Friday, November 2, 2018

Where would we be without local journalism?


“Journalism” is one of those charged words employed by any number of sources either in support or opposition.  Most often in our experience is the case where those working in various forms of media use the term in an attempt to elevate themselves above the little people who populate their audience.  They call themselves journalists to lend a certainty and loftiness to their efforts.

A perfect example in the local media mix is Edgar Allen Beem, the featured opinion journalist for The Forecaster.  Eddie has labeled himself a “journalist” innumerable times in his columns, which are in most cases nothing but personal screeds about the politics of the day, and in most cases, shrill and harshly partisan opinions at that. 

Recently he’s been drawn to weepy mourning over the incivility and partisan divides of our times, all while using language that only adds to the problem.  Calling “99% of Trump voters white trash Americans” is a classic example of how he reaches out to us all to calm the waters of political discord.

Which may explain why reader evaluations of his column have been increasingly negative in recent months.  Not only that, the comments posted by readers have lately been almost totally in opposition to his columns, as compared to past years where he drew upon a loyal cadre of adoring groupies to defend and praise anything he wrote, no matter how divisive, snotty, and condescending it was.

Which suits us just fine; we’ve jousted with him regularly, and driven him to fits of distraction and flights of incoherence in a number of cases.  In the process, we’ve amused ourselves no end.

Eddie often uses dictionary definitions of a term of interest to build his arguments on a given subject.  We thought we’d try the same by looking up the word journalism….and we found this:

journalism  (noun)

  1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.
  2. press1(def 31).
  3. a course of study preparing students for careers in reporting, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines.
  4. writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing: He calls himself a historian, but his books are mere journalism.

We find definitions 1 and 4 the most interesting.  Note the words news and superficial, and the absence of the word “opinion.”

Which brings us to another recent instance of “journalism” that caught our attention.  Our friends at The Ostrich use this graphic at the top of their web page and print editions.


Based on our years of following them, we could and would take issue with all three terms in their self-aggrandizing self-labeling.  Calling yourself legitimate is revealing; it’s like a politician saying “you can trust me on this, because I’m not like all the others.”  When you come right down to it, just exactly what does the term “legitimate” mean in this context?  For that matter, what do the words local and journalism mean in the same context?

We cannot think of an instance in recent memory where TR reporting (journalism) goes beyond the level of parroting press releases and perhaps talking to a local source or two.  The concept of investigative reporting is completely foreign to them.  Their coverage is 3 inches deep and 2 feet wide.  They carry the party line of whoever and whatever they are covering.  And for those who pay attention, they clearly make their coverage choices based on the overall editorial slant of whomever controls the content.  Increasingly, of course, that is shared content with other media outlets in Maine, almost all of which are owned by a single individual.

Under the circumstances, expecting a broad and balanced view of the events that occur on a daily basis is a fool’s errand.  And given the skimpiness of the staffs at these outlets, expecting a look below the first level or two of the onion skin is similarly ill advised.

But couldn’t we at least expect a fairly high degree of language skills from those who claim to be “legitimate” in informing us with their “journalism” efforts?  One of the challenges of running a media operation, especially a print operation, is that you put yourself out there for examination, and in the process you expose yourself and the skill sets inherent in your leadership.

Let’s take a recent example.  Jon Crimmins, a local resident with an every other week slot on the opinion page of The Ostrich, had this column run:

It ran with this appendage from the editors:

Editor’s note:

We agree with Mr. Crimmins’ ascertation that “a diversity of thought is important.” We would further argue that since the paper’s acquisition by Reade Brower, we have been able to provide a greater diversity of local and state coverage, thanks to partnerships with not only the Portland Press Herald, but with the Kennebec Journal, The Forecaster, Coastal Journal and others. Our Local and Maine pages are more robust and carry far more indepth stories that, prior to the acquisition, were out of our reach. Rather than supplant our own stories, this sharing agreement supplements our coverage, while allowing our own, admittedly small staff to take deeper dives into the stories that matter most. Local journalism matters at The Times Record. It always will.

Aside from the “deeper dives” comment, we learned two things in this add on note.  First, we gained a new word for our vocabulary; we didn't realize Jon had ascertated anything in particular in this column.  On the other hand, maybe one of these days The Ostrich will acquire a spell checker....or a copy reader with a vocabulary.

Secondly, no one is in a position to ascertate the sentiment in the last two sentences.

In a nutshell, this brief little editorial note tells us more about the supposed professionals who manage the Times Record than they could ever have imagined.

And it pretty much blows the claims of “local. legitimate. journalism” right out of the shallow water they were doggy paddling in.

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