Questionable Balance

April 14th, 2015 · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

As a sophisticated consumer of journalism, you know the dangers involved when news people or institutions seek balance. Most obviously, it implies there are two sides to a story. If only the world were that simple.

And then there’s the problem of deciding what you want to balance. Years ago, when I did TV news, we joked about producing a documentary on air pollution that would be objective and balanced. We’d devote the first half to how dirty air harms living things, then use the second to show it cleaning the lungs.

You also have noticed how infrequently the Albuquerque Journal attempts balance; generally, it ignores (or covers minimally) state efforts to limit voting, the vast growth of income and wealth inequality, how the tax system aids and abets that, climate change, corporate welfare, big (and anonymous) money in politics and demonization of the poor.

And that’s just in the news columns.

So when the Journal does seek balance, I pay attention, alert for a journalistic lesson.

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Joining the ‘Best Of’ Bandwagon

April 6th, 2015 · campaign finance reform

By Denise Tessier

A year ago, if the Weekly Alibi had called its annual reader’s poll story “The Only Survey That Matters,” it would have come across as just so much Alibi tongue-in-cheek hubris.

But with the staid Albuquerque Journal now in its second year with its own reader’s survey awards, this month’s Alibi Best of Burque 2015 cover headline – “The Only Survey That Matters” — takes on a different hue.

Yes, the Alibi has been doing the survey like, forever, and so the Journal’s decision last year to launch its own contest did come off as a bit copycat – like grandpa trying to prove he can be cool, too.

Readers following declining-sales-of-newspapers stats would have surmised correctly, however, that the Journal launch was yet another attempt at attracting more readers (maybe younger ones?) and, more importantly, at attracting more advertisers.

The Journal’s Reader’s Choice Awards is the latest in a list of measures the paper has taken in recent years in an effort to offset the collapse of the classified pages. [Read more →]

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Cognitive Dissonance

April 4th, 2015 · journalism, war and peace

By Arthur Alpert

I was listening to KUNM Radio several Friday mornings ago when Philip Connors, who wrote the highly praised “Fire Season”, recalled for interviewer Stephen Spitz his days as a Wall Street Journal reporter.

When terrorists hit the World Trade Center, Connors said, he read his own newspaper and suffered “cognitive dissonance.” What caused this mental conflict was the stark contradiction between what WSJ reporters wrote in the news pages about the events of 9/11 and the editorial page version.

Two different worlds!

Readers of the Albuquerque Journal, I mused over my breakfast coffee, never suffer that headache. Our local daily is one thing, not two. Journal editors impose their reality on the entire publication.

Or, to use classic newspaper terms, the WSJ enjoys a wall between editorial page and news operation and the Albuquerque Journal doesn’t. So those at the top of the Journal’s internal hierarchy can align the “news” with its corporate political agenda.

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Some Brief Observations

March 24th, 2015 · energy policy, environment, journalism, labor, NM Legislature, regulation

By Arthur Alpert

I’m falling behind again, so here are a few, brief observations about the Albuquerque Journal’s daily alternative to journalism:

• “Falsehoods and deception led to senator’s $50K payday” was the headline over Up Front columnist Thomas Cole’s excellent recapitulation of the Sen. Phil Griego story Sunday, March 22.

Of course, it’s eight months since Peter St.Cyr broke it in the Santa Fe Reporter. It’s odd that the Journal ignored it so long, but Democrat Griego worked well with the Journal’s allies in Santa Fe.

And the Journal is dedicated to the proposition that we can understand politics through the party prism alone, the better to ignore big money’s sway in both parties.

Also, Cole failed to credit St. Cyr and the SFR. Graceless.

• “Sen. Ted Cruz to enter GOP race for presidency” was the headline over a Monday, March 23 story attributed to “The Associated Press.”

There was no byline and I couldn’t track down the original AP piece, but when Journal editors drop the byline from an AP account it usually means they’ve edited a lot.

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Was the Journal UpFront Column About Student Letters Fair?

March 21st, 2015 · Education, inequality, journalism, role of government, state government

By Denise Tessier

A week ago (March 13), the Albuquerque Journal gave its most important front page slot – the upper right-hand column – to an UpFront opinion piece by D’Val Westphal, one of the Journal’s editorial writers. It was headlined “Students’ letters show the system isn’t working”.

In it, Westphal reported that she had obtained, via a public records request, copies of 165 letters written by Santa Fe high school students to Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. And of these letters she wrote:

They are stunning. And not in a good way.

Illustrating the story were five letters, all of which were hand-printed – not typed or written in cursive – and Westphal wrote that they “seem to be from early elementary students with a rudimentary grasp of grammar, spelling and logic,” rather than from students in high school.

Four of the five letters contained misspellings and other mistakes. The impression left by the column was that the letters being shown and others quoted in the story with similar errors were representative of the total 165 letters, not anomalies. Yet, just three days before this column ran (March 10) the Journal published a well-research and articulate letter from a Kelly Drummond of Los Lunas (the fourth in this group of letters about testing), who self-identified as a student “speaking for many students at my school.”

That left this reader wondering. And it turns out, others were wondering about the letters and the Journal column as well.

KNME’s New Mexico in Focus weekly media email, in advance of its March 20 segment, said local expert panelists on the The Line would be discussing “whether student letters published recently in the Albuquerque Journal truly represent the writing skills of New Mexico students.”

Then Friday morning, before The Line discussion aired, Joey Peters of the Santa Fe Reporter wrote about the same group of letters Westphal had obtained, but put them in a completely different light.

The story Peters posted was headlined “Dear Hanna Skandera: Student letters to education secretary about PARCC testing weren’t as bad as story portrayed” and in it he wrote:

While Westphal picked the worst excerpts of the 165 letters sent to Skandera, for this post, I’ll do the opposite and choose from the best excerpts.

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Journal Silent on Udall’s Chemical Industry Regulation Bill

March 20th, 2015 · Congress, environment, journalism, regulation, Washington

By Denise Tessier

Both the Santa Fe New Mexican and the New York Times this past week have weighed in with editorials about New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall’s bill that would update federal law regulating chemicals. As of this writing, the Albuquerque Journal has not.

The Journal’s Washington, D.C. correspondent, Michael Coleman, has done an excellent job informing readers about the debate Udall’s bill has attracted (“Chemical regulation legislation draws debate,” March 19) and the flak (“Udall catches flak over rewrite of chemical legislation,” March 11), but they are no stand-in for an official position that would normally be expected from the editorial board of the state’s largest daily. (Traditionally, all editorials have their genesis in news stories like Coleman’s.)

That both a local (the New Mexican) and a national paper (New York Times) would opine on the New Mexico Democrat’s bill makes the Journal’s lack of opinion regarding a local congressman on the national stage even more noticeable. [Read more →]

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New Mexican Directly Addresses Readers After Editor’s DWI Arrest

March 20th, 2015 · journalism

By Denise Tessier

The Santa Fe New Mexican deserves credit for publishing a story last Thursday (March 12) about the arrest of its own editor on suspicion of drunken driving earlier that same day.

That it would follow the story with an opinion piece from the newspaper’s owner a week later (March 19) is even more noteworthy.

Owner Robin Martin’s direct address to readers showed a respect that would have been lacking had the paper ignored the incident on its editorial page, especially since the paper had decided Ray Rivera would remain editor. [Read more →]

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Editorial on Griego Resignation Exposes Gap in News Coverage

March 18th, 2015 · journalism, NM Legislature, state government, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

What follows probably constitutes a first. I don’t remember ever digging into a single Albuquerque Journal editorial for a post.

But what the editorial board said Tuesday, March 17, under the headline, “Griego resignation fallout sends politics into the mud” deserves attention for its tone, what it gets right and what it reveals about management’s reporting of politics.

First, please note the rubric’s tone, maintained to the end of the editorial. It’s oh-so-moralistic. Of course, the Journal often speaks as if perched high atop the Sangre de Cristos, miles above the vulgar political fray, the better to disguise the reality that it is itself a political player.

Heck, only three days earlier, the daily perpetrated its latest public relations promotion for its fossil fuel friends. It was another Marita Noon Op Ed column, an attack on rooftop solar power. The essay came courtesy of the industry and – par for the course – the Journal hid that from readers.

(I’ve no idea if the editorialists are blind to the contradiction or cynical.)

But back to the editorial, which as a citizen I generally found agreeable and which took both parties to task for the political maneuvers around the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego, a San Jose Democrat, and the need to replace him.

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Relegating The Civil Rights Struggle To The Past

March 16th, 2015 · civil rights, journalism, voting rights

By Arthur Alpert

Oh, the things you learn from reading the Albuquerque Journal!

America’s eternal struggle with race is pretty much history. Did you know that? Truth be told, I didn’t. Not, that is, until I read the Journal’s headlines over the story of the recent commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma 50 years ago and contrasted them with rubrics in the N.Y. Times and Washington Post March 8.

The Times wrote:

“Obama at Selma Memorial, Says, ‘We Know the March is Not Yet Over’”. (It was the Times’ lead story.)

The Washington Post wrote:

“‘The march is not yet over,’ Obama tells crowd at foot of Selma Bridge”. (It was front page at the Post.)

Whereas Journal editors wrote:

Civil rights milestone marked by first black president”.

And for the second deck, “Remembering 1965’s ‘Bloody Sunday’”. (The Journal story ran on A3.)

And the Journal decision to relegate the civil rights battle to the past ignored how Jay Reeves and Darlene Superville of the Associated Press opened their account:

“America’s racial history ‘still casts its long shadow upon us,” President Barack Obama said Saturday as he stood in solidarity and remembrance with civil rights activists…”

Hmmm. Reporters at the liberal Establishment N.Y. Times, the conservative Establishment Washington Post and the newspaper collective Associated Press agreed the news was in the President’s statement that the struggle for equal rights continues.

And the Journal’s headline denied it.

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Journal Rolled Out Red Carpet for Netanyahu’s Speech

March 9th, 2015 · foreign policy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Because we have not for a long time explicated the newspaper’s narrative on foreign policy, including Israel and the Mideast, let us consider the Albuquerque Journal’s lead story Wednesday, March 4.

To do so properly, we must read it in the context of the Journal’s basic stance on foreign policy. As regular readers know, that stance is simple – President Obama’s foreign policy is wrong. Always wrong.

Well, except when it agrees with John McCain’s foreign policy.

From reading news stories, opinion columns and editorials, I’ve also observed that the Journal’s disapproval of Mr. Obama’s international policies is stronger than its rejection of his domestic proclivities. Perhaps the president’s corporatism allows for some common ground.

Regular readers also understand the Journal is not partisan on foreign policy, but allies itself with those neo-conservative Republicans and Democrats who champion American military intervention in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine, among other hotspots.

We know that because Journal editors never publish the views of those Republicans (old-time conservatives and “libertarians”) who fear repeating the tragic George W. Bush years. Interesting, no, how the Journal lets them preach economics but not weigh in on war and peace. Well, almost never. The paper does abide George Will’s rare, mild, parenthetical slaps at the warmongers.

Ergo, I was not surprised when the editors played Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s excellent, bellicose, stem-winder of a speech to the Congress on the front page Wednesday, March 4, making it the lead story, adorning it with a small photo and three – count ‘em – three rubrics.

At the top, in red, was: Israeli PM (colon). Next, in big, black type, came “Iran deal a ‘potential nuclear nightmare’. And finally, “NM reaction to Netanyahu’s controversial speech is mixed”.

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