, but we don't know whether to frame them as naivete or prescience.
Added Mar. 8:
Here's a part of the email that wasn't quoted in the column:
Years ago ...[new division head showed her true colors by actions large and small]...later a company representative asked us, "how can she act in future in order to regain your trust?" The answer was, basically, she couldn't. By then we knew who she was. No matter how she acted in the future, unless she repudiated her actions of the past explicitly and sincerely, we'd always be expecting it to happen again.
And I don't think this was an unrealistic expectation.
Maybe we should have read our own email.

-40- *

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