What If Someone New Took the Journal Helm?

November 1st, 2013 · 7 Comments · economy, Education, energy policy, Fact Check, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Here’s a thought: What if Alan Webber, who’s just announced he’s running for the Democratic nomination for governor, ran the Albuquerque Journal?

Whether he was to take the helm of state administration or of the state’s leading newspaper, I submit the effect on New Mexico could be comparably profound.

To be clear, I’ve no inkling whether Webber has ever considered buying the Journal, or whether the Journal would even sell.

This is purely a “what if,” prompted in part by my being interviewed a couple of weeks ago by V.B. Price for his Insights series on New Mexico Mercury. (I’ll post a link when it runs. And regarding that, being on the other side of a Q&A is nerve-wracking: among other things, I know I misstated what ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – stands for. But I digress.)

At one point off-camera Price asked what it would take for the Journal to “get better.”

As of Tuesday, I’d heard of Fast Company, the magazine, but nothing of its founder, Alan Webber. So my reaction to his entry in the race was wait-and-see.

That is, until I learned that before the 10-year Santa Fe resident founded Fast Company (which he and a co-founder reportedly sold for $300 million), he helped formulate policy in progressive Portland, Oregon. He was also U.S. Transportation Secretary under President Jimmy Carter.

Considering the reaction from Gov. Susana Martinez’s camp to his candidacy, the New Mexico political newcomer is being treated as a serious contender in the Democratic primary and the gubernatorial race.

As Steve Terrell reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican today (Oct. 30):

Webber, 65, had barely begun making the rounds with political reporters Monday when Martinez’s campaign spokesman, Danny Diaz, emailed a statement attacking Webber over a memo that the Democrat had written more than 40 years ago concerning decreasing automobile usage. The statement said Webber represents “the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party” because of his “radical ideology.”

Even before Webber’s announcement, GOP allies of the governor took to Twitter to draw attention to an opinion piece Webber had written for USA Today last year calling for higher gasoline prices.

Webber’s reaction, in an interview with Terrell on Monday:

“I think this raises questions about how the Republican Party in New Mexico operates. . . .I think we have a culture of fear and intimidation that people in the Republican Party are trying to spread as a way of keeping the conversation from being hopeful and optimistic.”

Webber’s proclivity for being “hopeful and optimistic” can be seen in this  keynote speech he gave Sept. 7 at a technology conference about how to make a successful city (Portland) even better. The Oregonian reported this week that Webber was once “an influential aide to Neil Goldschmidt when Goldschmidt was the mayor of Portland,” and that:

During the 1970s, Webber helped Goldschmidt implement many of the strategies that helped set Portland on a new path — from killing the Mount Hood Freeway to focusing on livability and keeping the middle class in the city.

Again, this is not to feign the conceit that I have any insight into Webber’s ideas. It’s an interesting scenario to imagine because he does have a background in journalism – before Fast Company he was editorial page editor at the alternative Willamette Week and associate editor of Oregon Times magazine – and, he apparently has that other crucial qualification for purchasing the Journal: wealth.

And I’m imagining that a sea change at the state’s leading newspaper – which is already established with its printing press, fleet of vehicles, headquarters and stable of excellent and sometimes even extraordinarily gifted writers – would affect a sea change in terms of state policy as much as any change in government administration.

So, if not Webber, imagine if perhaps anyone more progressive than current Journal management were to helm the Albuquerque Journal (short of recommending Russell Brand). Here’s perhaps, just perhaps, what might change at the paper, and as Price suggested, make it better:

  • No more columns and letters claiming climate change is a hoax, or other misstatements and myths. According to an article in Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times has taken a stand against running such pieces and USA Today says its fact-checking extends to letters. But the Journal remains stuck in the mode espoused by the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Houston Chronicle, which told MoJo their sections are “essentially self-correcting” and that they run factually incorrect letters because they reflect the views of certain members of the community.
  • Consistent reportage of sustainability issues, including the story that tremendous amounts of energy can be saved just by green building and retro-fitting existing buildings. One need go no further than Santa Fe to report this story, which has been espoused by solar pioneer Edward Mazria’s Architecture 2030 for years. According to 2030, “Every year, nearly half (47.6%) of all energy produced in the U.S. is consumed by the Building Sector – about the same amount of energy consumed by both transportation (28.1%) and industry (24.4%) combined.”
  • A whole different slant, editorially at least, with regard to education. Webber has said his priorities as governor would be a different approach with regard to the economy and education. “We are at a standstill when it comes to creating good jobs and our schools aren’t giving the kids the education they need. I think it’s going to take new leadership in the governor’s office to turn those things around,” he said, according to AP’s Barry Massey.
  • Fewer pieces on the Op-Ed page – if any – by national “think tanks” like The Heritage Foundation and the “local”  Rio Grande Foundation. Today, the Journal ran yet another Heritage piece, this one criticizing U.S. Department of Energy’s study on ways to make microwave lighting more energy efficient. This, despite revelations regarding Heritage’s spotty credibility.
  • Fewer right-wing conservative pundits on the editorial page and more moderate and progressive columnists with actual backgrounds in journalism. The Journal has always been heavy on conservative columnists, and when the Albuquerque Tribune closed, it added yet another by picking up George Will, who had been the Trib’s rare conservative voice.

In other words, imagine if the whole slant of the Albuquerque Journal were to change – story choice, editorial positions, more fact-checking in letters and columns.

Now consider the impact the Journal has on public policy.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Roland Penttila

    I’m all for it. I may even campaign for Mr. Webber in the upcoming election. However, if he becomes the governor, it would be difficult to also run a newspaper in the largest city in the state. That potential conflict of interest wouldn’t bother a Republican…but it just might bother Mr. Webber.

  • Susan Clair

    If Webber were to own and manage the ABQ Journal—in a progressive, honest way—it might make “Journal Watch” no longer necessary.

  • Fred Leonhardt

    The Oregonian also recently reported this on Webber’s relationship with Neil Goldschmidt:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/steve_duin/index.ssf/2013/10/steve_duin_alan_webber_empathy.html#incart_river

  • Cheryl Everett

    Don’t tease me. But seriously, I’m afraid current Journal ownership is far too invested in its own self-importance to relinquish control of our state’s only metro-level newspaper. Being independently wealthy does confer enormous power in itself, but for so many of the wealthy, it’s never enough. We can hope, audaciously, for a media prince charming to rescue us. But until then, Journal Watch and we the readers will have to continue spreading the truth the hard way. Thanks as always for leading the fight.

  • Laura F. Sanchez

    Please! Mercy! Don’t tempt us with such a dream world! I hardly ever read the journal, so I forget how much influence it still has on public opinion in New Mexico until even progressive friends mention reading something in the paper. Your article is a great take on the situation.

  • Denise Tessier

    Roland,
    This was an either/or scenario: either governor or newspaper owner, but not both at the same time. The point is that both positions are influential. Sorry I wasn’t more clear.

  • Denise Tessier

    Here’s the link to the interview with New Mexico Mercury: http://newmexicomercury.com/blog/comments/insight_new_mexico_denise_tessier

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