Sunday, March 2, 2008

On selling newspapers...

The editor-in-charge-of-corrections weighed in Sunday on his recent decision to create a controversy where none previously existed.

A Genesee County school district sent out a mailer warning parents that a suspected sexual offender, who the school did not name, was living in the district near a school. Parents were apparently happy for the information.

That's when the editor-in-charge-of-corrections decided to ramp up a controversy by first, naming and picturing the accused sex offender in the newspaper, and then seeking someone, anyone, who would call the school's letter a violation of the alleged sex offender's privacy.

Locally, apparently, they could find no one to weigh in with that opinion, so they went to New York and Human Rights Watch who criticized the district for the letter.

This technique is popular among editors devoid of real news sense. It's the "I'll hold your coat" style of journalism. A reporter tells one source that another person/organization has done something offensive to it/them. That prompts a reaction from the uninvolved individual, who then weighs in with a salvo of theirs against the "other" side. Back and forth it goes as two people/organizations who previously had no issues with each other fight it out in public, while the newspaper "holds their coats." It's a cheap technique, one not worthy a good newspaper.

There are plenty of ongoing fights that don't need fabricating that can be covered, but when the news cupboard is bare, this one can be used in a pinch. Then after all the dust dies down some vacuum headed editor can then opine in public about how important it was that they started the fight to begin with.

I had my own such issue, just a year ago, over a proposed rabbit farm in Lapeer County. Not just any rabbit farm, but one which produces pathogen-free rabbits for use in university medical schools for high end research. These animals are used in critical cancer research and must be 100 percent free of any disease, virus or pathogens of any kind.

Potential neighbors of the facility raised an issue of truck noise and odors, but no one was concerned about any animal rights issues. That's when the editor-in-charge-of-corrections stepped in and decided that I should call People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and let them weigh in, even though no such issue existed.

I refused. That created a big issue for the editor-in-charge-of-corrections (let's shorten that to eicoc) who demanded that I be made to make the call. Still I refused. So it was going to fall to a less experienced intern to do the dirty work and so I contacted the editor-in-charge-of-the-editor-in-charge-of-corrections (eicoteicoc) who found his cajones for once and stopped the effort to ramp up a controversy where none existed.

Newspapers, particularly the Flint Journal, ramp up controversies all the time. They do so for a variety of reasons, many of them are good reasons and sales of newspapers is one of them. (We'll get back to that in a minute).

Trust me on this, if for some reason the school district knew about a suspected sex offender - and then didn't inform the public - the eicoc would have been the first to have a reporter jump on them with both feet for NOT doing so. The eicoc is a bully, he is a bully in the newsroom and a bully in the community, one he doesn't even live in. The eicoc lives far outside the Journal's subscription area and has for ten or more years.

That's really interesting because the eicoc has assigned and required stories about the residency of many local officials and employees. He's singularly obsessed with how much every public employee makes, but try and get that, or any other information, about how much he or anyone else makes at the newspaper.

With the loss of many veteran reporters, those who couldn't be bullied, look for more such stories in the future.

Now let's talk just a minute about the eicoc's bold statement that he has never heard anyone assign a story based on selling newspapers.

I'm sure the eicoc was present at a number of meetings where the eicoteicoc spoke last year about how the American Idol Lakisha Jones stories were designed to sell newspapers and bring a lot of younger readers to the Flint Journal. Heck there was a virtual orgy of articles (see

Heck just in the last week, the Flint Journal has spent countless inches promoting "Semi-Pro" an awful movie (people who have seen it have warned me away from wasting my money) and for what other reason than to sell newspapers to the fools who believed they were going to appear in it as extras.

I was in the business for 30 years, I never apologized for the fact the point of the business was to sell newspapers. Heck, GM certainly doesn't apologize for selling cars, do they? But to say boldly as the eicoc did Sunday that he has "never" heard that is very startling.

Maybe a correction is in order? But as the eicoc says, anything that "stirs" discussion is good.


Rewrite said...

A great American named Gene Fowler (he was a pal of W.C. Fields) once wrote that an editor should have a pimp for a brother so he had someone to look up to, Nowhere is that more applicable than to the personage Brother Jim refers to as the "editor in charge of corrections."

My own nicknames for the eicoc included "the Perjurer" and "the Fact Checker." The first name didn't catch on with the staff, but the second one did.

He was easily one of least talented reporters I ever came across in my career, so of course he wanted to be an editor. Of course, he was made an editor.

I'm sure he must have had a good idea at sometime during his career at The Journal but damned if I can think of what it was.

Good blog, Jim. Keep the truth squad going.

(signed) Rewrite

inky said...

It was the editor in charge of corrections who wrote a giant profile on former Sen. Don Riegle and barely managed to mention Keating Five. In fact, I would compare that story to a service that women charge several bucks for on many Flint street corners.

Anonymous said...

yes, the journal likes to stir the pot, but in a recent e-mail to staff that was riddled with typos and inappropriate word choices, the editor in charge told us not to be posting anonymously (like this) on blogs (like this.)

apparently, free speech is great when used to SELL The Journal, but not to TALK about The Journal.


Jim of L-Town said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim of L-Town said...

Sometimes I need my good editor back.
What I was trying to say in my previous comment (deleted above) was that I understand the memo included the word "appropriate" when the word should have been "inappropriate."
This site is open and free. Anyone is allowed to comment here free of fear. (As we've talked before, best to do it from home because newspapers are not so kind about the First Amendment when it is wielded against them)
I spent 30 years jealously guarding my good sources. I am capable of doing the same for my newspaper colleagues.

inky said...

Things must be getting pretty desperate at 200 E. First St. if the eicoc has to suspend the constitution. The bigger question may be: Does the eicoc know how to spell "constitution?"