Thursday, January 7, 2010

Famously 3/4ths Inackuratt

The charges against them
Who does The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson think she is? I think she's some kind of OSU beat writer, but who wants to be a boring ol' beat writer these days when you can write on more interesting genetic differences between black and white football players. Read her article prior to the Sun Bowl, about Stanford's Toby Gerhart.

What is the article title?
One of a kind: Toby Gerhart succeeds at a position white players don't play

Here's one excerpt from the article:
"The theories are many. Some believe young players are funneled toward certain positions based on stereotyped characteristics, a practice called stacking or slotting. Others say young athletes’ economic backgrounds go a long way toward predetermining what position they’ll seek. Then there is the controversial theory based on genetics and the idea that blacks have a speed and skill advantage on whites."

Was Dr. Mengele not available for comment on the genetics idea? We could have included Catholic and Jewish lacrosse player comparisons and really had us a field day.

Does anyone remember her article on former OSU quarterback, Bobby Reid, getting relegated to back-up behind Zac Robinson.. the article said, "maybe Bobby can go home, 'n his mama make him some chicken." Now this? Those "racial sensitivity" seminars at OPUBCO must really be paying off.

How does Jenni Carlson keep her job? Look, I'm sure she's a nice girl and not a racist and all, but I just don't understand why The Oklahoman or "the garbage editor" keep sending blatantly racist articles to publication. And it's not so much the fact that you're offending someone of a certain race (because chicken is delicious, honestly), it's just showing how out of touch the paper is when your headlines, let alone the body of the article, are clearly "racially insensitive."

And look, I get it--there's a point to be said that white players only play QB these days. But if you're going to make a point that could be construed as racially insensitive, here's what you need to do: word it in a way that is not racially insensitive (as a bunch of journalism graduates you should know how to "word things"), and secondly, not in the TITLE. The Oklahoman fails to do either with this article. And some things are interesting for coffee talk, but not for publication. Genetic differences between blacks and whites are not something that the John Birch Society Newsletter would even care to publish, and a major U.S. newspaper shouldn't either.

Maybe it was just a slow news day?

And let's look at The Oklahoman's incompetence in an overall review. I honestly don't even know where to begin here.

The most obvious starting point, and surprisingly the one that doesn't bother me at all, was the blatantly biased coverage during the MAPS3 campaign. For background, check out Doug's post on the topic. Look, I've said before to others I'm not a "means justify the ends" fundamentalist/principles kind of person. I believe in results, getting stuff done, whatever works, and I think fundamentalism is actually a cruel, depressing ideology. What does bother me about the blatantly biased coverage however was that if they were going to try and tilt the balance, A, don't be blatantly obvious, and B, don't write stupid crap that nobody is gonna buy.

Perfect example: 11/22/09 article on the proposed convention center.
"If the planned downtown park is the Xbox under the MAPS 3 Christmas tree, Roy Williams also wants you to appreciate the dress socks your grandmother bought you.

The proposed $280 million convention center is the largest part of the $777 million MAPS 3 plan. Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said most people consider the convention center a project for business owners and out-of-towners."

Seriously? Dress socks? If you're reading this and you're hoping to get some interesting insight on why you should vote for the convention center.. you get "dress socks." $280 million dress socks, no thank you. That is bad biased coverage. Good biased coverage could have been..anything else. It's called "lacking imagination." Words and stuff.

Then the article, to attempt to be fair, quotes a UTSA professor who studied economic development and believes that the convention center arms race doesn't mean increased convention business. Then it quotes Roy Williams with a horrible comeback, something like, "Well we believe our market will be different." A better comeback: "You're right that being in the convention center arms race doesn't mean a TON of increased business, but not being in the convention center arms race DOES mean a TON of decreased business." That's a good comeback. "Well we believe we'll be different," isn't, and that's what upsets me--biased coverage intended for The Braindead. NEWSFLASH: The Braindead don't read newspapers, even The Oklahoman.

I just used that particular article because that's an epic example, indicative of all of the MAPS 3 coverage, which nobody can deny was incredibly biased, regardless of which side you were on. Everybody knows it. The chairman of the Yes for MAPS campaign was none other than Oklahoman publisher David Thompson.

Sharing in the blame
That's not to say that they were the only ones putting out unbiased coverage. The Gazette, who wrote about The Oklahoman being biased (do they ever miss an opportunity?), was also fairly biased. Granted nearly everything the Gazette published on MAPS was head-and-shoulders better than the crap in The Oklahoman, and much more intuitively written. With the Gazette though, keep in mind who their readers are: typically the more educated, more cultured, and more urban. The kind of people who are going to be ALL about MAPS.

TV news was also pretty biased--against MAPS. News 9 wasn't so bad, and their stuff wasn't an insult to my intelligence, but the others..yeah. They kept catering and pandering to the Not This MAPS crowd, and putting up this retarded front of "balanced" coverage. When you're going to incredible ends to put up balanced coverage, guess what, you no longer have balanced coverage because at some point there isn't anything new to say.

Every time the YES campaign had a press conference with NEW information ended up just being another opportunity for the NTM crowd to get face time rehashing the same tired and worn lines that defined the latter part of 2009 for them. For all intents and purposes, they could have just recorded the same guy saying the same thing and just replayed a recording of that for the "NTM response" portion of any segment. Surely though, in journalism, you don't have to rehash a worn mantra in response if they don't have anything new to say?

Moving past MAPS, here's another example of a really bad article in The Oklahoman, an article about shutting down a mental health clinic in Norman. It doesn't specifically say in the article, but I'm guessing that the budget is $7.3 million?--for a facility with 60 beds?? That's $122,000 per bed, I don't get it..yeah that needs to be closed. Then the article cites that the facility gets "100 calls a day" but only gets 550 patients a year (over $13,000 per patient)? Obviously those calls aren't exactly important, probably including personal calls and everything, so who knows. I'm just saying there are a handful of obvious question marks that I think were lost on whoever wrote the article.

Another thing missing from the article is the other side. Where is the official's comment (who even designated the budget cut?), surely his/her perspective would be newsworthy. Why does some legislator think that we need to cut out a $122,000/per bed mental health facility? This is nothing but reaction without getting to the root cause of what's being talked about here. So yet another instance where The Oklahoman fails to truly inform the reader.

Another thing I'm upset about? Everything that The Oklahoman isn't writing about. It's almost gotten to the point that, to borrow the famous NY Times slogan, it's "All the news we see fit to print." Here's a shining example of that: lifestyle center proposed at Memorial and County Line Rd, that I have been the only one talking about. I'm just a little shocked right now that nobody thinks it's incredibly newsworthy that the Planning Commission recently approved a lifestyle center for far-northern portions of Canadian County, closer to Piedmont or Kingfisher than Downtown OKC. Not even really surrounded by the kind of neighborhoods you need to support such a retail endeavor. Nobody thinks this is a development wake-up call?

A few bright spots
I don't think I could fairly describe the situation without mentioning a few bright spots at the newspaper. There are a few people in charge who truly do know what they're doing, and not all writers are that bad either. Going back to the Gazette article, it's true that The Oklahoman was offering paid volunteer time for people who wanted to help with the YES campaign. And in the interest of full disclosure, even the Gazette, who relishes any opportunity to make The Oklahoman look bad, couldn't make the paper look too bad.

It turns out that immediately after the email went out offering paid volunteer leave, Newsroom Chief Kelly Dyer Frye sent out an email to anyone in the newsroom telling them to disregard the memo. The News & Information Center has a political policy that it does not participate in promotion of issues they are covering.

And Thompson's response, aint half bad either.
"Our policy does not allow newsroom employees to engage in political activity, but as good corporate citizens we have many non-newsroom employees who may wish to volunteer. We offer our employees three paid days annually to do volunteer work. Periodically we offer opportunities company-wide, and have for some time. Below, please find a copy of our News and Information Center policy."

He is right. Criticize them as you want for a small handful of examples of stories that were bad, The Oklahoman is a mainstay among Oklahoma City's "good corporate citizens." If The Oklahoman does not pride itself on its journalism ethics, it can at least and always pride itself on its prominent role in the community and in making a difference as a "good corporate citizen." This is certainly unusual for a newspaper, but take it for what it is. Most newspapers are the other way around, not priding themselves in having "good corporate citizen" status, but rather priding themselves on journalism ethics and being distant from local politics.

Would I rather work for the Boston Globe or The Daily Oklahoman? I think probably The Oklahoman, believe it or not. If working for them in a non-news capacity means you can still participate in community affairs, you get benefits like 3 days off paid volunteer time to be out in the community, and you work for a company that stands for moving the city forward, that isn't always a bad thing. Yeah, I called Jenni Carlson a racist, but she does have some good articles upon occasion. If The Oklahoman is willing to let its columnists express themselves, even when sometimes it may be a bit controversial and uncouth expression, that generally isn't bad. It's up to the individual columnist to protect their reputation. The paper would be much better served though by trying to find an opposing viewpoint to print side-by-side, but sometimes that's asking too much.

Time to change
This is all not intended to be an attack suggesting that people get their news from other sources than The Oklahoman. There are no other sources than The Oklahoman for mainstream print news in OKC, so people need to realize that first and foremost. Move past the irrational " boycott The Oklahoman!!" and let's have a dialogue that focuses around improving the newspaper our community relies on for news and information.

1. Let's demonstrate that we are above potentially racially insensitive headlines on the front page of the sports section, whether you think actual harm to anyone is done or not. Business community leaders don't get away with that, sports columnists shouldn't either.

2. It might not be a bad idea to consider shifting the focus of the newspaper, but either way, it's worth discussion. Should the newspaper focus on being a good part of the community, or focus on journalism ethics? Which does OKC need more--a corporate beneficiary or a reliable, ethical newspaper? Believe it or not, the answer is not obvious. Like I said, it's worth a discussion.

3. The "good people" need to be rewarded. Since I named names on who the "bad people" are, it's only fair that I name names here, too. Guys like Steve Lackmeyer, who knows downtown better than anyone else and strives to maintain his ethics, people like the Newsroom Chief, and other journalists who know what they're doing.

4. As far as sports writers go, keep in mind that even sports writers are subject to racial sensitivity just as the rest of us are. They can't get away with saying crazy things. Also it might be a good idea to STOP having OU beat writers cover OSU stuff and vice versa, let the columnists specialize on ONE school. Let Jenni Carlson JUST cover OSU. And please, let John Rohde JUST cover OU. As an old Sooners guy, it's embarrassing to see the stuff he writes about OSU. Cowboys friends of mine tell me he doesn't even know what he's talking about.

5. Last and most important, acknowledge that your readers are far more intelligent than the average people. Reading a newspaper these days typically means you are way ahead of the curve. The people that read your newspaper want to get the scoop, not opinions or heresy, on the issues that matter. It's bad to have reporters who write articles that feel like they're talking down to the level of people who typically DON'T read the paper.

The newspaper has demonstrated a huge commitment to moving the OKC community forward to the next level. This is evident in everything they do, from their coverage intended to win votes for MAPS, to their sponsorship of events, to encouraging employees to make a difference in the community, to being a sponsor of NBA basketball in our city. But the next thing The Oklahoman can do for us is provide the community with a newspaper fitting of a "Big League City." That doesn't mean we want liberal bias as opposed to conservative bias, that just means we don't want bias. We want the news, reported ethically, and that's it. The community has a commitment to encourage The Oklahoman to change course and follow this new path. We're all in it together. My intention is not to write a scathing review of The Oklahoman and offend anyone. The intention is to point out some issues, offer solutions, and urge us to move forward as a community. And I don't intend to do that without acknowledging the beneficial role The Oklahoman has played in our community in the past.

And now after so many words and such a serious subject, here's some comic relief..hide, it's crazy Mike Gundy! He also wants "to talk about this article here."


Steve said...

That was the longest blog entry I've ever read! It must have taken 5 hours to write and edit! Seriously though, good points. But I would like the entire country not to say or do anything regarding race for one whole year. Let's just be friends, neighbors and Americans.

BTW, the upcoming Census debate is going to be VERY interesting on so many levels, wouldn't you agree?!

Mark said...

Wow, just wow (re the article on running backs).

Your analysis of the TV coverage matches with what I've observed over time, KWTV is a bit more level-headed than the other two stations, and KWTV (which at one time was OPUBCO-owned) the most sensationalist of the three.

BTW in 1999 the Columbia Journalism Review named The Oklahoman as the Worst Newspaper In America.

Anonymous said...

Your blog makes me wanna puke.

Just kidding.

I think the days of unbiased media coverage is over. Just look at how far the national news has gone left or right. They don't even try to be unbiased. It makes me worried about the people that aren't strong in their convictions and get swayed on issues easily.

As far as race goes. I think that some kids like some sports more than others. All races have athletes, but their cultures or families might stear them to play one sport over another.


Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Steve, I agree unfortunately. The Census isn't something that should ever be politicized, but this time around, it definitely will be.

Mark, yeah I heard that. Haven't there also been more recent abysmal placings for The Oke?

Curt, the difference though is in being biased and actually meddling with affairs. Murdock doesn't have his hands behind the scenes in Congress trying to push an agenda..he just leaps at any chance for FOX to portray them as the big bad liberals.