Saturday, December 08, 2007

Press Pass

We have a bit of a newspaper war in out area. The local paper,The Coeur d'Alene Press, versus neighboring Spokane, Washington's Spokesman Review. Recently the Spokesman has been slashing and burning staff due to budget concerns and northern Idaho has taken the brunt of it. More and more one must turn to the blogs for local news. This seems to be the trend of the future and the entity that remains the strongest.

The two papers are very different from one another as is their readership. The Press is the hometown "feel good" paper. It is owned by the one time "town boss". While people with the ability to wield as much power are making their presence felt, he still owns the paper and his influence is clear.

The Spokesman, as one would expect, focuses on Spokane but when they had a north Idaho edition we got good coverage by good reporters who knew the community and the players as well as the Press reporters. During that time one could read both papers and get a fairly good handle on what was going on regardless of editorial slant.

For news other than local - well, if the AP goes out of business neither paper will have enough copy to put out a week end nor Monday edition. Back to the blogs where we all blather on about our own take on things with varying degrees of accuracy. I have and still do maintain that in it's present state, blogs do not fill the void left by a diminishing newspaper presence.

Perhaps this is where a vocal community advocate got herself into hot water. While serving on the Planning Commission, an appointed position, she was relentless in her criticism of how the city conducted it's business. Whether the scrutiny was warrented or her conclusions correct is moot. She was merely a columnist stating her opinion. In that respect she was no better nor worse than a blogger. Because her column was in print, though, the perception was different.

I can state my opinion here and if anyone reads it they can agree or disagree and move on and that's pretty much the end of it. Somehow a print columnist seems to be held to a higher standard. It's in the newspaper; people expect facts that can be confirmed. Right or not that's the way it appears to me; my opinion.

The problem, now, turns to the politicizing of the press. The local, hometown paper gave her the column. She bashed city government; those who agreed with her assessments and challenged the incumbents lost. Shortly thereafter she was dismissed from the Planning Commission. The reasons don't matter as much as the action.

Worse, however, is the Press also dropped her column. To date there has been no explanation. Poof. Just gone. Whether one agreed with her or not, whether you liked her style or not, she did bring a perspective now lost.

When a blog drives a participant away it's an opinion driven action. When the press takes away a voice it's censorship. Not the conventional way where government censors what the press can say. Or maybe it is if the publisher/government are so joined at the hip one can not tell where one ends and the other begins. Then too, maybe worse, the press censoring what a private citizen can say.

I read the lady's column. Sometimes I agreed, sometimes not. I commented to those who knew her that she needed to tighten up her writing with substantiated sources if she was to be taken seriously, or at the very least, escape the beating she took from the opposition. No matter, however, I would have continued to read the column. If the subject was of enough interest to me I would have taken the time to dig more deeply.

No more. The column has been pulled. The Press has denied it's readership one of it's voices. It creates a whole new can of worms. Do people in the community no longer have the right to question things that bother them or that they don't understand? Does the press or it's ownership have the right to dictate? Does the press or its ownership have the right to silence the public? If the press used this woman's intent to promote the ends of their management, this community is in deep trouble. Where does one go if not the press? The blogs?

If I'm to be considered a sheep I'd guess the press is on the right track. The wool is being pulled over my eyes, intentionally, deliberately and I am not to question why.


Betty said...

It's a complicated problem, I think. If I owned a newspaper and hired someone as a columnist, I would expect that person to be a good writer. If he/she turned out to be mediocre, I would be justified in pulling the column. But, if I pulled the column just because I disagreed with the slant, that would be another matter, and should have been addressed in his/her contract.

stebbijo said...


Folks have never had the right to question things here. Even when we win - our politicians overturn our vote. Really - the Nazi image of Idaho is owned by the politicians and local governments here. It's the way they want it.

When the internet decided to rear it's head in Idaho - many were very resistant. Giving "average" people the power to publish and/or write their own views ect. was very scary for them. And - it's something the government could not control.

Mainstream newspapers had to blend in and compete with the emerging online community by calling themselves bloggers aka reporters, and comment boards cropped up in order to engage the "average" citizen. They have normally all taken on a form of censorship (they call it editing) eventually -when it is evident that there is a need to control the information politcally and then they just die and everything is what it was before.

There is not a doubt in my mind if that "columnist" you refer to started her own blog she would be read feverishly by the opposition and beat some more. Maybe the constant local attacks on her - not necessarily her column is what did it - if not for safety reasons alone the paper might release her? That is/was one of the ugliest local attacks I have ever seen. Thay paper column was mainly attacked at an internet level only by an opposing paper. Go figure.

There are bullies on the internet and some "globs" have got it down pat with their own little click of commenters. Glob = click. They are only there because they do what the real bully wants - like blog bullying someone on a weekly basis. It's like Pavlov's Dog - it's amazing how certain "globs" drool on command.