Monday, April 25, 2005

Representatives, Ombudsmen, and Apologists

I never thought I'd be nostalgic for Lou Gelfand! Geldand was the readers' representative at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for many years, before being reassigned -- he claims -- as a form of age discrimination. His column included the standard reader complaints, with Gelfand providing his own response or that of the reporter. He would chide the reporters and editors for lapses such as labeling one group as conservative, while failing to provide an ideological label to the group's liberal counterpart. Still, Gelfand never saw a pattern of liberal bias in these lapses.

The new Strib readers' representative, Kate Parry, is much worse because she has become the defender-in-chief of the newspaper. Yesterday she printed reader responses to her April 17 column on media criticism.

You may think that it is not unusual for a readers' representative to write a column on media criticism, but this one is different. Instead of following up on reader complaints about the Star Tribune, Kate Parry defended the media against general criticism from Congressman Tom Delay of Texas (probably not a Star Tribune reader) and former Governor Jesse Ventura (probably not a reader of any newspaper). In the Delay example, Parry labels Delay's response to reports that his wife and daughter are employed by his campaign and political action committee as an illegitimate "attack" on the media. Parry neglects to mention that the employment of Delay's wife and daughter is not illegal, not unusual in Washington, nor is it newsworthy (Roll Call already reported on it years ago). Rather than seriously investigate Delay's claim that the liberal media were out to "smear" him, Parry piles on with the rest of them.

The Ventura story is the old one about his son partying in the Governor's Mansion. To lump in Ventura's paranoia and general weirdness with legitimate media criticism is unfair. And it flies in the face of Parry's admonishment against "broad" criticism and demand for "specific" and "fact-based" attacks.

In the end, the worst part about Parry's last two columns is that she turns the role of ombudsman on its head. Instead of responding to reader concerns, she is putting out her own pet issues, not specific to the Star Tribune, and then inviting readers to respond. If Lou Gelfand was guilty of sometimes being an apologist for the Minneapolis newspaper, Kate Parry is a full blown defender of the mainstream media. To whom do you turn when the readers' representative is biased?

(answer: blogs)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Books, Quotes, and Fun

Check out this exercise I found via Martin Andrade:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal or website along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

My quote is, "And Mr. Salisbury objected strongly to the breaking of his promise to Mr. Cohen."

The book is The Taming of the Press: Cohen v. Cowles Media Company by Elliot Rothenberg.

Try it yourself and report in the comment section below.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dragged, Beaten, and Robbed

The Star Tribune finally covered the story of the 15 year-old boy who was dragged from a Minneapolis Metro Transit bus, beaten and robbed. There are a number of interesting twists to the media coverage, as well as the story itself.

The Strib used the word "riot" in a story about North Minneapolis, albeit quoting from the formal charges filed by authorities. This is noteworthy because "melee" was the term of art to describe racial unrest in 2002. The Star Tribune coverage of the 2002 riot was similar in that the state's largest newspaper was late with the story.

None of the coverage (here, here, and here) mentions this as a "hate crime." The local Fox/UPN affiliates did describe the taunts of "white boy." The Strib coverage implies that it is being investigated as a hate crime, but never uses the term. Again, this echoes the 2002 riot, where an the H-word was rarely used, despite the beating of a Latino journalist by black individuals during a race riot.

Come to think of it, why haven't we heard from any of the Twin Cities neighborhood activist/racial hustlers about this incident? Where is the great healing hand of Mayor R.T. Rybak?

The media accounts differ on some important details. Was it the Tr- Tr- Crips, or the Tr--Six Vice Lords? Was it only a wallet that was stolen?

One of the television news accounts suggested that the victim escaped to a convenience store that was "known" to have video cameras (a convenience store was a refuge in the 2002 riots, too). This seems odd because it was reportedly the first time the victim rode the bus, not to mention the fact that this was not his stop. How would he know about this particular store having cameras? Moreover, being outnumbered as he was, the victim probably did not escape as much as he was let go. None of this is to blame the victim; we save that for school shooting and hunting rampage victims.

The media accounts do agree on one of the most troubling aspects of this case: the bus driver and the other passengers let this happen. The driver shouted that he had them on camera, and then drove off. Shame, shame, shame.

Finally, the Star Tribune story concludes with a reference to "the bus line where the fight took place..." (emphasis mine). What fight? The kid was dragged off the bus, beaten, and robbed.

I don't know if the coverage (or lack thereof) has anything to do with the mainstream media's agenda on issues such as mass transit, crime, or race relations. I only know that it is an example of bad reporting.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Cookie, Snuffy, and P.C.

Cookie Monster is going to start to eat healthy. Sesame Street has decided that the blue monster is a bad influence on the eating habits of children. Does this mean that Big Food is off the hook?

Don't they realize that Cookie Monster is supposed to be a bad example? I hope that Oscar the Grouch is not going to attend anger management training!

This reminds me of the decision to allow other characters besides Big Bird to see Mr. Snuffleupagus. The thought was that children would learn that adults would not believe them if they reported abuse. Come to think of it, the King of Pop pretty much relies on that fact.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Minimum Wage, Paper Routes, and the Strib

A Star Tribune editorial recently scolded Minnesota for not raising the minimum wage since 1997. My day-job colleague (Trunk from Powerline) suggested that the Strib ought to make a "public statement about the value of work" and pay its delivery carriers better. The newspaper has carefully designated those with paper routes as "independent contractors" since 1997, but continued to provide workers' compensation coverage as recently as 2000.

An article in City Pages (not exactly a friend of the free market) from 2000 describes the compensation for Star Tribune delivery carriers. Calculating the pay on an hourly basis depends on several variables: the fee per newspaper, the length of time it takes to complete a route, the cost of gasoline, and customer complaints that result in fines. A new carrier will presumably take longer to complete a route and will make mistakes that generate more customer fines.

The carrier profiled in the City Pages article receives 18 cents per paper, delivering more than 200 papers on a 34-mile route. After gas and fines, he estimates that he makes "a little more than nine bucks an hour." He finishes his weekday route an hour before the 6:30 a.m. deadline, with papers first available at the depot for pick up starting at 2:00 a.m. This means that fines and gas cost him approximately $5.00 each weekday.

A carrier who has similar fines and a similar route, but who takes the entire 4.5 hours to deliver 200 papers could easily make less than $7.00 per hour for this "thankless and difficult" (quoting the editorial) job.

Admittedly, the numbers probably have changed since the article was written in 2000, particularly the price of gasoline. But it is doubtful that the adult "paperboys" and "papergirls" have received the $1.85 per hour raise advocated by their employer...I mean... independent-contractor-giver.

It remains to be seen whether Governor Pawlenty will borrow a page from Dick Morris and "triangulate" on this issue. Perhaps he should be forced to sign a "no new job killer" pledge in 2006, rather than a tax pledge.