This morning I posted a comment (too long to repost here but available at the following link) from a reader upset about what they see as unfair and biased coverage.
The commenter doesn't say what township, or even what newspaper, they are upset at, but I'm assuming it's a Booth paper because it mentions MLive. Among the complaints are that the reporter wrote a that was completely wrong about the success of a recall petition drive. When called on it, the newspaper simply removed it from MLive without comment.
(By the way, my rule about identities does not apply to the names of cities and townships, so feel free to let me know what you are talking about?)
Before I start let me just say I can't verify any of this, but will make some general comments about what a person can, could or should do if faced with what they believe is unfair coverage.
As to the complaint about the editorial that vanished off MLive, I can say this. If true, that would be, in my opinion, a violation of journalism ethics. Once something is posted online and people have had a chance to read it, whatever happens to that story, corrections, updates, removal, should definitely require a posting that explained what happened.
If it was a minor misspelling or something trivial, no big deal, but the removal of a story because it was wrong, or based on poor information would definitely need an explanation.
That part was easy.
The complaint is that the beat reporter is favoring one side of a recall controversy over another. One of the assertions is that the reporter came to an important meeting on the issue and sat with the supporters of one side. After the conclusion of the meeting, the commenter complained that nothing was ever written on the meeting.
Not having been at the meeting, I have no idea how or why the reporter selected a place to sit. When I used to go to meetings, I always tried to sit by myself, but frequently the gadflies, would seek you out and sit next to you. A reporter is always a tempting captive audience. Sometimes in a crowded meeting I sat next to people I didn't know, but later found out represented one side or the other.
My seat selection never was an indication of what side I supported, or even if I supported one side.
Every reporter, me included, has been accused at some time during a long career of favoring one side or the other. That goes with the territory. In fact, I used to get nervous if I was getting a lot of kudos from one side and anger from the other.
It was always better, at least for me, to have people on both sides of an issue not completely happy with the coverage. That usually meant both sides were getting their say.
In one case, a group of village officials were upset that after talking to them about an issue, I actually called the folks who were opposed to it. "Why did you talk to them?," the officials said. "Gees, I don't know, maybe to get the other side?," I said.
Sometimes it can be hard not to take sides, but it is important, maybe even vital, that when a reporter starts feeling more sympathy for one side it is probably time to spend more time with the opposing side.
Any reporter worth the ink in their pen should get itchy and nervous if they are writing a story on a controversy and have only talked to one side.
The other problem is that some groups, or individuals, are better at explaining, or spinning their information than others. Reporters need to be on guard not to let slickness or friendliness get in the way of digging into information and getting the whole story. Sometimes the less articulate person may actually be in the right.
One of the Lapeer townships I covered had a woman who came to every meeting and caused long delays with her constant complaints about nit picky, minute details of township procedures, and my favorite, Robert's Rules of Order. She also used to film the meetings.
During one meeting, she extended the meeting for at least 90-minutes longer than it had to be. While those nit-picky issues were important to her, there was no way that I would write a word of it, because my editor would never print such trivial stuff and secondly, no one, other than the gadfly herself, would ever read it.
At one meeting after listening to her complaints on-and-off from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., I finally left. I had already lost three hours of my life I wouldn't get back and wasn't about to lose another one. On the way out, the woman chased me out to the parking lot demanding to know how I could leave the meeting when she was putting up such a fine defense of Robert's Rules of Order.
Trying to be polite, I simply told her that none of what she was talking about was of vital enough interest to Flint Journal readers to warrant a story. She seemed crushed. Later, she called my editor to complain.
OK, so what does a person do when they believe they are receiving biased coverage. That's pretty obvious, but here's what I would try.
First, I would contact the reporter directly and politely (that's a key) express my dissatisfaction with the reporting and coverage. If the reporter dismissed my complaints, I'd take it to the reporter's next boss (editor) in line. If that didn't work, I'd take it to the chief editor and finally the publisher.
In this case, the writer believes or suspects that the editor has some close relationship with some of the actors on the other side. This is another complaint that is not infrequent. People often thought because I wrote something that reflected on them negatively, that therefore I must have some immoral or unhealthy relationship with the other side.
My rule was always if I had some connection to one side or the other of an issue, I wouldn't cover it. I lost the biggest part of my police beat in Pontiac, when I married one of the detectives. In fact, the first time I asked the young lady out on a date, I reported to my editor, who pulled me off the Pontiac police beat.
During teacher union contract negotiations that directly involved my current wife, I also withdrew (in the original post the word withdrew somehow showed up in yellow, I have no idea how that happened, but I just fixed it) myself from covering the issue because even if I could be fair, the appearance would be otherwise.
If, and that's a big if, there is some unholy connection between the editor and the issue this person is writing about, that should be disclosed and explained.
A letter-to-the-editor is also a possibility. But in the end, if you don't get any satisfaction I guess you'll have to buy your own newspaper.