By Tracy Dingmann
In regards to Denise’s blog post on Thom Cole’s UpFront piece from Wednesday:
I see her objection and raise it ten-fold.
Like Denise, I thought the story Cole produced on the (anonymous) appearance of Albuquerque Community Foundation executive director Randy Royster in a Diane Denish television campaign ad was overblown.
And like Denise, I think it is one thing for such a detail to appear in a regular news feature devoted to commenting on campaign advertising – and quite another for it to appear as the sole subject of Cole’s front page column.
But I also thought Cole’s UpFront piece on the Denish ad was so emblematic of his particular brand of “investigative journalism” mixed with opinionated nastiness masquerading as news that I just want to take this opportunity to offer my take on the broader issue of his UpFronts.
When the Journal began the UpFront experiment a little over one year ago, it was presented as a daily front page news and opinion column that would allow some of the paper’s better writers a chance to show off a bit on topics that interested or intrigued them. The news/opinion hybrid was quite a departure from the Journal’s long adherence to strictly objective journalism that barred reporters from ever expressing their opinion in print.
We at Journal Watch have written before about how readers have struggled with the UpFront format.
As we’ve noted, some writers do better at handling the mix of opinion and news than others. Joline Gutierrez Krueger, for instance, is skilled at telling tales tempered with a particular empathy for children and victims of crimes. Infrequent UpFront writers Win Quigley and John Fleck have produced some memorable pieces that not only took readers into their personal experiences but also educated them about a burning matter of the day.
These writers have shown there’s a way to craft these news/opinion hybrids so people get a taste of an issue and the writer’s view of it – without getting knocked over by their negativity.
Cole is a completely different case. For years he was one of the paper’s three investigative reporters. He answered directly to editor Kent Walz and publisher Thom Lang and spent precious little time mingling with beat reporters in the newsroom. He was, effectively, the paper’s hired gun.
Whenever Cole was in the newsroom, he spent his time in long meetings with editor Kent Walz and – more often than not, the paper’s legal team – in advance of one of his rare stories getting in the paper.
Typically, no one else at the Journal ever knew what Cole was working on until they read it in the paper. (That’s a huge departure from the way stories generated by or assigned to the rest of the reporters at the Journal are treated. Every idea is filtered through story meetings, shaped by conversations with editors and fellow journalists and placed on a schedule somewhere for everyone at the paper to see.)
Now Cole is one of the paper’s featured UpFront columnists.
Or is he? On the Journal’s website, Cole is still listed as an investigative reporter. And as such, readers need to know – he is still the paper’s hired gun, accountable to no one but the publisher and editor.
And do his UpFront pieces read like hit pieces? You better believe they do.
Many, many others have noted that Cole’s screeds are simply thinly-veiled extensions of the paper’s puzzling and harsh editorial positions on so many issues or particular people – whether he’s writing about medical marijuana, taxes, Gov. Richardson or whoever or whatever the paper’s editors don’t like.
Cole’s role at the Journal is glaringly obvious – and if you think it’s not, Journal editors, you’re sorely underestimating your readers.