Delivering News Via Editorial Is a Sticky, Messy Disservice

August 12th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Before this particular observation gets too old, I’d like to jump on the Journal for once again running an opinion/analysis piece instead of delivering straight news, and for putting it in a front-page news slot without an explanatory footnote or box labeling it as such.

The Journal headlined the piece in question “D.C. May Help Community Banks,” and it’s significant to note that this story (which ran Aug. 3) was released by the Associated Press as one of its “Spin Meter” offerings. A Google search reveals that most national outlets running the article by the AP’s Daniel Wagner not only labeled it “Spin Meter,” but added in the midst of the of the story this standard Spin Meter line:

EDITOR’S NOTE — An occasional look behind the rhetoric of public officials.

Among those using the label and editor’s note are the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Cleveland.Com, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune and msnbc.com.

But the Journal just stuck it on the front page with neither label nor note.

In the old days, a newspaper like the Journal first would run the news story and then editorialize. But this front-page combo, which is basically an editorial delivering the news, is like 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner – you get both, but it’s sticky and messy and ends up a disservice to your head.

The story was this: The Obama administration had revealed a plan to give financial aid to smaller community banks so they can lend money to small businesses, so the small businesses in turn can expand and hire people, which would in turn help the economy. This is a proposal that frankly, some of us would like to know more about, considering the fact that the bailouts of the big banks appear to have done nothing to help small businesses and alleviate unemployment. And believe me, most people will be looking at it with a critical eye, considering much of the big bank bailout money went to bonuses and not Main Street.

But instead of getting that story, what we get here is a piece slamming the plan as just another “bailout” (a term the Journal used in its headline on the inside jump for the story: “D.C. Weighs Bailout for Small Banks”). We get immediate condemnation of the entire plan (what would normally be an editorial) with the story’s lead sentence:

People are fed up with bank bailouts that risk taxpayer billions. The government’s apparent solution: call them something else.

Obama is calling the program a “common-sense plan” to help small banks and small businesses, but Wagner says it’s a $30 billion “bailout.” The article states simply:

At its core, the program is another bank rescue.

It also says “the proposal has drawn little notice from a public weary of bailouts.” How is the public supposed to notice the plan if it isn’t publicized?

But more importantly, how can we intelligently – and independently – assess the merits of a proposal based on the here’s-a-proposal-and-it’s-bad take?

Last November, the Journal itself ran on its Sunday Money page a story by Win Quigley, “Credit Freeze-Out,” which reported that even profitable Albuquerque-area businesses with excellent credit have had their credit lines canceled with no chance of getting new ones. On the surface it would appear the Obama plan might help those kinds of small businesses who were frozen out from financing and spur the economy and help the middle class.

Yet Wagner’s front-page column/article of last week actually implies that any weakness on the part of community banks could be laid in part at the feet of small businesses. It says:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others have questioned whether the problem is lack of capital, or if there simply aren’t enough creditworthy borrowers.

This is a blame game. And it sounds like opinions are being made without benefit of solid information.

And now Journal readers are being asked to do the same. Might Obama’s plan help small businesses? Is it a (wince) bailout?

Readers would be better served with a straight news story from which to start to sort it out.

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