Was Christie Headline Due to Inexperience?

February 9th, 2014 · 2 Comments · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

An individual with inside knowledge of the Albuquerque Journal told me over lunch the other day that I was making a serious mistake in these posts.

Too often, this authority said, I attributed the daily’s journalistic failures to the editors’ political skullduggery; in truth, they are more likely the result of inexperienced staff.

Given the speaker’s credentials, I accepted the critique and resolved to ride herd on myself.

No rushes to judgment. No jumps to big conclusions. From now on, I resolved, my default conclusion will be that inexperience (or perhaps incompetence) accounts for the Journal’s daily disasters.

And then came the Tuesday, Feb. 4 Journal with a Chris Christie story on A2.

Two Trenton, New Jersey-based Associated Press reporters wrote that Gov. Christie said his office is cooperating with a subpoena from federal authorities investigating whether laws were broken when traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge were closed, apparently for political retribution.

That Christie is cooperating with a federal subpoena was their lead.

In the second graph, they reported more of what Christie said in a radio interview, his first responses to reporter’s questions in more than three weeks on what transpired in Ft. Lee, N.J., when he learned about it and what he did.

Graph three quoted the Governor defending himself.

Graph four was background.

And here is graph five:

“Meanwhile Monday, Christie’s campaign sought to exceed New Jersey’s election spending cap to pay for lawyers dealing with subpoenas stemming from a political payback scandal.”

Now a question – – what did the headline writer use as the basis for his or her rubric?

The correct answer is the editor skipped the reporters’ first four graphs to seize upon five, concerning the Governor’s money situation. Thus, the Journal’s headline in its print edition:

“Christie needs cash for lawyers”.

And if that did not cause your tears to well up, here’s the second deck of the head:

“Money needed to reply to subpoenas”.

Hold on. I must find a Kleenex.

OK, I’m back.

The editors also chose a pull quote from Governor Christie, which they wrapped around a color head shot (print edition):

“Nobody has said I knew about this before it happened and I think that’s the most important question.”

OK, so what do I think about this?

Recalling what my lunch companion said, could the headline writer be so inexperienced as to not know it’s conventional to base the headline on the lead?

Not likely, but possible, I suppose.

If that was the case, however, why not write the head off paragraph two or three (where Christie defends himself) or four?

Why pick five, the sympathy paragraph?

Around the country, most newspapers carried the AP story with a head based on the lead, to wit:

“Christie cooperating with prosecutor’s subpoena”.

Not the Albuquerque Journal.

I cannot know why for sure, of course, but given the Journal’s rightist narrative and the porous wall between editorial and the news operation, I’m forced to conclude the political commissars wrote that headline.

That’s not to say my luncheon companion was wrong. Surely inexperience accounts for loads of journalistic missteps at our daily.

But as the Christie episode demonstrates, the Journal suffers not just from missteps but also from rightist advocacy in the “news” columns.

I’ll work harder to distinguish between them.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • cres cendo

    Great column! It shows that you do indeed understand how the Albuquerque Journal operates.
    Yes, there exists a great deal of inexperience and even a greater amount of incompetence at the newspaper. However, from subscribing to the paper for 50+ years, being interviewed and misquoted dozens of times and knowing several “inside sources” through the years, there is no doubt that the Journal is very right-wing propagandist, sensationalistic, unethical and (it seems) trying to emulate the tabloid press.

  • Emanuele Corso

    One note here about responsibility. In the military, at least when I was in, as an officer you were ALWAYS responsible for what the men under your command did. No ifs ands or buts – you were responsible and I saw not a few senior officers take it in the neck for their subordinates’ actions. The senior editors of the Journal are responsible for the editorial content of the paper and the attitude (and work) of their subordinates. Sorry boys it’s all yours.

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