Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Journalist continues to poke holes in questionable Post-Star anti-APA series

Another followup* on the controversial two-part series on the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) written by The Post-Star's Will Doolittle.

(Note: I've offered Doolittle the opportunity of a rebuttal to be published here but he's so far not done so.)

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has continued to fill in a lot of the holes that plagued Doolittle's pieces. Mann, a reporter without an open, long-standing contempt for the APA, has provided depth and context that was sorely lacking in the original piece. Mann asked questions where Doolittle accepted answers uncritically from anti-APA interviewees.

Mann's latest piece is definitely worth a read.

Maybe this is why I'm a paid member of NCPR but no longer subscribe to The Post-Star.


Update: When I questioned the wisdom of assigning Doolittle (who's well-known for his outspoken and regular criticism of the APA) to do this purportedly objective story about the APA, most people, including Brian Mann himself, dismissed my concerns. These concerns which were less about overt bias (at least at the time... now I'm starting to wonder) but about less conscious decision making based on the assumptions and preconceived notions of someone who's firmly established that he's one on side of the issue. I remember explicitly wondering if Doolittle had failed to ask follow up questions or pursue further, perhaps not consciously but because he assumed that any accusation against the APA was in and of itself credible, because of his own notions about the Agency and what it represents. The excellent follow up reporting done by Mann makes me feel completely vindicated in my concerns. I know self-appointed watchdogs generally bristle at anyone watching them, but I'm glad NCPR's Mann is performing that service to the public. It's just unfortunate that the excellent journalism in NCPR's blog will get only a fraction of the audience as the daily's piece.

Further update: I've refrained from using the phrase 'hit job' to describe the original piece, but some are less circumspect. One anonymous poster at NCPR's blog writes:

While I'd like to commend you on excellent investigative reporting on this post, the sad fact is that this contradiction to Douglas's claim should have been paragraph 2 in the original Post-Star story. And not so hard to dig up, at that.

What disturbed me all along about the series in the P-S was how thoroughly orchestrated it was: first the series, then the story about reaction to the series (with no reaction from the organization the original story had defamed); then the editorial; then the online poll: "Should the APA be disbanned (sic) ?" Even that peculiarly emasculated Don Coyote had something to say. So over-the-top, you half expected Mark Trail to chime in from the funnies page.

This was a crusade, pure and simple. It left me feeling like I'd been bludgeoned by a Pulitzer medallion.

Thanks for exposing the rot at the core.

Anonymous should be reminded that the paper's Pulitizer was not for journalism, but for editorial writing.


-My original critique of the series and the journalistic ethics involved;

-The piece in which the Nature Conservancy refuted accusations of criminal collusion in a letter to
The Post-Star;

-Questioning why the daily's website has exceptionally failed to publish an online version of said letter.


Anonymous said...

The Post Star series seems to have torn down the firewall between editorial page and news.

Brian said...

Anon, please elaborate.

Anonymous said...

More detail than you asked for, but here goes:

The way I see it, in the most recent era of newspaper journalism, objectivity in reporting was considered the ideal and the goal of many organizations. In a nutshell: reporters reported news, and opinions were largely contained on the editorial page (columnists who often reported or broke news and laced their reports with their own points of view often appear outside the confines of the editorial page, but have always been identified as columnists).

This basic division between the newspaper's missions was as strong a firewall as the division between advertising (the other mission of the newspaper is to make money) and news/editorial content. The best example of the news/opinion firewall was the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal--very conservative editorial page, but solid, straight-forward news gathering. (Naturally this ideal works for papers large enough to have separate Opinions page staff. Mom & pop weeklies simply cannot afford to build firewalls.) Whether or not the ideal of objectivity was ever attained, or even attainable is a side issue.

That era seems to have come to an end with the advent of new media—which are largely POV sources—and Fox News which is run by former political operator Roger Ailes. The emerging landscape looks a whole lot more like early nineteenth century partisan journalism than it does our more recent past.

For newspapers, the recent decline in their fortunes has led to greater experiment in format & content which often entails lowering the advertising or editorial firewalls.

What happened at the Post-Star: editorial page elements dovetailing so conveniently with news elements (as reported by a columnist) to create a thematic "synergy," had the general aroma of just such a barrier-busting stunt.

For an older generation looking for an honest broker in news reporting, this sort of experimentation is dispiriting.