Analysis of media outlets in the 29th District.

Sean Carroll Throws A Slow One Right Over the Plate

Sean Carroll's raw video of a Kuhl interview shows some surprising bias. At about 13:35, Carroll lobs this softball:

I also spoke with somebody just the other day who said that "I think Randy's going to win the 29th, because Mr. Massa, his message is tired, he's now been out there three or four years, and people may just be getting annoyed with him." I know that may be an unusual question to pose to you about your opponent. How do you respond to that?

This question did not make the highly edited WHAM report, which carefully balanced Massa's and Kuhl's answers. But it was posted on their site, so it's part of the record, even if few will watch the interview to the end.

Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa are perfectly capable of campaigning on their own. Carroll's job is to put them through the ringer, not to inject partisan opinion into the story.

13WHAM's policy of posting backstory, raw video of interviews, and supporting documents is something every TV station should emulate. The TV news "hole" is mercilessly tiny, and those of us who like to learn more appreciate the extra effort WHAM takes to tell us the rest of the story. It's too bad that it sometimes makes them look pretty bad, but this is one of those times.

Compare and Contrast

Larry Wilson of the Elmira Star-Gazette has a story covering the same territory as today's Corning Leader story on energy. So does Bob Clark at the Hornell Evening Tribune.

Both Clark and Wilson are good reporters. But in this case, I think Joe Dunning's Leader story is a fair bit better than the pieces they filed. The reason is simple. Rather than structuring his story as a he said/he said, and using Massa and Kuhl quotes to tell the story, Dunning summarizes the positions of both candidates and presents those positions in a dispassionate, factual way.

In other words, Dunning writes it as a policy story. Wilson and Clark write it as a controversy story. They use transitions like "The congressman criticized his opponent" or "Massa fired back". Those transitions take up space and also commit the writer to look for quotes that fit the controversy narrative. Dunning doesn't have to push the controversy rock up the hill, so he's free to put more facts and less friction into his story.

Some might argue that the controversy angle makes the story more interesting and therefore will sell more newspapers. I disagree. I think readers who aren't inclined to read about politics aren't going to read political stories, no matter how they're written. By focusing on the controversy and shorting the reader on facts, newspapers turn off the readers who want to learn more about policy.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not holding myself up as a shining example of good writing. And I realize that being a local newspaper reporter is a very hard job. These guys have to cover a wide variety of stories, and they do so under deadline pressure.

So, I'm not running down hard-working professionals. I'm just saying, "more of this, please."

The Batavian: An Interesting Experiment

In the past few days, some local blogs have been linking to pieces in The Batavian, a new media experiment from local media company Gatehouse Communications Media. Gatehouse launched The Batavian four months ago, and it's been slowly growing into a fascinating example of what can happen when a newspaper company throws the old rules out the window.

The Longest Union Dispute Evah - Is Over

Following up on yesterday's Gannett story, the local Newspaper Guild has reached a contract with the D&C. Guild members had been working without a contract for 16 years.

According to the Guild's press release, Gannett, like a lot of large corporations, wanted to get rid of its pension plan. In order to do that, it had to seek union approval. Negotiations began last month, and the new contract was approved on Tuesday.

Ironically, the sticking point from 16 years ago was retirement benefits. Union members wanted access to the 401(k), and Gannett refused. Last month, Gannett reversed their position in order to unload manage their pension liability.

Another Media Giant in Trouble

Other than the Star-Gazette and Democrat and Chronicle, almost every other paper in the 29th is owned by Gatehouse Communications. This week, Morningstar Financial released a report speculating that Gatehouse stock might be "worthless".

Last year, Gatehouse acquired 70 media properties and took on $1.2 billion in debt. Gatehouse may have trouble servicing that debt, which might trigger a situation where it becomes due immediately, which may lead to liquidation. Yesterday, Gatehouse stock closed under $1, down almost $17 from one year ago.

The Gatehouse papers in the 29th are often staffed by long-time residents who understand the Southern Tier political landscape. It would be a real loss if issues at the parent company disrupted those properties. It would also be an economic issue in Fairport, part of the 29th district, where Gatehouse has its corporate offices.

As Good as it Gets

Gannett Corporation, which owns the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the Elmira Star-Gazette, announced its second-quarter earnings today. Profits at Gannett are down 36 percent from the same period last year, and Gannett's president offered no indication that things were getting any better.

In today's conference call, Gannett management pointed to Rochester as a bright point in an othwerwise dim picture. Rochester's readership penetration is 70%, which means that 70% of Rochesterians are reading some Gannett publication regularly.

Things are so great here that the publisher of the D&C, Michael Kane, was promoted today to the job of Interstate Group President and Publisher of the Indy Star.

Room 8 Follow-Up

Ben Smith, one of the founders of Room 8, has an op-ed in today's New York Daily News. The Daily News also has an editorial (2nd item) about the Bronx DA's attempt to intimidate the Room 8 bloggers.

Blog Intimidation

Room 8, which covers New York City and surrounding region politics, was recently the target of what sounds like gross prosecutorial misconduct. They were served a criminal subpoena by the Bronx District Attorney, who wanted to know the identity of one of their anonymous bloggers and commenters, "Republican Dissident". The subpoena was accompanied by a gag order, so the facts of the case were hidden from public view until today.

Luckily, Room 8 was able to get free legal counsel from Public Citizen, and, as the New York Times tells it, that solved the problem:

The district attorney eventually withdrew the subpoena and lifted the gag requirement after the bloggers threatened to sue. But the fact that the tactic was used at all raised alarm bells for some free speech advocates.

As blogs grow in influence, we'll probably see more of this type of legal harassment from those who have the resources to launch a suit. It deserves the attention of anyone who thinks that free speech is important.

Justice Arthur Kennedy

Mustard Street catches the D&C editorial board's inability to fact check the names of Supreme Court justices in their latest editorial.

It's not a big deal, but whenever that high-and-mighty bunch has a blooper, it's worth pointing out.

Gannett - Hot Chicks, Lower Circulation

City Newspaper, Rochester's so-called "alternative" paper, has a story about Gannett's Insider. For their Mothers' Day edition, the Insider ran a story on "Rochester MILFs". MILF stands for "Mother I'd Like to Fuck", for anyone who missed American Pie and/or the last decade of American culture.

City makes the obvious point that a newspaper company that rails against gangsta rap and the coarsening of our culture is being just a teensy bit hypocritical when they front-page fuck-worthy single Moms. City fails to note that a publication from a company that wins diversity awards wasn't able to find a single MoCILF (Mother of Color I'd Like to Fuck) in Rochester.

I would have thought City, which is a bastion of complacent baby-boom liberalism, would want to advocate for MoCILFs. I guess an "alternative" weekly that is too timid to even print the word "fuck" can't be expected to comment on this obvious omission.

Even though Gannett is getting a little heat on this, expect more of it in the future. A new reader sent me some historical D&C circulation rates, and they are grim. The D&C lost almost 10,000 Sunday subscribers in the last year. I don't know if MILFs can reverse a hemorrhage like that. Maybe the D&C should start featuring Page Three Girls.

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