Was the Journal UpFront Column About Student Letters Fair?

March 21st, 2015 · Education, inequality, journalism, role of government, state government

By Denise Tessier

A week ago (March 13), the Albuquerque Journal gave its most important front page slot – the upper right-hand column – to an UpFront opinion piece by D’Val Westphal, one of the Journal’s editorial writers. It was headlined “Students’ letters show the system isn’t working”.

In it, Westphal reported that she had obtained, via a public records request, copies of 165 letters written by Santa Fe high school students to Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. And of these letters she wrote:

They are stunning. And not in a good way.

Illustrating the story were five letters, all of which were hand-printed – not typed or written in cursive – and Westphal wrote that they “seem to be from early elementary students with a rudimentary grasp of grammar, spelling and logic,” rather than from students in high school.

Four of the five letters contained misspellings and other mistakes. The impression left by the column was that the letters being shown and others quoted in the story with similar errors were representative of the total 165 letters, not anomalies. Yet, just three days before this column ran (March 10) the Journal published a well-research and articulate letter from a Kelly Drummond of Los Lunas (the fourth in this group of letters about testing), who self-identified as a student “speaking for many students at my school.”

That left this reader wondering. And it turns out, others were wondering about the letters and the Journal column as well.

KNME’s New Mexico in Focus weekly media email, in advance of its March 20 segment, said local expert panelists on the The Line would be discussing “whether student letters published recently in the Albuquerque Journal truly represent the writing skills of New Mexico students.”

Then Friday morning, before The Line discussion aired, Joey Peters of the Santa Fe Reporter wrote about the same group of letters Westphal had obtained, but put them in a completely different light.

The story Peters posted was headlined “Dear Hanna Skandera: Student letters to education secretary about PARCC testing weren’t as bad as story portrayed” and in it he wrote:

While Westphal picked the worst excerpts of the 165 letters sent to Skandera, for this post, I’ll do the opposite and choose from the best excerpts.

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Journal Silent on Udall’s Chemical Industry Regulation Bill

March 20th, 2015 · Congress, environment, journalism, regulation, Washington

By Denise Tessier

Both the Santa Fe New Mexican and the New York Times this past week have weighed in with editorials about New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall’s bill that would update federal law regulating chemicals. As of this writing, the Albuquerque Journal has not.

The Journal’s Washington, D.C. correspondent, Michael Coleman, has done an excellent job informing readers about the debate Udall’s bill has attracted (“Chemical regulation legislation draws debate,” March 19) and the flak (“Udall catches flak over rewrite of chemical legislation,” March 11), but they are no stand-in for an official position that would normally be expected from the editorial board of the state’s largest daily. (Traditionally, all editorials have their genesis in news stories like Coleman’s.)

That both a local (the New Mexican) and a national paper (New York Times) would opine on the New Mexico Democrat’s bill makes the Journal’s lack of opinion regarding a local congressman on the national stage even more noticeable. [Read more →]

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New Mexican Directly Addresses Readers After Editor’s DWI Arrest

March 20th, 2015 · journalism

By Denise Tessier

The Santa Fe New Mexican deserves credit for publishing a story last Thursday (March 12) about the arrest of its own editor on suspicion of drunken driving earlier that same day.

That it would follow the story with an opinion piece from the newspaper’s owner a week later (March 19) is even more noteworthy.

Owner Robin Martin’s direct address to readers showed a respect that would have been lacking had the paper ignored the incident on its editorial page, especially since the paper had decided Ray Rivera would remain editor. [Read more →]

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Editorial on Griego Resignation Exposes Gap in News Coverage

March 18th, 2015 · journalism, NM Legislature, state government, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

What follows probably constitutes a first. I don’t remember ever digging into a single Albuquerque Journal editorial for a post.

But what the editorial board said Tuesday, March 17, under the headline, “Griego resignation fallout sends politics into the mud” deserves attention for its tone, what it gets right and what it reveals about management’s reporting of politics.

First, please note the rubric’s tone, maintained to the end of the editorial. It’s oh-so-moralistic. Of course, the Journal often speaks as if perched high atop the Sangre de Cristos, miles above the vulgar political fray, the better to disguise the reality that it is itself a political player.

Heck, only three days earlier, the daily perpetrated its latest public relations promotion for its fossil fuel friends. It was another Marita Noon Op Ed column, an attack on rooftop solar power. The essay came courtesy of the industry and – par for the course – the Journal hid that from readers.

(I’ve no idea if the editorialists are blind to the contradiction or cynical.)

But back to the editorial, which as a citizen I generally found agreeable and which took both parties to task for the political maneuvers around the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego, a San Jose Democrat, and the need to replace him.

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Relegating The Civil Rights Struggle To The Past

March 16th, 2015 · civil rights, journalism, voting rights

By Arthur Alpert

Oh, the things you learn from reading the Albuquerque Journal!

America’s eternal struggle with race is pretty much history. Did you know that? Truth be told, I didn’t. Not, that is, until I read the Journal’s headlines over the story of the recent commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma 50 years ago and contrasted them with rubrics in the N.Y. Times and Washington Post March 8.

The Times wrote:

“Obama at Selma Memorial, Says, ‘We Know the March is Not Yet Over’”. (It was the Times’ lead story.)

The Washington Post wrote:

“‘The march is not yet over,’ Obama tells crowd at foot of Selma Bridge”. (It was front page at the Post.)

Whereas Journal editors wrote:

Civil rights milestone marked by first black president”.

And for the second deck, “Remembering 1965’s ‘Bloody Sunday’”. (The Journal story ran on A3.)

And the Journal decision to relegate the civil rights battle to the past ignored how Jay Reeves and Darlene Superville of the Associated Press opened their account:

“America’s racial history ‘still casts its long shadow upon us,” President Barack Obama said Saturday as he stood in solidarity and remembrance with civil rights activists…”

Hmmm. Reporters at the liberal Establishment N.Y. Times, the conservative Establishment Washington Post and the newspaper collective Associated Press agreed the news was in the President’s statement that the struggle for equal rights continues.

And the Journal’s headline denied it.

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Journal Rolled Out Red Carpet for Netanyahu’s Speech

March 9th, 2015 · foreign policy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Because we have not for a long time explicated the newspaper’s narrative on foreign policy, including Israel and the Mideast, let us consider the Albuquerque Journal’s lead story Wednesday, March 4.

To do so properly, we must read it in the context of the Journal’s basic stance on foreign policy. As regular readers know, that stance is simple – President Obama’s foreign policy is wrong. Always wrong.

Well, except when it agrees with John McCain’s foreign policy.

From reading news stories, opinion columns and editorials, I’ve also observed that the Journal’s disapproval of Mr. Obama’s international policies is stronger than its rejection of his domestic proclivities. Perhaps the president’s corporatism allows for some common ground.

Regular readers also understand the Journal is not partisan on foreign policy, but allies itself with those neo-conservative Republicans and Democrats who champion American military intervention in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine, among other hotspots.

We know that because Journal editors never publish the views of those Republicans (old-time conservatives and “libertarians”) who fear repeating the tragic George W. Bush years. Interesting, no, how the Journal lets them preach economics but not weigh in on war and peace. Well, almost never. The paper does abide George Will’s rare, mild, parenthetical slaps at the warmongers.

Ergo, I was not surprised when the editors played Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s excellent, bellicose, stem-winder of a speech to the Congress on the front page Wednesday, March 4, making it the lead story, adorning it with a small photo and three – count ‘em – three rubrics.

At the top, in red, was: Israeli PM (colon). Next, in big, black type, came “Iran deal a ‘potential nuclear nightmare’. And finally, “NM reaction to Netanyahu’s controversial speech is mixed”.

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When It Comes to Providing Guest Columnist Background Info, Journal Employs Double Standard

February 24th, 2015 · energy policy, Fact Check, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I promised to write “next time” on how Albuquerque Journal editors are treating Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rep. Steve Pearce of southern New Mexico, but I lied.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie and I will do it, soon, but first a necessary postscript to Saturday’s piece about the Albuquerque Journal’s advocacy -in its so-called “news” columns – for the Keystone XL pipeline.

That very day, you see, the daily published still another Op Ed in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. The essay itself, by veteran journalist Martin Schram (Tribune News Service), was fair if naïve about expert testimony, an oft-purchased commodity.

And the editors returned to the fray the next day, Sunday, Feb. 22, running still another story (A3) about oil-train disasters.

Fascinating, isn’t it, their predilection for oil-train accidents, as contrasted with the embargo on pipeline spill stories.

This, along with management’s specious pro-Keystone XL pipeline editorials, pretty much confirms the newspaper prefers serving its corporate allies to giving readers a fair shake.

Nor is the tilt limited to Keystone XL or fossil fuels. It’s endemic.

Follow me please back to the Op Ed page. Above Schram’s column, the editors ran an essay (“Voice of Malcolm X still relevant today”) by one Brian Gilmore, appending an unusually detailed ID paragraph:

“Brian Gilmore is a public interest lawyer and law professor. He wrote this for the Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with the Progressive Magazine. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.”

Why? What’s all that for? I don’t know.

If the editors want to be absolutely certain we know Mr. Gilmore is associated with a “progressive” project and magazine, bravo! I like knowing where authors are “coming from,” as younger folks say.

However, if that’s so, why didn’t the editors do likewise for the Op Ed article headlined, “State Senate Must move on REAL ID”?

There was a byline for Brian Zimmer, “President, Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License” and nothing more.

With a little web-crawling, I learned the Coalition is a 501(c)(3) formed in the wake of the 9/11 terror strikes, with offices in New York /City and Washington, D.C.

One report said radical rightists birthed it, but I couldn’t confirm it.

USA Today did report Dec. 13, 2005, “An anti-terrorism campaign by a group that wants tighter restrictions on driver’s licenses has angered Arab-Americans who say that an image on a planned billboard- an Arab man holding both a grenade and a license – is racist.”

The Coalition has bought billboards in New Mexico, too.

And Zimmer, a former Congressional staffer, helped write the Real ID legislation, which like other laws written and enacted in the immediate wake of 9/11 remains problematic judging from the appraisal in Governing Magazine Jan. 22, 2014, when 13 states still were not compliant.

Readers might have found some of that information useful. Was it lacking because the Journal backs taking driver’s licenses from non-citizen immigrants? I cannot say.

The pattern, though, is clear: when Op Ed essays dovetail with the Journal’s agenda, the editors exhibit no curiosity about where the authors are coming from. Yet when they (rarely) publish a dissenter, the self-same editors rouse themselves to write fat IDs.

Is this unconscious or with malice aforethought? Beats me.

OK, so much for the PS. Next time, er, I had better not say.

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Good News on the Journal Front

February 22nd, 2015 · Education, environment, journalism, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier
Those who lamented the departure of Leslie Linthicum as UpFront columnist for the Albuquerque Journal can take heart with the newspaper’s hiring of former Albuquerque Tribune writer Ollie Reed Jr.

The development also is heartening when one considers that this month marked the departure of Journal science writer John Fleck, another UpFront columnist, whose farewell column appeared in the Journal Feb. 2.

Though it might be a tad over the top to say that Reed’s hiring as a Journal staff writer makes up for the loss of both Linthicum and Fleck, I’d wager it’s as close as it can get to accomplishing just that.

Fleck, the newspaper’s resident expert on water issues, said goodbye with the appropriately headlined “A toast to newspaper readers – with H2O,” explaining he was leaving the paper to write a book:

My friends at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, who care about these issues as much as I do, have kindly offered me a home to work on a book about the future of water and the communities in southwestern North America that depend on it. The folks at Island Press have agreed to publish it once I finish.

A few days earlier, he had given readers of his water blog a heads up about the departure, posting:

This morning, the day after I finished up the last stories of a 30-plus year career in daily journalism, feels oddly normal – checking the drought monitor, reservoir levels at Elephant Butte, the latest storm forecast.

In response to a commenter on that posting, Fleck explained that he couldn’t do the book while remaining in the “real time” world of daily journalism:

It forces a certain style of thinking – not just “what is this thing I’m trying to understand,”, but “what is the story I can tell about this thing I’m trying to understand”. They overlap, but they’re different.

Fleck added, however, that he will continue blogging about his Colorado River research and possibly about New Mexico water issues as well. Those interested in staying abreast of his insights can sign up for his email newsletter at jfleck at inkstain.

Meanwhile, a look at the half dozen stories from Reed’s first two weeks at the Journal indicates coverage of water – and New Mexico topics in general – has been placed in good hands.

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Agenda-Driven Omissions: Journal Overlooks Four Major Pipeline Spills in January

February 20th, 2015 · climate change, energy policy, journalism, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

It drives me crazy.

After three years of reading the Albuquerque Journal closely, I know it’s not a daily newspaper (as we commonly understand the term) but a political tract in journalistic dress. Yet every time I chose to show how that works in practice, the editors provide a timelier, juicier, more egregious episode of political commissar-ship and, well, that moves me to tell you about its latest crime against fairness.

But before I can, they do it again and again. Often one issue presents plural peccadillos.

I cannot keep up.

That’s why I recently decided to cut down on my usual close reading of an article or articles and zoom out instead, the better to see the Journal narrative in sharp relief. I created a new folder, “Ignored”, on my desktop that holds about six weeks’ worth of stories the Journal didn‘t publish because – I surmise – they contradict management’s politics.

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Journal Gives Susana Martinez a Pass After Stealing Tribal Spotlight

February 13th, 2015 · Education, journalism, NM Legislature, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Sometimes an editorial opinion topic practically writes itself; it’s there for an editorial writer’s taking.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision to appear as the sole speaker during the New Mexico Legislature’s American Indian Day session last Friday (Feb. 6) was just such a topic.

In serving as sole speaker, she took the spotlight away from New Mexico’s Indian legislators on their day – a day historically set aside every other year (during 60-day sessions) in order for tribes to address a joint session of the Legislature and outline their priorities and needs.

Journal Capital Bureau reporter Deborah Baker’s story about Indian legislators being sidelined – the story on which an editorial could have been based – ran with the headline “A departure from tradition: Gov. sole speaker at American Indian Day in the Legislature,” and was published inside the paper on A4.

The story noted that:

House Democrats who are Native American – and who were not publicly acknowledged by Martinez – later complained that the format put politics first and said they were not given the opportunity to introduce their tribal guests.

During the speech, Baker wrote, Martinez “focused on education issues and advances by Native American students” and honored some Indian legislators, “including ex-Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, a maverick Democrat who sometimes supported Martinez’s agenda.”

She quoted Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, as later saying, “Many believe the departure from (tradition) to be disrespectful and unprecedented. … After all, this day was established to honor them and their culture.”

Baker got an explanation for the change in a statement from Republican Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a Navajo from Kirtland, who said she personally asked Martinez to speak and that “it was an honor to have her address our tribes, and celebrate our rich culture and heritage. That anyone would suggest otherwise is outlandish and nothing more than a political stunt with the shameful goal of dividing us.”

It’s interesting that the representative’s statement called the backlash divisive, rather than Clahchischilliage’s decision to turn the day over to the governor, apparently without consensus from other tribal legislators. [Read more →]

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