"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

March 05, 2008

Part II: Daily Hampshire Gazette Gets Redesign Online, Adds Blogs Because Blogs Will Save The World, Haven't You Heard?

Part II of a long winded post that originally started with some commentary on the Daily Hampshire Gazette's redesign and addition of blogs, and which became an opinionated piece on the Gazette as a newspaper that holds "special value." Er, Part III (!?) will be posted tomorrow. You can read Part I here, which contains some smart commentary and observation from readers in the comments of that post.

As I left off...

"The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn't that your content isn't online or isn't online with multimedia. It's your content. Specifically, it's what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you're giving them, stupid; not the platform its on."
The above comes from Vin Crosbie writing at Corante.

Gazette reporter James F. Lowe will very likely go on to do great reporting for an outfit that will allow him to, but in the meantime, there is nothing special or extra valuable in writing a homeless man's obit by regurgitating his criminal record after his death. A homeless man freezes to death overnight in his sleep, laying behind a local liquor store, during a night of freezing temperatures; All the stories that could have been told, all the angles screaming for attention, and the Gaz decided to collect his criminal history and published it. Is this the "special value" spoken of that the Gazette maintains?

Dan Crowley, in a piece that he must have written after spending all weekend reading gossip blogs and the Masslive Northampton forum, tarred and feathered the Hunan Gourmet in a story Gazette editors chose to run on the front page. (Link here, sub. req'd) Based solely on the story told by one individual customer, who claimed to have found a large hind leg of an animal in her take-out food that was delivered to her home. A story which began at said customers home, after receiving the take-out food there, miles from the alleged offending restaurant. That story, with one allegation, and with a very large photo of the leg provided by the complainant, was plastered above the fold on the front page of the Gazette. This story was the death knell for a restaurant some have claimed was already suffering economic woes, and the restaurant went out of business shortly after, claiming a 70% drop in business. It was a story that City health inspectors, restaurant owners, and experts who were briefed on the matter after the initial complaint was filed all agreed was inexplicable, with none being able to explain how the leg might have gotten there. The City's health inspector, after investigating the issue, went so far as to say there was no way the leg could have come from the restaurant. But none of this was reported until after the decision by the Gazette to run the devastating, mischievous, and arguably racially and/or culturally motivated initial report -sans any fact gathering aside from one individual claim- on the front page. Is this the "special value" spoken of that the Gazette maintains?

More recently, the Gazette reported on a disturbance during a lecture that was given at Smith College. The report (link here, sub. req'd) noted,
"The incident took place about 8:30 p.m. in Wright Hall's Weinstein Auditorium, according to a campuswide email from Public Safety Director Paul Ominsky. An audience member reportedly stood up and left the lecture hall, saying he planned to go get a gun and return to shoot Brown. The suspect was described as a black male in his mid-40s with dreadlocks and wearing camouflage clothing."
As someone who was at the lecture, I can attest that no threat was made to shoot the lecturer. And the man had on 'Camouflage pants'. 'Camouflage clothing' is a different choice of words which paints a different picture than 'camouflage pants'. Along with the age, hairstyle, and race of the man, it all paints a picture of a big, scary, aggressive black man. It is understandable that the Gazette was just reprinting what was alleged in the campus wide email sent by Smith. But is this what passes for journalism at the local paper? Is this the special value spoken of that the Gazette maintains? For a more accurate portrayal on the 'incident at wright hall', you can view what the Smith College Sophian had to say in this piece by Lucy McDonald.

As an attendee to the event, as I read the misleading report in the Gazette later on, I was amazed at the liberties a newspaper will go to in their implied duties of reporting the news. There was no mention of the topic of the lecture. No report on what was discussed, who attended, or any commentary from those who attended. No mention of the large crowd that attended, or the hour long question and answer session that followed. That could not be noted because no one from the Gazette was at the event. If they talked to anyone who attended, they did not note that in any reports. If the Gazette made any attempts to gather information as to who, what, where, why, and how the story developed, aside from repeating claims in an email, they did not include such information in their report. The Gazette simply repeated and strengthened racial stereotypes; they regurgitated what someone else told them who themselves heard it second hand. Is this the special value spoken of that the Gazette maintains?

As credited to a veteran in the field of writing and editing, who poked fun at the habit of a news organization's tendency to "report" the news, and which seems appropriate to apply to the Gazette, among many others,
I submit that the oxymoron of 2005 is "Gothamist reports."
(Narrates? Recites? Chronicles? Tells? Relates? Conveys? Imparts? Transmits? Sure!)
In the latest issue of Newspapers and Technology, where the current expansion of the Daily Hampshire Gazette's printing press is briefly noted, Editor-In-Chief Chuck Moozakis penned a piece titled 'From builders of plants to builders of processes', where he writes of the new directions newspaper publishing is headed. The article explores the role that design firms are playing in the of growth of newspapers' business to one that facilitates the production of other niche publications; cost cutting measures; looking at the 'difference between being a printer or being a 'gatherer and disseminator of information'; and touching on the contrasting fates of newspapers in foreign countries -who are experiencing growth, as opposed to newspapers in the U.S. -which are experiencing a retraction in readers and circulation, and why that is.

The whole article is an informative read, and one which offers intelligent insight from industry insiders. It is the last paragraph however, that offers the most telling advice, when the writer quotes a designer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
For all the accommodations facility design firms are willing to make as they work with newspaper publishers today, a few admit they are frustrated that newspapers remain too timid.

'Papers are afraid to take chances,' said one designer, who spoke on the condition he wouldn’t be identified. 'They’re hanging on to their 8-track players and wondering what’s going on. They are so crippled by shareholders and Wall Street, and God forbid you spend money when it’s everyone’s mandate to cut costs.

'There are solutions. You can embrace the Web. Microzone. Local content. But all of these take investments, and some publishers just don’t want to take the risk.

'This is what I want to tell them: ‘Go big. Or go home.’"
Part III of this accidental series on how much of the Daily Hamshire Gazette maddingly frustrates me, will come tomorrow.

LABELS: daily hampshire gazette, media, journalism