Thursday, March 26, 2009

Would We Be Missed?

Interesting discussion on about newspapers. Specifically, a collection of engaged and involved people were asked the following questions: "Will you miss your newspaper when it's gone? How much will the decline of the paper hurt our democracy?"

The engaged and involved people who weighed in were overwhelmingly supportive of the notion of newspapers, which makes sense because, as I mentioned, they are a collection of involved, engaged folks. Many of them seemed to think that newspapers with "nonprofit" status might actually be a healthy model, acknowledging that the ravenous need for big profits have decimated journalism's primary goal.

A couple of keen observations:

Sylvia Lovely of the Kentucky League of Cities pointed out that "our community banks, community and small town newspapers are actually thriving" and that bigger papers in metropolitan areas, owned largely by out-of-town interests, are turning to the small-town models: "a local spin, informing intelligent, thoughtful citizens of the texture behind every story" rather than passing sound bites.

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and now a Princeton lecturer, noted that "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press," while both first amendment guarantees, are separate and distinct. "Think of the distinction as that between what we are permitted to say . . . and what we are permitted to hear. The difference is absolutely crucial to democracy, and that is why the decline of the newspaper is not an interesting phenomenon but a serious blow to democratic government."

Bradley Blakeman, a Republican strategist, said that market forces are the primary indicator: "You can't force upon the consumer something they don't want. The US Constitution guarantees free press, not a free ride."

For the full discussion, see

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If We're So Narrow-Minded . . .

In this day and age, when everyone is so bollixed up with their entrenched ideals, it's apparently difficult for some folks to comprehend that contrary points of view can be respected. So they always seem befuddled when The Herald prints letters to the editor that blast The Herald.

When's the last time you've seen a bank tape a nasty note on its front door from a customer complaining that a clerk botched a transaction? Or a lawyer post a letter from an angry client on his Web site? Yet newspapers routinely run letters from readers pointing out that the newspaper is full of hooey.

Following the unfortunate headline on Page 1 on Monday, I got an earful from a guy on Tuesday who was understandably upset with the paper. During his rant, he declared his utter surprise that we carried letters that crucified us for running that story with that headline. I've stopped being surprised that guys like him are surprised.

Guys like him tend to think people who run newspapers are maniacal conspiracy mongers determined to shove a certain point of view down the throats of unsuspecting readers. Guys like him believe we are hellbent on protecting the institutional status quo, or else they are convinced we are out to destroy those institutions. 

If we were as narrow-minded and conspiratorial as guys like him think we are, we'd never run letters that criticize us. Fact is, we prefer the great American tradition of honest debate and lively disagreement that is fundamental to a free society. And because newspapers rarely dodge contentious relevant issues, they naturally become part of the debate. We understand that the messenger often ends up with the arrow in his back, but that doesn't stop us from loading our critics' quivers. 

You can disagree with your neighbor or you can disagree with us. Your neighbor might never speak to you again, but we'll run your letter.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bum Head

Well, there's nothing worse than an unfortunate front-page headline on a Monday morning to greet the editor on his first day back on the job after an extended furlough/bereavement leave. 

Many readers, myself included, were upset with the headline over the story this morning about the shooting of four police officers in Oakland on Saturday. The follow-up story, written by our friends at the San Jose Mercury, was actually nicely done. But our headline -- "Cop killer was depressed, struggling" -- seemed to indicate an insensitivity to the slain officers. 

One caller complained that the headline showed "sympathy for the devil, rather than sympathy for the good." Another suggested the headline should have read "Hero Cops Killed Chasing Madman." 

The latter caller echoed my own sentiments: Lots of depressed and struggling people manage to get through the day without killing police officers.

The headline was an unfortunate approach to a sad story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

He's Back (for a couple of days, anyway)

I've returned to the office and wish to thank the hundreds of wonderful people who went out of their way to call Loma and I, to greet us, to send sweet cards or to contribute to Genesis House following the loss of our son. The sentiments and kind acts help ease our aching hearts.

If you need my attention, please call or email through Thursday, since I will be gone on furlough next week.