Kim I. Mills' July/August story "Taking It to the Streets," about the limits of activism among journalists, really missed the boat on who is feeding public skepticism about newspaper objectivity.
In my experience as a reporter, it was rarely a reporter's political and civic activities that raised questions about the paper's fairness, but the publisher's political and civic activities.
Especially at small- and medium-sized papers, the publisher is usually a high-profile member of the community whose activities and beliefs are common knowledge.
The company a publisher keeps is usually well known. So is the publisher's participation on civic boards, business groups and in social service agencies and organizations. Some of them, like Planned Parenthood, can be very controversial.
I don't know how many times a source for a story would tell me, "We know you won't give us a fair story, because your publisher supports the other side. You aren't going to write anything that would displease your boss." It's the most frustrating problem a reporter dedicated to objectivity and fairness can face.
Unless a newspaper's code bans the publisher, as well as reporters, from participation in political and civic causes, it isn't worth the paper it's written on. Reporters won't respect it and the public won't believe it.
Perhaps there's some hope for us after all.
It was heartening to read Reese Cleghorn's column in the July/August issue about the sorry state of Washington reporting and commentary ("A Summer Respite from Daffiness?").
Unfortunately, the characteristics he describes — myopia, pomposity and self-centeredness — are precisely those that limit any hope for improvement.
Anyway, thanks to Reese Cleghorn for capsulizing where the real mess in Washington is.
School of Journalism and
Your examination of boosterism in base-closure coverage ("Off Base," September) was most welcome.
One thing that's as deadly as news media boosterism is information that's slanted, either by omission or commission, to satisfy a reporter's or editor's prejudice.
Take a hard look at that issue sometime, and examine your own reporting and editing.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Corpus Christi, Texas
Journalists often hear complaints about being taken out of context. Now I know what it's like to be on the other side of the fence.
Your sidebar regarding my buyout from the Philadelphia Inquirer ("The Buyout Boom," July/August) didn't reflect the essence of my lengthy conversations with AJR in which I described how wrenching a decision it was to leave. Yes, I had the incredible good fortune of having a great job in hand — and a great opportunity on the line from the Wall Street Journal, a paper I had long admired — when the Inquirer's surprise buyout landed. Moreover, I had but a few tortured hours to make a decision between the final job offer and the buyout's expiration.
But what were clearly meant as silly asides became the theme of your piece. Sure, the cash was a nice parting gift for accepting the new challenge — a decision I would likely have arrived at anyway. Who wouldn't have positive things to say about such providence?
But buyout or no buyout, it was hardly a decision made cavalierly as your article implied. The Inquirer is a newspaper I was proud to work at for three-and-a-half years, still read daily and would recommend wholeheartedly to any journalist looking for a great place to work.
Gay March Coverage
Why is it that conservative media watchdog groups like Accuracy in Media only complain when things don't look the way they think they should? The media coverage of the gay rights march in Washington ("Did the Networks Sanitize the Gay Rights March?" July/August) was, for the first time, much more representative of the full spectrum of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. Our community has always tried its best to be inclusive and accepting of all of its members, even those considered "less than mainstream."
Writer Alicia C. Shepard may not have seen any "fringe" groups on ABC, CBS or NBC, but she must have missed the hundreds of examples of local coverage that did include drag queens and leatherfolk, as they should have been been included. If not for them, our movement wouldn't be where it is today. The gay and lesbian community knows its history, and if it weren't for a group of drag queens at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, our movement may have started much later.
After years of coverage that exclusively dwelled on shock value (which AIM never seemed to complain about as unfair), it's high time this country has an opportunity to see the lawyers, doctors, politicians, nurses and neighbors — as well as the drag queens and "dykes on bikes." Yes, the march was political; we marched for justice and the civil rights we all deserve. But it was also a celebration of the diversity of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, and hopefully one day the media will be able to cover that full spectrum without letting their personal leanings push exclusively either way, towards the dykes on bikes or towards the three-piece-suited politicians.
Cathy Renna, Co-chair
Gay & Lesbian Alliance
I'd like to make one comment and correct one error in an otherwise solid story on daily newspapers owning alternative publications ("Alternatives to Dailies: Can't Touch This," Free Press, June).
Yeah, I sold iCE Magazine (which covers the top half of South Florida) to Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel last year. But your story didn't mention that I tried first to sell it to the New Times chain of weeklies back in the spring of 1992. At the time, Miami New Times Editor Jim Mullin told me the Palm Beach market "isn't viable." Mullin also outlined for me the strict formatting that all New Times publications must abide by — everything from type faces to feature stories.
Frankly, the Sun-Sentinel gives me much more freedom than that. Some iCE columnists echoed the sentiments of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and have written columns lambasting their new corporate parent. I ran them. Not one stuffed suit said anything about it to me.
And that leads to a minor correction: iCE has an office 50 miles north of the Sun-Sentinel's main office, not inside it.
Editor and Publisher
West Palm Beach, Florida
Bad News in High School
I winced with recognition as I read "Lesson 1: No Bad News" in your June issue (Free Press). In 1969, I was dismissed as the editor of the student paper at West Mesa High School, across town from Del Norte. My crime, too, was running stories that didn't measure up as good news: a piece on the collapse of the gym roof; a story on the wrestling team, suggesting that a large number of graduations the previous spring would probably make the upcoming season a rebuilding one; and negative movie reviews. I can still recall the principal's parting words: "You just don't seem to be interested in promoting West Mesa's image."
When I visit Albuquerque these days, it seems to me that little remains of the city I knew as a teenager. But I feel better knowing that high school teachers and administrators are as stupid and repressive now as they were two decades ago. A city needs tradition.
Coral Gables, Florida