An Excellent Start, But Not Perfect

May 8th, 2017 · 2 Comments · health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

How does the world change? Are the efforts of extraordinary individuals required or do powerful forces come into play? It’s an eternal argument I don’t pretend to answer. At the Albuquerque Journal, however, it sure looks as if replacing one miscreant has turned the daily from a political tool into a newspaper.

Not a perfect paper, mind you, which we’ll get to in a moment, but a much-improved Albuquerque Journal.

Most obviously, the Journal no longer works for Governor Martinez.

OK, I never knew for sure the Journal was in her employ; when Kent Walz was the editor, however, it certainly seemed that way. The newspaper continues to editorialize in favor of her controversial school policies and almost never covers alternatives, but elsewhere she generally gets fair treatment.

Score one for journalism.

There are lots of other signs of professionalism. Heck, even the corrections on Page 2 are better – more frequent, more thoughtfully composed.

So are the “notebook” features. Designed to allow beat reporters to better inform their readers by way of personal and offbeat items, they never did that at the Journal; instead, they became repositories of lesser stories. Now, though it’s early, it’s my impression the reporters have some freedom to let readers in on what they know. We’ll see.

And it looks as if that strange headline experiment, wherein the rubric on the Page One story was replaced when it continued on Page 4, is over. If so, fine. (Where newspaper tradition is at issue, I’m a conservative.)

Also, there are new reporters and new assignments; I don’t know what they all mean but that Ollie Reed’s features are back, again, is encouraging.

Finally, the paper’s sectional makeup keeps changing. I don’t know why or how they will settle down but when that day comes, I hope the editors will have cured the printing problem. Since the new printing equipment went online, my newspaper has been unreadable a few times for lack of ink.

And I do want it to be readable. Even George Will. Which brings us back to imperfection.

Thursday, April 13, the Journal offered a Will column extolling the efforts of the “House Freedom Caucus” to resist the “dangerous waxing of executive power under presidents of both parties.”

Whether the American President holds too much power is a good question, certainly worth debate, but what grabbed my attention was Will’s nod to New Mexico’s member of that Far Right group:

“New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is one or the HFC’s 30 members; six others are informally affiliated.”

Huh?

I checked Will’s original column. It did not refer to Rep. Pearce. So somebody at the Albuquerque Journal fiddled with Will’s essay.

Why? I don’t know but given that Will was complimenting the Freedom Caucus, the editor probably figured he or she was boosting Pearce.

Whatever the reason, that editor made a mistake. In journalism (as opposed to politics), local editors do not meddle with the copy of syndicated columnists except in extremis.

Then Friday, May 5, in its front page Washington Post story headlined, “GOP health bill narrowly passes House”, the editors inserted (on Page 6) three paragraphs localizing the story.

The first said Rep. Steve Pearce, the downstate tea party Republican, voted “yes.”

The second quoted him at length explaining why.

The last said Democratic Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan voted “no.”

To say this is poor journalism would be understatement.

First, Journal editors didn’t tell readers they’d added to the WaPo story. That’s easy. It should be routine.

Secondly, those editors gave Pearce a lengthy graph of explanation (mostly, highly debatable assertions) while giving Grisham and Lujan none.

This may have been a matter of carelessness or time pressures rather than bias, but given the paper’s reputation under Walz’s leadership, its historic reluctance to critique Pearce and the George Will misstep, it looks suspicious.

Karen Moses has made an excellent start, but she has a lot of work to do to return the Journal to respectability.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • FRANK FINE

    Nice, balanced analysis, Arthur. And no one will add to your comments without attribution!

  • Arthur Alpert

    Thanks for reading, Frank.
    Arthur
    PS I’ll have more on the Journal’s treatment of Rep.Pearce later this week…

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