Thursday, January 3, 2008

Top 10 story list a joke

Every year the Flint Journal posts its top 10 story list based on the votes of its staff combined with its online readership.
This year, the voters picked - ta-da - Lakisha Jones and her fourth place appearance on American Idol as the top story of 2007.
What the Journal didn't bother to tell its readers was the actual vote that led to the Top 10 listings in the paper. They rarely do, partly because they are embarassed at the ridiculously low number of voters who make the picks.
The Journal, in seeking to be credibile, should at least be honest about the number of people who make the story selection for the list.
I'm not privy to the actual vote totals, but I'll wager dollars to doughnuts that less than 15 staff members and less than 40 readers are the source of the Top 10 list. That's out of an editorial staff of 60-80 people and a total subscription base of about 100,000.
Mathematically, I don't think that puny number would even register on a calculator, not without a few zeroes in front of a whole number.
LaKisha Jones was a good local story, but editorial management decided that Jones was the path to journalistic salvation. Seriously - they said the following in meetings - that they believed if we saturated the paper with Jones news, young people would come flocking back to the paper, we would attract advertisers and save the newspaper.
Five months later, they offered a massive buyout to stem the financially bleeding at the paper.
To cover the Jones story, management took a full-time reporter off her beat covering two major suburban communities and told her to find a front page story everyday about LaKisha.
That reporter, Sally York, did yeoman's work in finding different angles everyday so that readers would never be deprived of some tidbit of the Jones story.
More remarkable because, Jones and most of her family were not allowed to talk to the Journal during the show's airing time. So while the Journal became a shill for a popular TV show, not even the show allowed access to the star the paper was shilling.
Meanwhile, York's regular beat went bascially uncovered for months. Don't blame Sally, she was doing what she was told to do and she did it very, very well.
So if you had a story last year that you thought was worth covering and didn't get covered, blame LaKisha. With American Idol starting up again this month, local readers can only hope that whatever divas make the final cut won't be from the Flint area or plan on similar overkill in 2008.
The Jones story should have been covered, but not at the expense of two local communities and significant front page space. Trust me, many reporters at the Journal were very embarassed by the Jones overkill, but were powerless to stop it.

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