Nutty newspapers

Dateline: Tue 04 Dec 2012

From the Columbia Journalism Review, Nov. 19: "A reporter is fired; colleagues quit in protest"

The story illustrates in what is wrong with journalism today -- no guts, no glory, and a lot of pretentious twit about "ethics" when in fact there are no codes governing journalism. It's not a profession. We have no sanctioning rules. Let's get over ourselves, people.

Anyhow, this story, sent by friend Tom Henderson in a timely fashion, and ignored here for too long, is about a young reporter, 24-year-old Tom Casey, at a small and obscure uostate New York community paper, the Hudson-Register Star.

Casey covered city budget meetings. At those meetings, one of the city's alderman, John Friedman, occasionally refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Casey wrote a factual accurate story about a meeting and mentioned zip about the non-pledge incident, or lack thereof. He did not find it pertinent or relevant, he told his editor. The publisher and a senior editor disagreed. The upshot is that Casey was asked to include the information about the alderman refusing to stand the next time it happened, which it did. Casey still did not want to add it in. His editor backed him. Nonetheless, he did indeed include the info after the senior editor told him to. But he demanded his byline be removed. It was, but he was fired the following day. The next week, his immediate supervisor and two other reporters resigned in protest. There were only 9 people on staff, so that was a serious enough loss.

This is theater of the absurd. Or a teachable moment that went badly astray....

Casey obviously has no sense of proportion whatsoever, nor any understanding of what sells newspapers -- it's what people are talking about, the buzz. Sometimes it's already out there; sometimes newspapers report and a buzz is created.

Obviously, someone had noticed that Friedman was not standing for the pledge on occasion -- why on earth didn't the reporter have the curiosity to ask him about that? The info would not have to be included in the main story on the budget issues; it could have been a nifty sidebar, a talker.

Casey and his young colleagues have backs too stiff for the flow of journalism, which is more art than science but also frankly a lot of bullshit. My editor Ted Daniels liked to say, "I want people to talk about us." He did not fret over  upsetting readers; he wanted controversy and juice.

However, in fairness to Casey, the publisher and senior editor missed their opportunity to explain all this with him, to give him their perspective. Or maybe they had stiff backs, too. In general, they sound like a humorless lot in upstate New York.

The funny-haha thing is, Jim Romenesko included on his blog a comment from the recalcitrant alderman (posted initially on a local New York bloig) regarding WHY the dude did not stand up. So there really was a method to his madness.

Along with expressing regret that Casey was fired, Friedman said:

"Frankly, I think the Pledge is vitally important to America and Americans precisely because — as a nation of immigrants — we have few things in common besides our desire to be here, to live here and to participate in society here. But I also think rote recitation of anything — the Pledge, the Boy Scout motto, the lyrics from my favorite Grateful Dead song — slowly diminishes the meaning of the words. So sometimes I participate and sometimes I don’t."

That's worth talking about. Too bad Casey missed his chance to go there. And his editors.publishers never got their point across.

But that's today's journalism. BORING. 



Ray Moscowitz [unverified] said:

When I was hiring people many moons ago, the first thing I looked for was curiosity. If you don't have that, you don't belong in journalism. This young reporter apparently lacked curiosity by failing to ask the most important question in journalism: Why?

You make a good point,Ruth,in noting that the editor missed an opportunity for a teachable moment.

2012-12-04 09:55:34

hendy [Member] said:

I liked the backup the reporter received, curiosity or no. When I write, I receive zero publisher influence. All I see from the publisher is: checks. Bless them.

2012-12-05 15:49:20

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I agree with the kid. It wasn't relevant. There were probably a great number of things for him to explore in his piece that involved important things like use of taxpayer money, local government projects, etc.

Like most small city reporters these days, he probably had a mega-tight deadline and limited space for his story.

So what if the guy didn't want to stand? There is no law on the books that says "every citizen is required to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance." I personally don't make pledges to anybody because I usually can't keep them.

Good for those colleagues who quit in protest. I imagine there is more to this story than meets the eye.

I guess this episode brings out the Libertarian in me (though I'm only partially of that pursuasion).

2012-12-05 22:55:33

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