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.