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No Speech for You!

seinfeld_soupnaziWith each passing day, life inside the confines of the Albuquerque Journal must be getting weirder and weirder.  In addition to having little in the way of a firewall between their political agenda and their news reporting (and in some cases openly flaunting this journalistic taboo), the Albuquerque Journal has now anointed itself the sole arbiter of what a person or organization can say.

Really.

The Albuquerque Journal has transformed itself into the Speech Nazi.  If you’re going to say something publicly, you better not step out of line.

Say something that comports with the Journal’s political agenda and you’re engaging in free speech.  Say something the Journal disagrees with and you might be “straying” into the yet-to-be defined “political arena.”

In today’s lead editorial, the Albuquerque Journal dug up the past and again displayed their unwillingness, or their inability, or both, to comprehend First Amendment law.  It’s truly puzzling, especially from a newspaper that purports to vigorously defend the First Amendment.

The lead…

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There They Go Again

disappointing_newspaperIn a post earlier this week, I was critical of the Albuquerque Journal – particularly their editors – for willfully blurring the line between the reporting of news and the issuance of opinions on their editorial pages.

This is a persistent problem at the Journal, a problem that has been well documented.

As if on cue, the Albuquerque Journal has done it again.

Monday’s Journal editorial page lavished effusive praise on Mayor Martin Chavez.  The praise was directed at the expansion of a summer educational program called “City Academies.”

The lead…

It’s a marriage made in parent/taxpayer heaven: Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez plans to expand the program that gives area teens something educational to do over the summer for free; city departments get some no-cost help during the busy vacation season.

And then this for the closing…

Circa 2009, reports could sound a lot more like this:

Teen version — Saw firsthand how police officers keep us safe. Practiced with city firefighters to control high-pressure fire hoses and rappel to rescue people. Learned what happens to the plastic and cardboard that gets picked up on trash day from our curb and watched solar power in action. Discovered how to maintain a hiking trail so it works with the ecosystem. Fed the animals in our zoo and aquarium.

City employee version — Taught tomorrow’s city leaders what makes a good city great.

“City Academies Make Summer Work Cool,” Albuquerque Journal June 1, 2009. Click here for the full editorial (you may need a subscription).

There are a couple of glaring problems with this editorial.

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The Albuquerque Journal: Habitual Wall-Jumper

dog jumping

I am remiss in not posting this sooner – visiting family and the holiday weekend threw me a little out of sorts.

Last Friday, New Mexico Independent commentator Arthur Alpert penned an interesting piece on media bias.

The final half of the commentary focuses on a recent Albuquerque Journal story regarding President Obama’s recent visit to Rio Rancho.  Alpert’s point is that the headline doesn’t really capture the essence of the story.  Instead, it more accurately captures the slant Journal editors are trying the put on the story by carefully crafting a headline that meets their political predilection.

There are many capable and honest reporters at the Albuquerque Journal who take their jobs very seriously.  The problem with the Journal is not with the reporters – it’s with the management and the editors.  Alpert sums this fact up with this pointed statement:

Journal reporters’ virtues make its editors’ inability to play fair very sad.

You said it, Mr. Alpert.

We here at Clearly New Mexico are no strangers to Albuquerque Journal editors and their purposeful manipulation of news stories.  Take the following examples.

Some New Mexico nonprofit organizations that appear to stray into the political arena could face new disclosure requirements as part of the fallout from a direct mail campaign that targeted a group of lawmakers last year.

The proposed legislation appears to be aimed at nonprofit organizations like Brix’s, which last year helped organize the direct mail campaign that carefully skirted the IRS definitions of political activity.

-Jeff Jones and Colleen Heild of the Albuquerque Journal, February 15, 2009.  Click here for the full story (you may need a subscription).


And…

An Albuquerque nonprofit that insists it wasn’t playing politics when it helped send out mailers targeting a handful of state lawmakers last year has engaged in past political work that includes identifying and training potential candidates, according to a report now circulating in New Mexico political circles.

Legislation aimed at requiring financial disclosure from nonprofits that stray into the political arena was introduced in the last session but died in committee.

-Jeff Jones and Colleen Heild of the Albuquerque Journal, April 19, 2009.  Click here for the full story (you may need a subscription).


When writing a factual news story, phrases like “straying into the political arena,” “carefully skirted” and “engaged in past political work” should be phrased as opinions.  And, those opinions should be properly attributed to someone.  Instead, in the stories referenced above, Albuquerque Journal editors pass off opinion – their opinion – as fact.

The Albuquerque Journal has shown itself, time and again, to be incapable of maintaining a proper firewall between the editing of news stories and the production of actual editorial (opinion) content.  The editors at the Albuquerque Journal, as Arthur Alpert correctly points out, have a political agenda.  Readers ought to take note of this when seeking news and information from the largest daily in the state.

The Journal has long touted itself as the state’s “Paper of Record,” a term that implies that it covers everything and covers it fairly.  The Journal also pays great lip service to the idea 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.

The Journal makes a great show of playing by those rules, but its coverage shows otherwise.

Simply put, the editors at the Albuquerque Journal habitually ignore the long-standing newspaper industry firewall between news content and editorial content.

Advocates With a Pen

RFK_CesarThere’s been so much talk about the decline of the traditional media and concern about what kind of in-depth journalism might rise up to up to take its place.

But I’m more encouraged now about the future of journalism since I’ve seen the ambitious and righteous project called  “Divided Families,” a series of stories by journalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

The series, a melange of photos and text which movingly examined the lives of  families divided by the U.S. – Mexico border, won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the college print journalism category. It traces the stories of families who are separated as a result of both legal and illegal immigration and explores the social consequences of public immigration policy.  (To view the full series, go to the above link and click on the PDF file on the right side of the page. )

The Divided Families project was the work of 17 students in the Cronkite School’s In-Depth Reporting class. Students took more than 30 trips to the border, deep into Mexico and to various parts of Arizona to report, record and photograph their stories.

You can read about the other winners, which included The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer and National Public Radio, here.

The prizes will be awarded today in a ceremony at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The RFK Journalism Awards program honors outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert F. Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world. Winning pieces examine the causes, conditions and remedies of injustice and analyze relevant public policies and attitudes and private endeavors.

Crashing the Gates of the Mainstream Media

Check out this great read from PBS’s excellent Mediashift website about the crucial role the blogosphere plays in media criticism. My favorite line is about bloggers crashing the gates traditionally kept by the so-called “legacy” media:

Here comes the crowd, and in many instances, they’re not very happy and they have cheap global distribution for their thoughts. And you won’t like them when they’re angry.

Give it a read!

City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

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