Monday, October 26, 2009

This is Journalism? A Commentary.

Commentary by Ed McKeon

While the Middletown Press has returned to a handsome broadsheet layout, the paper has sunk to new depths in tabloid journalism.

Monday's paper featured a banner headline about a set of flyers that have been posted around town accusing city political leaders of illegal and corrupt activity. These accusations are nothing new, and in fact, not news at all to anyone who has attended a public meeting, or walked down Main Street in the past five months. The author of the flyers has been making these charges for months, and has often been thrown out of city meetings where he has displayed placards with identical messages.

(For the record, these accusations have been offered to the Middletown Eye for months, but we have refused to post them without substantiation.)

Since when is it front-page, 80-point-type, banner-headline, top story when a flyer filled with unsubstantiated accusations is distributed around town? Does this mean that the Middletown Press will make it a point to feature all such flyers, all such accusations and all such rumors as front-page news?

Imagine what the paper would be like if every rumor around town was given this kind of prominence.

Certainly, it's the first-amendment right of the flyer author to make such accusations, as it is the first-amendment right of the Middletown Press to reprint them.

However, with real journalism comes real responsibility. Printing rumors is not news, and in fact, is one of the many reasons that modern journalism has lost so much respect. A real newspaper would investigate the accusations to determine if they have merit before printing them. Perhaps these charges have some merit, but the reader wouldn't know because the Press printed the charges without checking very far to see if there's any validity. If the charges are true, you've got yourself a story. The kind of story a real newspaper would love to print. But without digging, all you've got is a rumor. There's a real danger in printing rumors. And an even more urgent danger in not investigating a rumor properly.

Apparently, the Middletown Press is no longer a real newspaper. And Monday's edition makes that clear.

On Monday, the paper leads with the "flyer" story, and then features another front page "story" about Senatorial candidate Merrick Alpert reading from his biography at Broad Street books. The Press obviously sent a photographer to the event (a stringer whose work has appeared in the Eye), but the "story," credited mysteriously to "Press staff" appears to have been cobbled together from a press release that the Merrick campaign released last week (and which appeared here, labeled as such). Inside the paper, in a news section, we have Middlesex Chamber of Commerce president Larry McHugh, with a corporate endorsement of a dialysis center on Main Street (an issue that will come before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday). With a local election crowded with candidates here in Middletown, the only real news in the MIDDLETOWN Press is a story about the East Haddam first selectman race.

Local news in the Press seems to be relegated to the reporter assigned to the Middletown Court House reporting the lurid details of murder and divorce trials.

What's worse, with it's reporting on the flyer, the Press may have opened itself up to slander charges, featuring some of the worst accusations in a kicker headline, and on its website comments section about the story, where you can find a set of the most vile and unsubstantiated charges one could imagine, on both sides of the issue.

Not a good strategy for a newspaper chain which is reported to be struggling for its financial life.


Anonymous said...

The article didn't even tell us who has been distributing the flyers.

Anonymous said...

Is there someone at the Middletown Press approving all those off-color , made-up names of the persons posting comments? Please, get them un-posted!

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the Middletown Eye and its contributors for understanding the importance of standards and for the doing the hard work required to fill the local news void.

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary. Could the Press sink any lower?

Bill corvo said...

Ed, I agree with your comments. As a former columnist for the Middletown Press when it was owned by the Berkshire group I am astounded at the complete plunge into fish wrapping irrelevance that the Middletown Press has become today. Their poor journalistic practices are surpassed by even poorer judgment in allowing sophomoric and moronic comments from the local peanut gallery of a slanderous nature. True freedom of speech has always required personal responsibility for that speech. The Press offers a free and offensive speech without any responsibility. If they create this environment then they will eventually reap what they sow.

joseph getter said...

The comments section of the Press is (almost) completely un-moderated. Anyone can post anything, and it goes up live on the web immediately. However, it is possibly to "flag" problematic posts there: I once flagged something that was blatantly offensive, and it was removed that day. Of course, all too often, there are way too many posts to flag on the Press site.

Perhaps there should be a place somewhere on the web for folks to vent anonymously, but in my opinion a respected newspaper should not serve in that role. I appreciate that the Eye not only delivers great original reporting and commentary, but allows for moderated reader responses.