Politicizing The News: Albuquerque Journal uses front page to launch its latest political campaign

March 22nd, 2016 · 1 Comment · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Sorry about my long silence, but I’ve been ill. Almost at full strength now, but because the Albuquerque Journal never took a break from politicizing the news, the backlog of critiques facing me is sky high.

I could begin with the Journal’s frenzied attacks on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the news and opinion pages. At the Journal, a political pamphlet in newspaper garb, there’s no need to consult the editorials to know what management thinks. It’s all politics, all the time, everywhere.

Or, I could document management’s see-no-evil coverage of the Governor and her policies. Remind me to point out how what looks bad for the Journal’s friends in Santa Fe is spiked or, at best, relegated to C2.

Also, while I was away, the political commissars maintained their near-absolute ban on mainstream economics; I could begin there or with their absolute ban on “demand-side” economics.

I’ll try to get to all those topics but today let’s mark the arrival of a new Journal editorial campaign, which, like its eternal war on Obamacare, will be conducted in the “pretend” news pages.

Be forewarned. The editors will –if their treatment of Obamacare is a precedent – use their power to assign (or opt to ignore) local stories for coverage, to publish or deep-six wire copy, to write accurate (or inaccurate, biased or muddy) headlines and to run stories up front or bury them depending solely on management’s political druthers.

And if you listen carefully, you will hear William Randolph Hearst chortling in his grave, “I’m not dead yet.”

Oh, but I haven’t named the campaign. Sorry. The Journal favors restricting abortion rights. How do I know this?

Sunday, Jan. 31, the Journal ran a story by reporter Rick Nathanson. An editor composed this top headline:


(Note the bold capitals.)

The second deck read:

“Bud and Tara Shaver take no prisoners in their ‘culture of life campaign.”

This was Nathanson’s lead:

“Think June and Ward Cleaver with a soapbox and a megaphone.”

Good lead. It tells us this is going to be a profile, basically, a friendly profile.

Quick pause here for full disclosure. I’ve known Rick Nathanson for years, casually. Good guy. He’s also a professional, versatile newsman.

So no surprise he did a good job with this assignment. He managed to incorporate a lot of newsy stuff in this profile so we learned how these sweet people want to change the community.

And that’s where Rick’s responsibility ended.

Funny thing, as I read his piece, I kept thinking it was a sidebar.

You know about sidebars? In the newspaper biz, they’re ancillary stories, related to a primary account. Most often they elaborate on issues mentioned briefly in the primary story. Alternatively, they humanize by profiling one or more actors in the main account.

Because sidebars are derived from the primary story, layout editors place them below it or alongside it. I wrote “them” because a primary story may be accompanied by more than one sidebar.

So where was the primary story for Nathanson’s sidebar? Never found it. True, he did include a lot of political material, but there’s no gainsaying that lead which said, “Dear Reader, here’s a human interest sidebar.”

At the risk of understatement, this is journalistically odd.

And then it becomes truly weird. For having assigned this story, the editors put it on the front page.


Did the Journal lead the newspaper with a sidebar?

But this was more than a story. The layout was extraordinary, with a big color photo of the Shavers, three columns wide, and abutting it, a small color pix of an anti-abortion rally outside Planned Parenthood. Editors even added a little graph under the rubric “Seeking new laws” about what the Shavers and allies wanted from the state legislature.

And from the cover, this story jumped to page nine, where illustrated by two more photos, it took up about three-quarters of the page, some 50 paragraphs in all.


Call it a sidebar or a feature or a Chupacabra, this was a heckuva an effort by Journal editors to persuade readers to limit abortion rights. Students of journalism will remember that persuasion is what editorials are supposed to do.

But this could be a one-off. How do I know there’s a campaign to limit abortion rights?

Check out Colleen Heild’s story atop the front page Sunday, March 20.

I met Ms. Heild once but I don’t know her. Based on her work, though, I am a fervent admirer. And this account is excellent. But let’s contrast what she wrote and how the editors treated it.

First, her lead:

“To some, New Mexico is a Wild West haven for abortions. For others, the state is a refuge from a wave of legal assaults nationwide on a woman’s right to choose.”

Do you see any reflection of that lead in the editors’ headline?

NM becomes an abortion magnet”?

Neither do I.

But Heild continues, “Abortions among New Mexico residents, especially women age 19 and younger, are down dramatically since 2010, but the number of out-of-state women coming here for abortions has doubled in the past three years, according to newly compiled state data.”

Do you see that in the headline?

In fact, the rubric writer skipped over the first part and chose as his or her inspiration the uptick on out-of-state women.

Heild may be a veteran, much-honored investigative reporter but what does she know about news?

But wait, the Journal also wrote a sub-head. What does it say?

“With few restrictions here, more women come from other states for procedure”.

Got it.

Both rubrics ignored Heild’s lead. Both rubrics ignored what she put at the top of her second graph, that fewer young New Mexican women are having abortions. Both harped on the news that the number of out-of-state women coming here for abortions is up.

Oh, and when the story jumps to page 6, the headline is – you guessed it – “more women coming to New Mexico for abortions”.

You think the Journal’s commissars wanted to tell us something?

Heild wrote a good story, comprehensive and fair. The Journal employed the headlines to punch up what coincides with its political agenda, in this case restricting abortion rights.

So brace yourself. Here comes another Journal political campaign in the so-called news pages.

Tags: ·····

One Comment so far ↓

  • Kathy Cooper

    I saw the “Magnet” Headline on Face Book. It was rather disturbing considering the Amount of Violence lately. They also reported the false Allegations against PP as fact. This is very irresponsible, and it is not “Journalism”. The Non stop T coverage is also disturbing. I have been following some Issues Nationally, and the AJ is not the only one.

Leave a Comment