Newspaper warning labels

Dateline: Tue 17 Aug 2010

Years ago, when I was all of 21 and hired to write obituaries at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, following a stellar stint as an English major at Indiana University (and three other colleges), I was sent out on an assignment about which I knew zero.

Zilch. Zip. Da Nada.

The meeting I was covering took place in the evening; it could have been a school board session in Allen County; perhaps it involved utilities, or some other government entity. Mercifully, I have put the subject out of my head. The point was, my editor, George Tetherley -- who always had a cigarette dangling from bloodless lips and whose skin was the cover of newpaper (grey with a tinge of yellow) -- trusted me to cover this thing. He should not have.

If I was coached in advance, I don't recall it. Maybe a couple minutes of, "Ruthie, go get 'em. Be back by 9 and file your story." At the Journal-Gazette, at that time (1969) there was no morgue, no reference desk, nothing available to get me up to speed. Or if there was, I had not made its acquaintance. My job was obits, and the occasional loosey-goosey story about something weird happening at the zoo, or maybe, the post office.

God only knows what gobbly-gook I put into print that night, but I thought of that incident when I read Tom Scott's brilliant idea: newspapers should start pasting warning labels on stories. For instance: "Statistics, survey results and/or equations in this story were supplied by a PR company" and "To meet a deadline, this article was plagiarised from another news source" and, my favorite, "Journalist does not understand the subject they are writing about." OK, the grammar stinks, but we all get the idea.

We are not all fools or babes in the woods, tho. It was my friend and former Star colleague, reporter Abe Aamidor, who pointed out that "depression screening month" (sometime in the fall -- November usually?) was sponsored by drug companies. The ruse was: you wander around a mall, depressed; the drug company reps are there (disguised as attractive blondes) at a nice table, with signs inviting you to take their test (a questionaire); you do; and lo and behold, you ARE depressed. Well, let Lilly fix you right up....

Abe actually wrote a story about this scam; he was always one up.

But the number of times reporters have been duped by numbers (oh my!), phony veterans (Good Lord!) and bullshitting politicians -- well, I admit it, I probably can't count that high.

Thanks to Tom H. and Nicolas M. for sending Tom Scott's funniness this way.




Tell The Truth [Member] said:

At my first news job, on a smalltown daily, we called this "meat and potatoes." School board, city council, county commissioners...gritty stuff.

There were also columns inches galore from "correspondents" whose sole job was to report, in 1-2 sentences, add naseum, about the dinner guests and off-to-college/service happenings. "Tim and Marie had their grandchildren for dinner Sunday...Joe and Michelle Smith are off to Lake Wawasee for the summer...", etc.

We called that "chicken dinner news."
And if it ever got cut, the phones rang off the wall.

My first real meeting, of a drainage board no less, saw the participants go off into a side room and decide which contractor would get a $40,000 job. I followed them, and they angrily slammed the door in my face. I reported, with righteous indignation, that the public servants had met illegally. Not one single reader weighed in favorably. Nothing. Nada.

After a quick confab with the legendary Dick Cardwell, general counsel at Hoosier State Press Association, I discovered it wasn't illegal for them to go behind closed doors. As long as they took a vote in public. This was 1974 or close to it.

I felt duty-bound to report the following day, that my prior assertion was incorrect. I hasten to point out tha tmy great-uncle was president of the county commissioners, and he called me to say:

"Son, we know you reporters don't know squat. So we usually don't pay any attention anyway. If only your stories came with a disclaimer that you're full of shit."

I became actively involved in an HSPA committee that lobbied the legislature, and by 1977, we had an Open Door Law.

Biggest opponent of the Open Door Law? School boards, county commissioners, et al

God I'm old.

2010-08-17 08:52:37

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

damn..."ad" not "add"

That sums it up

2010-08-17 08:53:27

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

I did the obit and one-paragraph high school basketball recaps for a couple of years in Evansville. Then I moved waaaaaaaaaay up north to Fort Kent, Maine to work for the St. John Valley Times. In the communities I covered, residents spoke a lot of French, in fact, it was pretty much the native language. Access was never a problem at my public meetings -- especially when I covered city council meeting. When they wanted to go off-record or have an ad hoc executive session, they were courteous to a fault, apologizing to me beforehand, and then they conducted the proceedings in French. I still had a place at the table, however.

2010-08-17 09:03:30

hendy [Member] said:

Your Freudian Slip was showing. "Add nauseum" can be the actual crux of the matter, TTT. It's succinct, to the point, and an apt description of my experience ;)>

2010-08-17 21:54:54

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

OK Add on the nausea.

2010-08-18 06:02:11

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

The stickers are a great idea! So much more efficient than my red marker. Too bad for the next person that tries to read the paper, though; it will be illegible through the stickers.

And 3T, school boards are still hiding behind closed doors. If ever the state required a forensic audit of every school district, it would occasion much jumping from windows.

2010-08-18 06:46:29

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I follow school districts kind of closely, Tom--it's better than it used to be, but you're right---they hide too often.

There are legitimate reasons spelled out in statutes for public boards to go behind clsoed doors: sale/purchase/lease of land, contract discussion, personnel issues...and in each case, no poll may be taken of members. That's where the law is blatantly ignored.

2010-08-18 09:57:00

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

TTT, in our neighborhood, a well-meaning board member recently got the board to approve the hiring, at $1 year, of a volunteer accountant who agreed to look at the books and see where money could be saved. The super pitched a fit and had the move rejected on the grounds that public debate did not precede this "hiring," as required. He got the deal rescinded.

I think the board will revisit the "hiring." I hope they do, because the super's motives are highly suspicious. He is given to having many meetings behind closed doors, so his timely sanctimony makes the deal smell even more.

I think he is afraid of being outed.
School supers in Indiana have tremendous clout in construction issues, handling cafeteria funds (and associated purchasing)and other areas of potential personal enrichment.

2010-08-18 18:56:40

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

What makes all of this school administration stuff even more disturbing is the increasingly weak quality of education reporting at most local newspapers.

Much of what we get in The Star originates from press releases authored by school administration PR people and approved by superintendents.

2010-08-18 22:34:20

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

True, Whitebeard. Those PR people are paid with our tax dollars, too.. Handsomely. On contract or on staff.

In Washington Township, they have a permanent retainer for a woman named Nora Hiatt. She's paid like $15K a year to just hang around and advise on PR issues. For their referendum they hired Clyde Lee's outfit to hustle PR. During the crisis over a school bus running over a kid, they hired Clyde, too...and at the conclusion of their "investigation," they blamed the bus driver for doing what she was told to do by her supervisor. Your tax dollars at work, massaging public opinion.

Any Super who refuses an audit of any kind should be fired. Period. Their school business officers are cut from the same cloth as Supers. They all breathe rarified air. Aloof when it comes to providing any details of anything.

A Super has a hell of a lot of nerve spending any salaried time undoing ANY board resolution.

2010-08-19 07:32:29

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I'm wondering if it is just me, or....

Did anyone else find Tulley's series on Manual H.S. to be pretty lame?

His conclusions:

1. Inner-city high schools are filled with kids who post many kinds of challenges to educators.

Duh. This is news?

2. Many of the parents in these schools are not invested in their child's education.

Hold the presses!

3. Some teachers are good, others are bad.

Alert the Coast Guard!

I also found it interesting that Tulley picked one of the more tame (relatively speaking) of the IPS high schools to camp out in for awhile. Wonder what he would have discovered at Marshall or Arlington?

Sadly, his series will probably win an award because the quality of journalism these days is so weak they give out awards just for buying a ticket to the banquet.

2010-08-19 11:50:51

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I just noticed that I screwed up the spelling of Tully's last name in the previous post.

That's what happens when you give your personal copy editor a day off.

2010-08-19 12:21:44

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Tully is a tool. Ruthie likes him, but I've been a reporter, and a columnist. Not much of his work gets more than a C- from me.

But the Manual series, which was out of his typical subject area, while laborious, did hit some saliant issues. It got a B from me.

Remember this: Tully never, ever broke a sweat. Not that the hard-working-Star-journalist Club is large these days.

2010-08-19 14:48:55

hendy [Member] said:


I'm in your camp. That said, if you got five good Tullys together, you could get a Ruth, or on a good day, Tom Keating. It might take a few more years to season him. He's a lightweight but one gets the feeling that there might be some fire in there, because there sure is smoke.

2010-08-19 18:08:16

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Well, I do agree that Tully has nowhere to go but up (smile).

There have been some excellent columnists at The Star over the years. At this point, in my opinion, Tully isn't one of them.
Nothing personal. Just an honest appraisal.

Give him a few years and I imagine he'll be working in PR for one of the major mover-and-shaker entities in Indianapolis.

Better pay, no furloughs, and no deep thinking required.

2010-08-19 22:20:10

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Whitebeard, you may be right, but we're ignoring one basic fact: Tully can't write very well. He's overly gassy and needs tight editing.

2010-08-21 09:01:29

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Can't disagree with that, TTT.

I guess the larger issue for me, personally, is to think about all of the excellent columnists - and other outstanding writers/journalists - who have been "shown the door" during The Star's Reign of Terror over the past several years.

And what do we have as their replacements?

2010-08-21 13:19:56

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Re-read a few of Tully's columns. Most are absolute drivel. Written without benefit of much work...most could've been written from his chair with not one phone call.

And, this one will surely bring out at least one ardent Carson supporter, but: I'll likely not forgive Tully for his lapse in judgment when he and two other reporters, and Robin Winston, viewed first-hand a Julia Carson meltdown on a taped 2006 TV show.

She looked at a questioner, started into space for a moment, and went on about a little girl at a picnic who had eaten her food. It was the beginning of her end.

I loved Julia, and was a strong supporter. But no decent newsman sitting there, watching that, could let it go. Tully and Kevin Ryder did exactly zero stories about that meltdown, ever. I asked Ryearson about it, and he deflected criticism. There were wild rumors about her health running rampant. She was clearly delusional, on tape. A few well-placed questions, reported to the public, could well have hastened Julia's Congressional departure.

It's like a cop turning his back while witnessing or having strong knowledge of another cop killing an innocent motorcyclist.


2010-08-22 07:52:55

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I'm with you on that 100 percent, TTT.

It's not the ethical and responsible journalist's job to play "Emporer's New Clothes."

No matter who it is or what it is.

Reading between the lines, so to speak, I see a lot of this currently being done at The Star.

2010-08-22 19:29:03

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Another spelling mistake: It's Emperor's.

I gave my personal copy editor Sunday off to be with her family and just look what happens.

The mansion is too quiet today.

Ruth, any way you can work a spellcheck into this blog? Save me money on hired help.

2010-08-22 21:25:51

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Spellcheck would be helpful, but it was a typo.

2010-08-23 04:38:13

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"It's not the ethical and responsible journalist's job to play 'Emporer's New Clothes.'"

Of course it is the journalist's job. If not his, whose?

If the journalist does not point out the Emperor is naked, there's no one else to do it.

And the death of newspapers will create a lot more badly dressed emperors. It's only the possibility of being revealed naked in public that curbs some of the wankers, Carl Brizzi excepted.

2010-08-23 06:29:44

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

There sare badly-dressed czars all around us now, Tom

Gene White, for instance. Go against him, and you risk (egad!) alienation.

2010-08-23 09:48:43

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Hey Tom et al,

I guess I must have really screwed up how I tried to communicate my point about the Emperor's New Clothes.

Tom, What you wrote was the exact point of my entire post - that it is NOT the job of journalists to protect unclothed emperors.

What I meant to say, but obviously flubbed up, was that journalists should never participate in "Emperor's New Clothes" by co-operating with the emperor and his or her handlers.

Sorry for the confusion my post created.

2010-08-23 12:56:06

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Maybe it's just me, but too few local journalists have that jugular sense these days.

2010-08-23 13:06:38

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

TTT - I agree completely with your comment about White. The Star has had a hands-off policy towards him from Day One.

2010-08-23 13:10:49

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

And he spends a lot of money on clothes, too. Sometimes it's a miserably-failed attempt...

2010-08-23 16:24:28

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Whitebeard, I thought that's what you meant. It was garbled in typoing.

But now comes the $64 question: what is the journalist's responsibility in showing the Emp has no clothes? What is the newspaper's?

I suspect there have been times, under ESP and ECP, when the Star and the News considered The Greater Good-- at least as they saw it-- in considering whether to reveal some miscreants misdeeds. If a judge is a drunk and kicks his dog but is exemplary and fair on the bench, is the greater good served by outing him?
Newspaper folk always knew Stuff about public figures that wasn't printed, not so much in fear of libel suits, as recognition that it served no public good to print the gossip, even if factual. (Boy those days of restraint are long gone!)

A newspaper always walks a tightrope strung between advertising revenues and stories that can make advertisers unhappy. The Star was gelded on this issue, in recent years. I personally know of one business writer who was canned because Don Marsh didn't like the story he wrote about his company's revenues. (Don would have cause later to get much, much redder in the face.)

2010-08-23 16:58:31

hendy [Member] said:

Publishers ought to be the faction at a newspaper that need worry about spiking a story. A journalist ought not to care. Do we care about who kicks their freaking dog these days? Have we become so results oriented that how we got there doesn't matter or count?

Yeah, gossip ought to be beneath journalist, and the gist of the Earl Wilsons of the world. Frankly, gossip usually bores the hell out of me. But others might care who's doing who, and so on.

One of these days, the utility sale will become exposed for the sham that it is. There are no financial analysts left at The Star. If there were, the unbelievable annuity collapse-- the big give away-- would be constant front page news.

2010-08-23 18:43:20

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

If someone had publicly asked Don Marsh questions earlier, his company might still be an Indiana institution.

Like: why build these monster stores in the 'burbs, when a good store would do (at twice the cost per SF)? Why branch out into that God-awful Arthur's market concept, that cost millions? Why expand into Chicagoland, for Christ's sake? Why was the stock I bought in 1991 worth less, withotu dividends, than it was 15 years later? Why buy out O'Malia's, then let it dangle with insufficient resources? Ya took down two reputable names there, Donnie boy.

And why spend company resources on lavish trips and family stuff?

We stockholders tried to ask those questions at annual meetings, but were denied the chance. Alas, Don's non-office conduct finally invaded his corporate decision-making.

Sun Capital Partners has tried valliantly to pick up the pieces. They may yet succeed.

But in any strong media market, Don Marsh would've been outed as a foolish CEO who mis-spent, mis-appropriated and drove a strong company right into the ground.

Sober or drunk, he should've bene outed. It was the job of stockhodlers to ask. We did. And many of us tried to interest the local media. Nary a whimper in response.

Ad dollars spoke louder.

Fresh Idea Card indeed. Cleanup on Aisle Common Sense.

2010-08-24 07:26:29

hendy [Member] said:


Don Marsh and his antics are but one of a thousand stories about corporate and organizational misguidance. In my industry, tech, the stories are even more juicy and seemingly ludicrous.

I'm all for supporting the local community business, which was the only reason that I bought from Marsh. Joe O'Malia was just too expensive for my tastes.

But let's look at the local winners, including an insurance conglomerate, three pharmas, and gosh-- trucking companies. While the seeming diversification is pretty nice, each of these organizations is in hot water. Why? Supreme focus on shareholder return (meaning their execs) at the sacrifice of long-term vision.

Everyone wants to get rich and then screw-off somewhere, anointing favored charities with little dribbles of their cash as though they were princes or something. Only guys like Gene Glick (and a handful of others) have been true philanthropists in the community. The rest just built McMansions in West Clay.

2010-08-24 11:11:32

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Ugh. West Clay. A Vinyl Village with faux-brick fronts.

Gene Glick is a good one. Ditto Marty Moore, a quiet philanthropist who does more around town than anyone will ever know. Quietly.

Don marsh's problems started outside the Mffice. They creeped inside the office when the workerbees realized, that no one was relaly minding the store.

I liked O'Malia's for service, but hell, the old man robbed the vending machines for years, and ended up getting a federal tax conviction as a result. And now his son Dnany is on talk showes and serving as a consultant on issues related to customer service...all the while extolling the virtues and maxims of his dad. The tax felon.

I still shop Marsh. Old habits die hard. It's a good store and I detest Kroger after what they did to the Monon Trail. Their local are amanager and PR guy actually sent letters into surrounding homes, during the zoning fight, attacking the credibililty of citizens who dared oppose them. I will never darken their doors again. I suspect they haven't noticed.

2010-08-24 12:57:56

hendy [Member] said:

Sheesh. Casting evil on Danny's probably uncalled for. His old man got caught in the cookie jar, not him. And his dad was a mixed bag. O'Malia's did a lot for various Catholic-focused charities. My grandmother wouldn't walk in any other store, save to see Sid at Atlas.

Kroger? I'm thinking of doing a youtube video on just how evil they can be. Here in Bloomington, they're a near monopoly and think they can get away with it. But clamping down on supermarkets is something that the legislature would never think of. In California, things are a LOT different in groceries.

2010-08-24 14:02:53

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Danny was no angel as a manager (I'm talking sexual harassment here). But at least O'Malia's could be counted on to support local charities (as could Marsh).

Now as for advertising ruling what's in The Star: always has been. Dontja remember the Front Page brides (whose daddy's all were advertisers)? Think of all the miscreants who've been ignored over the years because the were "friends of Gene" (either one).

And then there's the whole Quayle debacle, which is continuing into the third generation!

2010-08-24 15:47:22

hendy [Member] said:

I inherited a floormat, from my mother.

It has Dan Quayle's picture on it.

She was too embarrassed to put it on the front stoop, but the entrance from the occasionally grimy garage to the house was ok for it.

It's now located over a hole in the floorboards in my pickup truck. Does a great job. Democrats can be vicious, too.

2010-08-24 16:58:16

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Hendy--if Dnany wants to wax poetic on customer service, he can probably do so with a high degree of qualification.

But when he spouts his dad's quotes as the backup for nearly every customer service move, it's funny. Considering Dad took customers' money from pop machines and never reported the income--which amounted to six figures.

I'm just sayin' Danny could relate his customer service experiences without invoking Dad's name. Charities? Yep, they were great. So was Marsh, to be honest. Very good.

So's Target, but of late, the Target execs have been caught donating huge sums to hateful groups. A tough audience? Perhaps. We can vote with our feet (if the company is still in business).

2010-08-25 10:26:58

news junkie [Member] said:

Danny was not the O'Malia in trouble for sexual harassment, it was his brother. Danny has always had a good reputation in customer relations and is well known for his expertise in that area.

2010-08-25 14:16:44

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