Public Journal Bashing…and Other Bad News

January 16th, 2014 · 5 Comments · environment, journalism, NM Legislature

By Denise Tessier

Albuquerque attorney and former city councilor Michael Cadigan took to facebook last week to announce that he has “finally taken the plunge” and dropped his subscription to the Albuquerque Journal. From his post:

. . . As a news junkie, it was tough, but I finally cancelled my subscription to the Albuquerque Journal. The Journal is nothing more than a house organ for the (Susana) Martinez administration and the (Richard) Barry administration, and an anti-Obama, screed. I can accept a conservative editorial page, but even their news pages have become press releases for the Governor and Mayor. No effort to hold the Governor and Mayor accountable for the dismal economy, no effort to look behind the platitudes. I will subscribe to the New Mexico Business First, and continue with the New York Times. For local news, KOB.com, KOAT.com and KRQE.com. I will also subscribe to the electronic Santa Fe Reporter. I feel sorry for the reporters that work at the Journal, but I cannot support this sad excuse for journalism with even my meager subscription fee.

Within a few hours, nearly 30 people had “liked” the comment, including former lieutenant governor Diane Denish (who lost the gubernatorial election to Susana Martinez, in large part – as outlined here at ABQJournalWatch —  because of the way the Journal chose to frame the two candidates).

Several others posted “welcome to the club”-type comments – from former reporters to other public figures. Seeing a comment from former Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, who has criticized the Journal on his own blog and in comments to ABQJournalWatch, was not surprising. But there were others in the mix.

From Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg:

I am glad you took a stand and wish more would follow – and further refuse to patronize any business who advertises in the Journal. I canceled my subscription over a year ago after being frustrated for years with the slant and half-truths. My mornings are much more pleasant, now.

Another came from Albuquerque attorney Robert McNeill:

I’m about to do the same. I’ll miss the crossword puzzle. What a shame that we don’t have a decent newspaper in this town. The absence of a good paper is an immeasurable hindrance to our progress in addressing so many social problems.

At this point, I’d like to point out that because my colleague Arthur Alpert and I do weekly media criticism of the Albuquerque Journal on ABQJournalWatch.com, some people assume that I would like to see the Journal lose subscribers and go down in flames.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, it was disheartening to read — also last week — the announcement that the Journal will replace its Tuesday-through-Sunday Journal North edition with a weekly publication, starting Feb. 7.

As an interesting aside: I learned of this change not from the Journal, but from the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Journal North ran a story about the change, but the New Mexican had the jump on getting the story out because it was included in the New Mexican’s daily emailed news summary, while Journal North chose not to include its own news in its emailed story list. Yet the same day, the Journal North list did include as newsworthy a story about the Las Vegas Optic getting a new publisher.

And while the Journal North story was longer, it was the New Mexican that provided news-oriented information related to the change at Journal North, such as the fact that North started in the 1980s as a twice weekly, went to seven days a week and in recent years dropped the Monday edition. And such as this graph:

Published as the Journal Santa Fe in the city of Santa Fe and the Journal North across Northern New Mexico, the edition is headquartered in Santa Fe and has an editorial staff of about 10 employees. It’s not immediately clear how the move would impact the edition’s staff.

It should be noted that Journal North has an excellent staff, and that it regularly has carried stories that did not run in the main Journal, like this one that ran last week about fracking. And Journal North has run more of what some might consider environment-friendly stories, along with editorials more moderate than what readers find in the far right-leaning statewide Journal.

The reality is that the Journal remains important as a news source, and despite its cutbacks, no other media group has its resources and infrastructure. Whatever one thinks of the paper’s editorial positions, it has some excellent writers covering the drought, the courts, Washington, D.C., and state and local government. It is Albuquerque’s local paper, and an important part of the media mix that readers need in order to be informed citizens of the community.

Having said that, I can completely understand how Kari Brandenburg’s mornings are more pleasant without it. Her frustration has merit.

We at ABQJournalWatch only are able to point out a fraction of the times when analysis poses as a news story, or a story is buried when it deserves better play – or when it gets too much play, or when it has a misleading headline, or when a story is simply missing.

I was going to use as an example of a “missing” story the annual release of Conservation Voters New Mexico  annual scorecard of legislators and the governor, which assesses their actions related to the environment. Feeling slighted, CVNM even sent an email to interested parties asking them to contact the Journal personally and ask that the scorecard be covered. That was in mid-December.

Two days ago, the Journal did do a story. James Monteleone gave it six paragraphs in his Politics Notebook as background for the upcoming legislative session. Would the scorecard have been mentioned if Conservation Voters hadn’t complained?

As a former environmental writer for the Journal, I can attest that the scorecard likely would have been covered more quickly and thoroughly if the Journal had a designated environmental writer, because the scorecard would be part of the reporter’s “beat.” As it is, the environment is covered in a hit-or-miss fashion at the Journal – when an UpFront columnist feels inclined to write about a topic, or when it becomes a specific city or county issue (covered by the city or county reporter). If it involves water or drought, it likely will receive coverage from science writer John Fleck.

This isn’t surprising. In light of its own budget restraints, the New York Times a year ago eliminated its environmental desk, on the premise that the environment could be covered by other reporters, and it also eliminated its Green Blog. But it resulted in a drop in coverage. (This chart by the University of Colorado indicates the decrease in the number of stories by major papers, including the Times, just about climate change.)

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan acknowledged the coverage  drop in a blog column Nov. 23, “After Changes, How Green Is the Times?”, saying the Times is trying to compensate:

Perhaps recognizing that the topic had become fragmented, if not rudderless, they (the Times’s top editors) appointed a science desk editor, Mary Ann Giordano, to coordinate environmental coverage, in addition to other duties.

So it goes at the Journal, too, where fewer staffers have greater areas of responsibility, and as one Cadigan post commenter noted, morale is way down.

Still, because the Journal is the sole remaining daily newspaper in Albuquerque – and the largest circulation newspaper in New Mexico – it’s extremely important that it be held to high journalistic standards and play fair with the public in terms of the information it provides and how that information is played – up or down. But as Cadigan’s commenters illustrate, it is falling short, to the point of even alienating readers.

I’ll leave the final word to one of those commenters, writer Tom Zoellner:

For those who really love newspapers and what they used to represent, the decision to stop subscribing goes far beyond the usual lemming-like press-bashing (there is no greater conformity than to reflexively complain about “biased media” like everyone else; I’ve often thought that that anyone who does should be required to report a 400-word city hall story on deadline and see what it’s like).

Finally giving up on the hometown paper is like forcing yourself to abandon an alcoholic friend, or to leave the stadium before the last out of a losing baseball team. You hate yourself, even if it’s the right decision.

Postscript: After writing this post, a colleague alerted me to the fact that Joe Monahan also has written about Cadigan’s public decision plus added details about Journal North. Monahan’s post can be read here by scrolling down to Jan. 14.

This post has been updated to reflect that the Conservation Voters’ scorecard was covered in the Journal on Jan. 14.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Gerard Bradley

    To tell you the truth, the good liberal people who cancel the Journal and read the NY Times frustrate me.
    I read the NYTs every day, but that’s national stuff, mostly. We live here.
    People who don’t get the Journal seem to get unplugged from our reality, somehow.
    How’s that for a half hearted endorsement of our flagship paper? BTW – the Business First paper is better than it has any right to be.

  • Bill Tiwald

    In our household we call the Albuquerque newspaper the Urinal rather than the Journal. We don’t watch the local TV news Our friend calls the local TV news, “Murder Tonight”. So, we depend on the Urinal for local news and the cross word puzzles and the Word Jumble etc. The Urinal is nothing but a press statement from the governor and the repelicans as Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers called the Republicans. The repelicans newspaper in Omaha, the World Herald has now been purchased by Warren Buffett. It’s a much fairer news organ politically than it was when we lived in Nebraska from 1950 until 1998.

  • CJ Young

    Tell Michael Cadigan to subscribe to “NM Mercury”. The on-line weekly is my go-to source for what is really happening in New Mexico.

  • kathy korte

    After the Journal’s report about Skandera and her feel that reducing class sizes isn’t important, I wrote this to the Journal:

    Albuquerque Journal You are a lousy excuse for a newspaper. Skandera says this: “There’s good research that says class size does not drive student achievement outcomes.” Did you ask her to show you her research? Did you challenge it? Did you do a little research to see whether there is other research to refute yet another Skandera claim that goes without challenge?

    Has any one of your reporters EVER sat in one classroom with more than 35 students for one week to see what that is really like?! Of course not. That’s too hard and you are too busy giving Skandera time in your editorial boardroom in an effort to protect and make excuses for this lousy policy-making she is doing on the backs of our children and our teachers.

    “Skandera said parents, when given the option, likely would prefer having better-prepared teachers who can get their students up to speed.”

    REALLY? Did she ask us parents for this bit of information? Which Parents? What City in New Mexico? WHERE are these parents she is supposedly getting this information from??

    “Their assumption is a smaller class size will get them there,” Skandera said of parent perceptions. “And the truth of the matter is teachers and their influence far outweigh class size.”

    I would agree that teacher training is important — but you do not substitute one for the other. There is a delicate balance that must be attempted: smaller class sizes AND adequate teacher professional training (not training in NMTEACH or the effectiveness rule!).

    The Journal and every media outlet in this state are an embarrassment. You all do not challenge anything. You don’t consider for ONE SECOND that maybe, just maybe, those who are fighting PED deforms actually have done their research and know what they are talking about.

    You, in particular, as the “statewide” newspaper are doing a GREAT disservice to the citizens of New Mexico.

    I am so glad I canceled my subscription to your paper. I am disgusted.

    This is not the journalism I was taught in college nor the journalism I have practiced in the newsroom.

    It is definitely not fair, balanced, transparent and thorough. Shame on you.

    January 25 at 7:03pm · Like · 12

  • Steve Kier

    @Gerard – Agree with everything you said- Just curious about what you meant when you said “BTW – the Business First paper is better than it has any right to be.”

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