Today, Public Eye continues its semi-regular look at the issues at play in Print MediaLand -- at least the ones that seem worth passing along. (As sometimes these things get too insider-y even for us.) So keep your hands inside the car at all times, and we're off:
This week's piping hot batch of ombudsman columns dealt with a wide range of serious journalistic issues, and added a little patriotic twist in honor of Independence Day week.
Subtraction Through Addition?
We start off in Kansas City – Kansas City, here we come – where Kansas City Star ombudsman Derek Donovan heard from a concerned reader who had seen a curious change in the text of an article originally printed in another publication.
Reader Brian J. Finucane e-mailed me last Tuesday about that day's lead A-1 story about a suicide bombing in Baghdad, which killed several Sunni sheiks who had been working with American forces against al-Qaida in Anbar province. Although the story was credited to The New York Times, Finucane noticed that the original version on that paper's Web site read rather differently from The Star's.Strong Readers, Strong Opinions
"I compared the stories and found that The Star's story had a negative and speculative anti-American lead that was not in the Times' story," he wrote. While the original version stuck to the straight facts of the murderous bombing, The Star added as introduction: "In a setback to U.S. efforts to reconcile hostile factions." The rest of the article varied from the original Times version, noting that reports from McClatchy newspapers contributed to the final version.
Both David House in Fort Worth and Timothy McNulty at the Chicago Tribune dealt with a laundry list of common complaints raised by readers: bias in columns, late papers, insulting the intelligence of the readership, bring back the chess column, etc. But the ever-literate House edged ahead by pulling in an erudite quote:
Perhaps the 18th-century cleric Joseph Priestley had the answer when he said, "The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate."How Anonymous Is AA?
Ted Vaden at the Charlotte News and Observer has to tackle the dicey issue of what to do when Alcoholics Anonymous is an integral part of a crime investigation.
"Suspect met victim at AA," read the headline on a story in Wednesday's paper. It went on to say, in the lead paragraph, "Sheriff's deputies say the man they think killed a 38-year-old northern Chatham County woman last month met her at Alcoholics Anonymous and used her ATM card to withdraw money days after she was last seen."That's a very difficult call to make. Read on to see where he fell on the matter…
The article brought strong protests from AA advocates. Alcoholics Anonymous is all about anonymity, they said, and for The News & Observer to lift that protective cloak, even for an accused murderer and victim, undermines that underlying principle of the recovery program. Especially by associating it with violence.
Freedom: More Than A George Michael Song
Down in Louisville, Pam Platt makes a segue where I wouldn't have and decides to smush together the "Sopranos" farewell debate and July 4th and find out what her readers think about "Freedom."
So I've been thinking about the maddening conclusion of "The Sopranos" television series and about the United States of America, and about what the two might have in common. Not a bad thing to contemplate as we leave the New Jersey family in the rearview and spot another birthday for our nation through the windshield.Says Bob Edwards, in answer to Platt's question:
Isn't America supposed to be about choice?
"Freedom was what we had before cell phones and e-mail brought the office into our homes -- before credit cards and the internet tracked where we go, what we read and how we spend."Preach on, Bob!
OmbudPick of the Week
Sometimes I wonder how bad the media frenzy would be if a really big celebrity story from the past had a 24-hour news cycle to feed. Lindbergh's baby? Charlie Chaplin being barred from returning to America in the 1950s. But San Antonio ombudguy Bob Richter takes it even further back, wondering how today's media would cover the Declaration of Independence.
What would the polls show? What would be the spin? Who would speak for it? Or against?Happy Fourth of July, Bob. You deserve another hot dog for that one.
Certainly old Ben Franklin, a former newspaperman himself, would be a media darling. And Sam Adams, the heart and soul of the revolutionary movement, would be quotable. So would young Jefferson, the primary author of the proposed Declaration of Independence.
To seek balance, reporters no doubt would also speak with the king's agents — in the customs houses and chambers of commerce, royal appointees and rank-and-file Tories — who would warn: "This has economic disaster written all over it."