By Tracy Dingmann
A fair and robust media is key to maintaining democracy in America – wouldn’t you agree?
It is true that newspapers – traditionally considered a blue-chip medium – have become less significant as more consumers turn to the Internet for news. But even amid plummeting circulation, newspapers continue to take their role seriously as the ultimate governmental and societal watchdogs.
Newspaper readers in Albuquerque used to have a choice of two daily papers, each with separate and widely different staffs who gathered the news and disseminated opinions. But since the Albuquerque Tribune closed last year, a sizable number of New Mexicans have had to rely on the Albuquerque Journal for their daily dose of local news, politics and opinion.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, this country was founded on the principles of free speech - the idea that all Americans benefit when a multiplicity of voices are heard. That’s the most compelling reason for lamenting the death of a major media outlet in our community.
But there’s something else that’s always been there about the Journal – I noticed it all throughout the 18 years I spent there writing for a variety of departments, and I think it’s gotten more pronounced since the Tribune closed.
And I don’t think I’m the only one who sees it.
Every day I talk to Journal readers who express dismay at the paper’s editorial stances and seemingly related news coverage – content that often seems driven by a undefined political agenda, not one that simply covers the facts. The fact that some news stories and editorial opinions appear to be in lockstep flies in the face of the long-cherished journalistic principle that there should be a hefty firewall between news and opinion.
For me – and for many others I talk to – the problem isn’t so much with the reporters – it’s with the decisions that fall squarely into editorial territory.
On the news pages, it’s things like headlines that don’t match a reporter’s story, puzzling story choices for the front page or investigations that amount to thinly-veiled vendettas against certain people or groups.
On the editorial page, it’s endorsements that are wildly out of step with the community, or the barrage of conservative columnists who express views grossly dissonant to the ideological views of most of those who live here.
Then there’s the things that the editorial department simply doesn’t have – like ethnic diversity in management and a positive image and involvement in the wider community.
All this is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the Journal calls itself the state’s “Paper of Record,” a term that implies that it covers everything and covers it fairly. The Journal also claims that its news gatherers and editors are “objective,” hewing to the old-fashioned traditional journalistic principle that a newspaper can produce coverage with no bias.
I’ve always found it odd that there’s no regular outlet for media criticism in Albuquerque. It needs to happen now, because today’s transformed media landscape means newspapers and other huge companies aren’t the only one who can make their voices heard. Now anyone can point out that newspapers aren’t always the bastions of objectivity they claim to be.
I believe readers can and should keep an eye on the watchdog. That’s why I’m helping start this media criticism site, which will take a serious look each week at editorials and news coverage from the state’s largest paper.
I’ve asked a longtime colleague, former Albuquerque Journal reporter and editorial page writer Denise Tessier, to help me provide weekly media criticism.
But we also want your help in telling us what you think of the Journal’s coverage.
In that spirit, please check out AbqJournalWatch.com, read the commentaries…. and submit your own opinion of New Mexico’s “Paper of Record!”