By Arthur Alpert
Years ago back East, I taught journalism as an adjunct professor at colleges and a university. If I were to do it again, say at UNM, I’d insist my students read the Albuquerque Journal. To pick up tips from some excellent reporters and columnists, yes, but mostly to learn from the editors how to trash the news trade.
The Journal, a hierarchy like almost all journalistic institutions, is fairly authoritarian, former employees tell me. The top calls the shots and enforces the rules. That’s unlike the late, lamented Tribune, they say, where lots of ideas percolated upward from staff.
I try to remember that when I stumble upon a news article as useful for my educational purposes here as Michael Coleman’s “Political Notebook” Wednesday, July 13, on the front page of the “ Metro & NM” section.
(My purpose has evolved over the years; I see it now as exploring the chasm between professional journalism and whatever it is the Journal does.)
I remind myself, too, that Coleman’s work generally is professional and that I’ve absolutely no idea how the editors assign, supervise and edit his Washington beat efforts.
So the working assumption is that he’s not responsible for what I find objectionable. In other words, I presume the professional competence of all the working stiffs, including Coleman.
With that preface, let’s look at the Notebook. It was headlined in the print edition:
Here’s the lead:
“Sen. Tom Udall joined other Democrats on the Senate floor Monday and Tuesday to denounce a ‘web of denial’ they said is being spun by fossil industry front groups who use money and misleading information to muddy the debate on climate change.”
Here’s the very next paragraph:
“But critics of the senators’ strategy – including the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and the Rio Grande Foundation in Albuquerque – said it smacked of political intimidation.”
Let’s stop for an observation I’ve made which you may want to keep in mind as you read the Journal. When the editors don’t agree with the force of a story’s first graph, they make sure it’s immediately questioned or contradicted. Conversely, when they like the premise, they relegate any dissent to the bottom of the story. Or leave it out. And never, never use it in a pull quote.
But here’s a more serious problem. The account contained no reporting on those organizations to cast light on Udall’s “web of denial” charge.