Monday, April 26, 2010

I can't be the only person to have thought that Chris Rose couldn't have been the only reporter to have heard

In last week's Gambit, Chris Rose wrote:
Back in the days immediately following his election, with the city in the throes of optimism and anticipation, I recall a handful of folks buttonholing me to confide that the new mayor was not what he appeared to be to the masses.

  It was a small number of folks, whom I took to be bitter losers or disgruntled operatives for other candidates and other parties, who warned me that the new mayor had a dark streak that would one day show itself, to all of our surprise.

   Truthfully, I can't even recall exactly who it was that told me such things; I outrightly dismissed it — and them — as piffle. I didn't believe it. Not for a minute. Again, it simply didn't jibe with what I was seeing, hearing, reading and feeling.

Not to bash Chris Rose, but we do have to consider the fact that events and conversations can become confused, conflated and exaggerated in the memories of even the most scrupulously honest of people. It's also possible that Chris Rose was the only local journalist to have heard these mumblings, but click and scroll down to "Who Are You For?..."

Whatever the case might be, when I read that, I was reminded of a comment that I once made (not sure on whose blog) that New Orleans has some very good investigative reporters for a fairly small market, but its opinion makers (editors, op-ed writers, etc.) are all consensus historians who won't challenge the group consensus until investigative reporting or other events make the group consensus untenable.

I suppose that's pretty much the case nationwide:
Meanwhile, there’s also a mini-struggle going on within business journalism itself over how best to cover the crisis. Sorkin’s book helps draw a bright line between deal journalism and the work of accountability-oriented reporters. In the former, the reporter-source relationship is more transactional, with a focus on securing insider access; the latter maintain greater distance from their subjects and rely for their material on financial filings, lawsuits, whistleblowers, short sellers, nonprofit groups, and dissidents of all stripes—not insiders, but outsiders. As it happens, their sources were right about this crisis, while Sorkin’s insiders were part of the problem.

While Pittman’s adversarial style paid major dividends, it should be obvious that his approach would not gain him the kind of telepathic rapport that Sorkin seems to have developed with the Fed chairman (“. . . the towering white peaks of the Tetons offered a majestic view, but one that no longer took Ben Bernanke’s breath away the way it once had.”)

Readers should be aware of the differences in reporting styles and understand them for what they are: a division of labor. Neither will give you the full picture; one aims to tell you what the players said, while the other tells you what they did.

I don't think that the conflict between access journalism and investigative reporting is limited to business reporting. I should probably do a post rehashing all the reasons why I hated Nagin by the end of 2005, before writing much more about Nagin and the local press, but I will point out that the very "even-handed"* article about Nagin in yesterday's Picayune was co-written by a former very good investigative reporter turned city editor. The article failed to mention the depletion of the $200M revolver fund but did state that "the financial outlook is brighter, too." That will be a pleasant surprise for the incoming mayor:
“I will inherit a city that is in financial trouble,” Landrieu said. “… I think the public is going to be shocked to know the financial situation the city is in.”

I'll end with two questions. First, if the local press pulls its punches to help along the healing process or something, is that really just responsible reporting, or is it advocacy journalism?

Secondly, if Landrieu's inheriting a f***ed up situation, why would anybody want to sugar coat that?

*The article was much nicer to Nagin than the headline. I haven't looked at the letters page in today's paper, but I'd wager that any complaints that the article was unfair to Nagin focus on the headline.

The editorial situation at the TP is really something that I think NO bloggers are missing the boat on.

Just as that conciliatory (yes) piece on Nagin came out there was a similar piece on the progress being made by the Jefferson Parish council.

I emailed a reporter one time about an issue that he had failed to leave out, a glaring issue re: a politician's corrupt practices reported elsewhere but not reported in the article. The reporter wrote back that an editor had pulled it out.

I think a lot of that goes on in this town and I think it has for a very long time.
Sorry I didn't reply sooner -- I had hoped to do a post on the subject by now. You're right, of course. I think most bloggers think it's sexier to scoop the paper than to point out contradictions in the statements by politicians (or statements that don't jibe with easily observable facts) or items that appeared once, buried deep in a story, and then disappeared. I messed up a similar post a couple of years (went on an angry rant that was largely unintelligible), but I'm definitely doing the revised version soon.
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