Friday, March 30, 2007

Reports of arrogance and censorship at The Union

I'm hearing that The Union management has been engaging in questionable and high-handed treatment of readers who've submitted letters or columns with unwelcome content*.

Request to readers: if you have experienced this, could you write up a short account of your experience, and add it in the Comments to this post? It is your community's paper, after all.

Alternatively, if you're reluctant to do this for any reason, could you instead post a comment explaining why? Pseudonyms are welcome; ad hominems aren't (so please, phrase your comment as an "I message" to the extent possible)

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine anything more exhausting than trying to police a community newspaper for what's "permissble" and what is not and why would you do this? Ok, no obscenity, no nonsensical rants (though I like both of these myself)...got it but after this, why not let it happen as it happens? Why not let the voice of the community OUT thereby increasing diversity of opinion,
sparking community dialogue, and (uh oh, here it comes) even holding folks in public positions accountable. Last I checked, upholding "democracy" is one of the functions of "journalism" but is the Union more like the gatekeeper? No free flow. Close and open the gates based on....what?? Whose telling them when to close and open the gates?

I know of one story squelched by the union regarding total mismanagement of a public agency here in town. It is commonly known in the community and has even gone to the Grand Jury.The Union even had a reporter on the story, tons of people interviewed and...IT'S NEVER RUN. Gee, why not?

What is The Union afraid of exactly? Democracy? Advertisers?
Truth?

Anonymous said...

The Sentinel is a good little newspaper for its size and has alot of diverse opinion. It also dedicates tons of space to, well, articles. It is out of Auburn. One big fat fact probably contributing to its being a decent little newspaper---it's locally owned and operated. No corporate offices in Reno to answer to.

Check it out if nothing else to compare back to the Union.

Milt

zoee2102 said...

I sent in a letter to the Editor of The Union about a week before another reader's letter on the same topic, and had received a phonecall to confirm my letter. Granted, that phone message got deleted, and I didn't know the name of the person who called, so I called The Union twice and left messages to confirm. Finally, I emailed them to confirm my letter and see if it would be printed. I received a response that stated: since they had published another reader's letter, they would not print mine. Also, they noted that it was 30 words over and I would need to shorten it, anyway. I, being at work, quickly sent off a one-line response, which I admit was sarcastic, but not without truth. I stated: "I guess you received your quota of unhappy reader's letters for the week. I will shorten it and re-send." A few hours later, I received a very hostile phonecall from Jeff Pelline, the Editor of The Union. He called me at work, and admonished me for my sarcastic response. He also implied that since I am not a subscriber (I allowed my subscription to lapse many years ago, after months of irregular deliveries, and unfortunately have been negligent in paying the final balance due, his exact description was "delinquent subscriber"), that I should be grateful that my letters are ever published. I have had many letters published, and have usually had very good communications with the people I have dealt with at The Union. Until now. I had been contemplating renewing my subscription, but I will not be doing so. Mr. Pelline arrogantly reprimanded me repeatedly. He also said in defense of his paper not running a story or a relevant picture of the Peace March, that "not all newspapers run stories on "staged events", and that "pictures of people carrying signs is retro" and somehow not relevant.


In the spirit of Freedom of Speech, here is my original letter:

Unless you happened to be shopping in downtown Grass Valley last Saturday, you probably didn't know that there was a Peace March taking place. Unless you were one of the estimated 350 Nevada County citizens taking part, you probably didn't hear about it. Our local paper of record barely mentioned it beforehand, although many people informed them of the upcoming march. Come Monday morning, somewhere inside the paper, you might have seen a small picture of two lovely Peace Center representatives, under the headline "War protesters march through Grass Valley". The caption stated "Elizabeth Ormond, left, and Jo Wamser volunteer at the Peace Center of Nevada County Saturday afternoon at St. Joseph's Cultural Center in Grass Valley." Not only does that sentence not make sense, as they were selling Peace Center items during the Peace event program at St. Josephs, but there was no mention of the actual Peace March. Compare this to Sunday's Auburn Journal front page story and pictures of their considerably smaller (est. 80 people) march. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that March 19th marked a sad milestone. Four years ago Monday, President Bush began his shock and awe campaign against the Iraqi people. Last weekend people all over the world held protests to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, and all we got was a one line blurb. Where was The Union?

DC

Anonymous said...

Shortly after March 9 and reading Mr. Eubanks column on thinning, I began to compose a freelance column in reply to this column. I am a freelance writer.

I spent 4 hours composing it including rechecking literature citations for accuracy.

I submitted it to The Onion, er, I mean The Union, and Trina Kliest contacted me that they would only publish it as an "Other Voices." It was too long for an Other Voices column and would need to be shortened. Fair. Ok. But then she asked me to change it significantly by summarizing the scientific information only, something impossible to do in 750 words. If you read my column, one pillar of my whole argument is "fire clearing" is also politically motivated. This is where the money is right now from the gov't agencies. I have had NUMEROUS agency people, many my friends, tell me this and even some foresters who are getting these contracts. The whole clearing thing is not so much about public safety (if it was, we would be doing a hellava lot more than whacking manzanitas down, trust me), it about MONEY and FUNDING.

Anyway, Trina only wanted me to summarize the science, in 750 words, leaving everything else out.

Trina needs to write her own column.

I told her I thought is was called "OTHER" Voices, not "Trina's voice" or "Jeff's Voice." OTHER voices...right?

Perhaps the greatest irony is THe Union basically does not do investigative journalism. They do not really pick up the phone and look into much so how ironic that they were asking me to summarize the science...when they could DO THIS themselves. They ARE a newspaper, right?

Thank you

Virginia Moran
www.ecooutreach.com

Anonymous said...

One last point I did not make:
Pat Butler ran everything I ever sent in without editing one word.
Not one word.

He may have shortened it or suggest changes in format, but he never ever asked me to change one word.

We miss you Pat.

VSM

zoee2102 said...

"Most papers don't run every letter they receive, as I explained. We run practically every letter. But we reserve the right to run letters to the editor. We are a business; we are not a public trust.", a quote from the Editor of The Union.

zoee2102 said...

Joseph Pulitzer's words in The North American Review: "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together . . . A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself."

What Pulitzer was saying is that journalism is more than just a way to make money or provide entertainment. It serves a public trust. Effective popular government, he had written, depended upon a "disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it."

Before television and the Internet, not all of journalism was public-spirited, and cynics and mercenaries were easy to find. But in the many decades in which the press was privately owned, an ethic had developed: Journalism existed to serve the people. Often this was disregarded, but nonetheless journalists came to think of themselves as a Fourth Estate, independent of public or private power centers. Their mission was disclosure; their canon, objectivity; their discipline, verification; their credo, the people's right to know.

Newspaper of record
From Wikipedia,

A "newspaper of record" is a colloquial term that generally refers to a newspaper that meets at least one of two criteria:

high standards of journalism, the articles of which establish a definitive record of current events, for use by future scholars, and/or
compliance with the legal requirements necessary to be recognized by the government as permitted to carry public or legal notices and have the notices be recognized as being made public by publication in that newspaper. Newspapers qualifying under this provision are sometimes also referred to as a newspaper of public record.
In its more common meaning, a newspaper of record is generally any public newspaper that has a large circulation and whose editorial and news-gathering functions are considered professional and typically unbiased.

The Editor of the Union believes that The Union is not a "public trust", but a business. I guess if he says it, then it's true.

Anonymous said...

Since Anna didn't contact me to get the "other side" regarding her blog I'll set the record straight.

Our rules for posting letters and Other Voices in print are straightforward:

1. Letters to the Editor are limited to 200 words
2. Other Voices are limited to 750 words.

We reserve the right to edit letters and Other Voices for clarity or space.

We publish nearly every letter received. In the case of Donna's letter and Virginia's Other Voices, the articles were too long. We invited them to resubmit shorter versions. They chose not to.

You are welcome to post unfiltered comments, letters or opinion pieces anytime on our new Web site.

As to the issue of a paper being a business with a public trust, I invite anyone to read the column I wrote about the topic:
http://www.theunion.com/article/20061028/OPINION/110280116&SearchID=73276554584975

I know of no stories squelched by the paper regarding mismanagement of a public agency.

In fact, our watchdog role of public agencies has been aggressive, including stories about "double dipping," conflicts of interest, and scrutiny of public salaries, etc.

-Jeff Pelline

Anonymous said...

I hate TheUnion.com's new format. It is hard to navigate, especially with different sections looping before my eyes, against my will: Sports, Business, ads, ads, ads ....
THIS CAMOFLAGES A CHANGE OF POLICY. They had always printed all Letters to the Editor, without editing, and there were several new ones every day. Now look at the dates: Only one or two or none a day until you get down to a couple of weeks ago. They must be getting a bunch they are not printing.
What criterion are they using to select? A clue: They recently printed a headline about the huge peace march through Grass Valley -- over NO STORY! Like it was KILLED. They left a picture, but not of the march, just of a couple of Peace Center people at a table after the march.
The last time I submitted a letter, they edited it -- just minor stuff such as spelling out what I had decided to abbreviate and vice versa, putting quotes in the wrong place -- silly stuff that was none of their business to decide. Why reset it when they can copy and paste?
We are getting censored. Omission is the easiest technique of propaganda.

Anonymous said...

This is too difficult. I wrote a long comment, copied the squiggle letters three times, signed Anonomous rather than taking time to sign up for a Google account, and my comment blanked out!

Anonymous said...

Milt et al.,
To set the record straight, The Auburn Journal is owned by Brehm Communications of San Diego.

http://www.brehmcommunications.com/

-Jeff P.

zoee2102 said...

In my defense, and in the defense of her freedom of speech, a friend wrote a very nice letter to Dixie Redfern at The Union. In her reply, Dixie mentioned me by name, and described the status of my account at The Union. Since the other day when Jeff P. threw it in my face during our phone conversation, I've been confused and pissed off. The fact is that about three years ago, I had a subscription, was very unhappy with the unreliable delivery (one day it would come, the next...not so much), and cancelled (or it just stopped arriving at all) said subscription. Some time later, during a difficult time in my life, I had to move, and I guess the fact that I had a past due balance with The Union was not the most important thing on my agenda. Since my move, I have not received any notice, and had completely forgotten the matter, not maliciously (which would indeed bring into question my character, as Dixie mentioned), but out of being forgetful during a rough patch, and having no reminders since, that I can recall. I'm pissed off because I don't usually make it a habit to not pay my bills. But if that's how we are to judge a person's character, then I'd like to point out that The President of the United States has put this country into debt with his tax relief for the rich, and his endless war.
I'm also confused because a conversation about my letter, which may have been slightly over the maximum, or was not being published because they already printed a similar one, turned into a personal attack. The pen is supposedly mightier than the sword, and I believe that. My only weapon is my voice, the only way I can lift my voice is through the written word. Be it during a "retro" peace march, carrying signs, or letters to the editor, our voices have strength. Obviously, Mr. Pelline, and the others at The Union, have been feeling the power of our voices, as they have begun fighting back the only way they know how; by censoring, or personally attacking their opponents. During my conversation with Mr. Pelline, I apologized for sounding sarcastic; I'm not usually snotty. However, I hold dear my right to freedom of speech, and when someone tries to silence me, I feel held back and helpless. My comeback to the probably very nice person on the other end of the email, was quick and to the point. "You must've reached your quota of unhappy reader's letters". Sarcastic words, but not meant personally, as was the attack on my character. Jeff insists that if I only follow the rules, and shorten my original letter, then they might still publish it. Since I had been told that they chose to only run one letter on the topic (the lack of coverage of the Peace March), I took that to mean that they would probably not run mine, so I didn't re-submit it. I will continue to submit letters, as well as leave comments on the Union online. I won't be stifled.

Anonymous said...

I think if you read the comment, "Milt" was talking about The Sentinel, not the Auburn Journal and the Sentinel is locally owned and operated. I know this because it says this on the top of the newspaper.

Check your facts sir. This could explain problems at the Union....

Anonymous said...

nobody is being "censored" or "attacked." we're just asking that people adhere to some simple rules -- for writing letters for print and/or subscribing to the print paper. follow the rules and you get published, or you get the paper delivered to your home. it's that simple — as long as you accept that rules exist.

Anonymous said...

last post was from JeffP

Anna said...

Whew.

Thanks Jeff P for taking credit for your anon. comment - I wish all commenters would do likewise.

But Jeff, regarding the implicit putdown in your
"Since Anna didn't contact me to get the "other side" regarding her blog I'll set the record straight." -
a) thanks for clarifying your policies, although it sounds like you might want to clarify them with your staff also;
and
b) although I feel pretty silly stooping to schoolyard squabbling, please recall that you had asked me not to communicate with you about anything regarding the paper, and AFAIK your paper's Readership Editor doesn't speak on the record.
(all the same, i should have emailed her to notify her that this was going on, so she could let you know. My apologies there.)

good general advice -
never mistake a mirror for a window.

(and a confidential msg for Milt: please don't take this personally, but you sound like a sock puppet.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, you should have contacted someone at the paper.
Also, notice that Virginia Moran, among others, has a letter to the editor published in this morning's paper. From the paper's perspective, it fits the bill because it was 200 words or less. From a reader's perspective, it provides a fact-based discussion about the issue, whether you agree or not. A win-win. In fact, a model of a good letter to the editor. We welcome more of them.
-JeffP

Anna said...

To Jeff P:
What's the URL for Virginia's letter today? I took a quick look over at The Union's website but couldn't find it.

And I'd like to make a point about intellectual honesty - part of being intellectually honest is being willing to apologize, or to somehow say "in retrospect, I could have handled situation Y better, I should have done Z"; i.e. to acknowledge and address the validity in a criticism, rather than remaining silent about it.

If you've been doing this, you might want to do it with more vigor, since it hasn't been noticeable (to me at least).

(Conversely, if you don't think there has been any validity to criticisms raised about the paper here, I'd appreciate it if you could say so, explicitly.)

Michael R. Kesti said...

In a letter I submitted and that The Union published, they changed one little-used word to another that I suppose they felt would be more commonly understood. I felt it needlessly changed my intended meaning, but not so much that I found it even mildly annoying. Otherwise, The Union has published, unedited, every letter and comment that I have submitted.

Anonymous said...

I asked Jeff this question directly and I do think it deserves an answer so I am asking it here:
According to the poll listed below:

Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. March 28-29, 2007. N=1,004 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults).

Polling.com

69% of the American public were against the war as of March 14, 2007. This was a few days before our local Peace March. I will admit, the turnout was surprising to me. I would estimate 350 people. In this town, 350 people showing up for something is worth note in my opinion.

There was no coverage of this event by the Union.

The majority of Americans are against this war.

A large number of people from our community turned out for it.

The Union did not cover it.

I think this community deserves an explanation.

Why didn't the Union cover the Peace March on March 17, 2007?

VSM

Anna said...

re comment #20, "Why didn't the Union cover the Peace March on March 17, 2007?"
Maybe it was an accidental oversight. I don't know.
I also don't think we'll find out.

re comment #19, wherein Michael Kesti (a former coworker of mine) states that he's never had trouble getting a letter printed:
I believe this is "the exception that proves(tests) the rule" - as Stephen Jay Gould put it, a situation that appears at first sight to be an exception to the rule, but which, when examined more closely, actually dovetails with it.

Of course, it'd help if I stated the rule more clearly:
letters, columns and individuals expressing viewpoints that The Union management doesn't like are being 'thwarted'.
(someone else could probably improve on the wording here too...)

Michael reports that his letters are printed without a hitch.
But (as I recall) Michael's letters have typically been supportive of The Union management, so they don't fall into the "disliked" category.
So the fact that these letters are printed without a hitch actually helps to bolster the rule.

in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

We would like an answer from Pelline about covering the March.

In the meantime, note the trend.

The Facts of the Pentagon March
The Washington Post
Friday, March 30, 2007; Page A16


The overwrought March 27 pro-war letter, "Points on the Antiwar Protest," including its false attack on the Answer Coalition, had the same credibility as President Bush's explanations for going to war in the first place.

Tens of thousands of people marched on the Pentagon on March 17, led by a large contingent of active-duty soldiers and Marines, Iraq war veterans, parents whose children died in Iraq and other veterans. They were joined by people from across the political spectrum.

Mr. Bush's pro-war supporters assaulted these peaceful protesters. They spat on Iraq war veterans and others. They screamed racist obscenities at a Latino father carrying a picture of his son who was killed in Iraq. Muslim women were taunted. The pro-war supporters shoved and hit elderly people and high school students and ripped signs from their hands. The Post cited the "passion" of this relatively small pro-war mob. If antiwar demonstrators had done the same, they would have been described as "violent" and "extremists."

Mr. Bush lied when he took the country to war. His supporters lie when they try to demonize those working to stop a war that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than 3,200 U.S. service members. It is the antiwar movement, not Mr. Bush or his fringe ultra-right supporters, that cares about the lives of U.S. troops. Their lives, and the lives of Iraqi people, are too precious to be squandered in a war of aggression.

More than 1,000 antiwar protests swept the country from March 17 to March 20. Veterans and military families were in the forefront everywhere.

This is a major story that was greatly underreported by The Post.

BRIAN BECKER

National Coordinator, Answer Coalition
Washington, D.C.

To see the letter on the Washington Post site, click on this link.

The above follows an opinion piece published last week in the San Francisco Chronicle, protesting the inadequate press coverage given to the March 18 Anti-war march in San Francisco. Click to read the SF Chronicle piece.

Anna said...

"Anonymous", please avail yourself of one of the many fine free pseudonyms, or better yet, use your real name.
Thank you.

Anna said...

...and if you want readers to view an article that was printed elsewhere, please link to it. Don't reprint it here.

(otherwise the comments section will rapidly lose all value)

Anna said...

I should mention that I've had experiences similar to those recounted above -
- being asked if I was a subscriber (with the implication that only criticism from subscribers was worth their while; my response, that I'd been a longtime subscriber until several years ago, was not acknowledged)
- being called on the carpet for rudeness, when IMO I was civil (I'd like to give specific examples, but haven't been able to get permission to reprint the email)
- hearing other situations which I was party to get described in what I considered to be a misleading fashion
- and heaven only knows what they say about me to third parties...I'm guessing DC got off easy.

Anna said...

For reference:
Yubanet's Peace March Photo Gallery;
The Union's War protesters march through Grass Valley