Sunday, April 08, 2012

The curious intersection of journalism, editorial agenda and loss of faith in the media

It's pretty clear from anyone reading Post-Star editorials is that the paper's agenda is devoted to making people believe that Adirondack Park Agency regulations are suffocating the (human) life out of the Adirondack Park. This is despite the statistical fact that the Park's population is growing *faster* that New York's population as a whole.

However, that agenda is also reflected in its supposedly objective news coverage. I've written about this before so I won't belabor previous points. But more recently, reporter Jon Alexander described Hamilton County as 'on the endangered list.'

Now, this was tagged as 'analysis' (ie: opinion) but it does give some insight into his point of view, which happily corresponds with the editorial board's agenda. In a column in Adirondack Almanack, John Warren took serious issue with Alexander's 'analysis.'

Yet in a purportedly objective news story yesterday (doesn't seem to be available online), Alexander notes that Saratoga County's population is growing while Most of the North Country continues to hemorrhage population...

(Again, don't forget the data you'll never see the daily report on)

But the graphic accompanying the article showed that from 2010 to 2011, Hamilton County lost 0.8% of its population, Essex County lost 0.3% of its population,Washington County lost 0.2% of its population and Warren County actually *gained* population. (And even Saratoga County's 'boom' was a modest 0.4%)

While these numbers aren't stellar, they hardly constitute a 'hemorrhage.' But when there's a narrative to conform to...

Additionally, Hamilton County lost 42 residents last year. If the county continue losing that many people every year, it would take 115 years for the 'endangered' county's population to run out. And there's no indication yet that this decline is a long term trend. Hamilton County *gained* population in every census from 1950 to 2000. And since the county was founded, its population has increased in 14 out of the 20 censuses. The county's population has had modest ups and downs in its history, but mostly ups.

But this is not the only seeming intersection of editorial agenda and journalism.

Another of the daily's agendas is its crusade against school spending, which it attributes to malefic and greedy teachers unions.

In an article on Friday (also not available online), education reporter Omar Ricardo Aquije described a meeting between the Glens Falls school board and residents regarding the district's proposed budget.

According to the article, both in text and graphic, the overall tax levy would remain identical from the current fiscal year to the next.

And yet, the jump headline on the inside page B5 blared "Residents question raises, tax increases."

I questioned this discrepancy in an email; the reporter indicated that his figures were correct and that the headline (typically written by layout people... or copy editors, assuming they still have any) was incorrect. The reporter wrote the story honestly. But the headline writer's mistake, was it incompetence or outright deceit? Neither reflects well on the paper's declining standards.

A correction ran in the following day's issue, as usual in print significantly smaller than the original wrong headline.

I don't have any evidence that this was intentional deceit on the part of the paper's backroom staff (I don't blame the reporter, since his text was correct). But this is a very significant error, given how sensitive a topic school budgets are in this area. It certainly undermines what's left of the paper's credibility when these sorts of significant 'errors' in purportedly objective articles just happen to oh so conveniently jive with the paper's editorial crusades.


But for its faults, at least The Post-Star isn't stealing material from regional blogs and writers. More on that later this week.

Update: Today, managing editor Ken Tingley tells us that credibility is key to what they do. No wonder they're in so much trouble.

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