Monday, January 17, 2005

You Call that Coverage? Endorsements, take 4

Correction 1/17/05 11:45. I was wrong--though I missed it on in the print version and online on the date it was originally published--apparently the Advertiser did print more than a single line acknowledging the remarkable endorsement of its chain's flagship as I discovered during a recent search of their site during an archiving sweep. I've corrected the story below; old text is struck through and new text is dark red.

Ok, Let's get real folks. There come a point when generally lackadaisical local coverage degenerates into something less wholesome. As a loyal reader of LPF you know that Lafayette's fiber fight has been making national news. Perhaps the most significant event in last week's recent train of encouraging news (1,2, 3,4) is the endorsement of Lafayette's position by the nation's largest circulation newspaper: USAToday.

National endorsement of a small city's local issue is, my friends, NEWS. It is even more NEWS if part and parcel of that endorsement is an analysis that of one of the nation's largest megacorps is trying to reassert monopoly power across a range of activities and that its abuse of power in Lafayette is simply the clearest indication of its national intent.

Trust me, this is a BIG DEAL. When was the last time you saw a media outlet condemn a major advertiser (excuse me, I meant corporation) on the grounds of economic misconduct--actually when did we last hear a megacorp condemned for anything in major media outlets? Bhopal? Halliburton? (Halliburton, hmmn, what was that local connection again?) It takes a lot to get today's media, almost uniformly owned by megacorps to condemn one.

Long windup, I know, but here is the pitch:

What the heck is going on when the Lafayette Daily Advertiser can only manage this one sentence remark buried at the end of a story about the anti-fiber petition:
"Tuesday, USA Today published an editorial supporting Lafayette's fiber plan and a counter view by BellSouth Louisiana president William Oliver."
That's all. The ultimate keep it quiet, non-offensive, he said, she said, enough-so-that-nobody can-say-we-ignored-it non-coverage.

The best the Advertiser can do is a short, he said, she said report clearly designed to be inconspicuous and inoffensive. It is close to the least coverage of a truly signficant story that I can imagine.

This would be more nearly understandable, if no less inexcusable, if they were toeing some corporate line. But, The Advertiser is a Gannett newspaper. USAToday is the chain's flagship; the crown jewel of the empire. No, the Advertiser could reprint the editorial (and even give a little appropriate background about the rarity of the action and the article that it references) without any fear of blowback from corporate central.

Neither can they claim that posting an "outside" editorial would somehow compromise their distinctively local nature. Recall the obscene little advertorial that they published not all that long ago on the op ed page of the paper Which cheerfully sold all sorts of falsehoods about municipal broadband networks. That author wrote under the colors of one of the nations most notorious right-wing research-for-hire groups, the Heartland Institute; so an editor wary about outside influences might have chosen not to air the product of such a partisan institution. Even more incredible, a quick google of the author's name pulls up the fact that he owns "Expert Editorial," a company which produces editorials for hire. Hello? Any Connection? Who paid for this 'expert editorial?' Did it occur to anyone that an editorial with such dubious antecedents might be, well, dishonest? And printing it unwise?

However we interpret that affair, it is clear that the editorial staff is not adverse to running outside opinions on this flash-point issue. It is also clear that Gannett headquarters would have no objection. Finally, hell, this is actual NEWS.

Why haven't we seen better coverage of this important story? The people of Lafayette should be able to read this critical document in their own newspaper. I'd not even mind if the Advertiser felt it necessary to run BellSouth's (non)rebuttal at its side.

The coverage problem has reached the point of denying the people of Lafayette access to a major story on our situation. That needs to stop.


ricky said...

Don't forget the Advertiser's favorite bit of "not-the-paper's-official-opinion-but-worth-pointing-out" section where they print some other newspaper's editorial under the banner "Other Opinions" and right beneath their own newspaper's editorial opinion. Half the time you can barely tell it's a reprint from another newspaper, but it at least "protects" them from having to make an endorsement even when they still want to call attention to an argument. That would have been an easy format to include the USA Today endorsement. These folks are terrified to take a stand on anything.

John said...

Hi Ricky,

I am not sure that it is so much "fear" as the judgment that one should not have to risk even the smallest increment of income in order to benefit the community of which you are a part. The question appears to be "What is in it for me?" If the downside answer includes "A stand here might offend an advertiser" then there is no reason to take a stand.

Other benefits that are less financial like, for instance, "serving my community" or "exhibiting the kind of courageous leadership I continuously urge on others" doesn't seem to weigh much in the balance.

There was a time when educating the local community about unfamiliar matters was considered a sacred duty of community leaders, and it was a prominent motivation of locally owned newspapers and local chambers of commerce. Communities that had brave papers met the challenges of the future better and prospered more often. It honestly worries me that we can't count on the daily for this kind of leadership.

Mike Stagg said...

My take on the 'Silence of the Advertiser' is that publisher Ted Power is on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Whenever the Chamber is involved in an issue, the isssue isn't the issue — it's the Chamber.

Case in point: the Chamber's so-called Broadband statement issued some months back. The statement wasn't really about broadband at all. Instead, it was about keeping Cox as a member of the Chamber while appearing to take a position on broadband.

I think that The Advertiser, under Power, is assuming a Chamber-like non-position. Could be a result of the influence of Power and other Chamber members on The Advertiser editorial board.

The Advertiser's silence isn't about the issue. It isn't about the community. What it's about, I'm not exactly sure. But, I would say that it is about some other aspect of its role in Lafayette, possibly related to its involvement in the Chamber.