Case of the disappearing newspaper

Celeste White is a writer and publisher who lives in Redding.

Editor’s note:
This commentary references the CN&R news story “Searching for light” in the Nov. 15 edition. For another take on advocacy in journalism, please see In My Eyes.

As a former reader of The Record Searchlight in Redding, I very much appreciated Tom Blodget’s coverage of columnist Doni Greenberg’s firing in the CN&R. There were certain aspects of the story, though, that were presented in such a way that they brought up, for me, a trend in journalism I find troubling.

First, I was disappointed that the only person quoted besides Doni, her husband, and RS editor-in-chief Silas Lyons was one of the few readers who was glad to see her go, when the RS online comments and Doni’s new blog generated, together, hundreds of impassioned and eloquent comments in support of her, as noted in the article.

In addition, I was disappointed to see that Lyons’ statement about making local coverage his priority was allowed to stand unsubstantiated and that the final sentence of the story was his statement that there is a “perception” that local coverage had been cut. It’s not a “perception.” All one has to do is pick up a Record Searchlight today and see the woefully underrepresented articles by RS staff and compare this to either the number of articles from wire services or an issue of the same paper from a year or two ago. Either comparison would show the hollowness of his assertions.

I am hoping that a desire to provide “balance” was not the reason these issues were handled in this way because I feel that, perhaps thanks to the theatrics of certain TV news outlets, the laudable idea of “balance” has been warped to the point that veracity is being sacrificed for the appearance of fairness.

People now think that if you don’t give equal weight to two opposing points of view that you’re not being “fair.” But I believe journalism should aspire to more than a version of “he said/she said.” Is the most important role of journalism in a democracy to appear even-handed? Or is it to expose untruths and cover-ups (which Greenberg did, often and ably) that threaten our democracy?

Sometimes, of course, all that’s available is differing stated versions of the “truth.” But sometimes facts exist that can demonstrate which version is more accurate. In this case, I feel that Lyons’ words are not backed up by the facts, which is that there are fewer stories by local reporters in our local newspaper.

And to me, his stance is symptomatic of the way that our media have been distorted by those whose self-interest lies in obfuscating important issues—such as the fact that a community’s only newspaper is being gutted for secretive corporate purposes that we can most certainly deduce, from their actions, are not in the community’s best interests.