Everybody’s a critic

In this newspaper business you open yourself to a lot of criticism. In the end you learn a lesson and move on, just ignore it, or write about it in your column, if you have one. Witness:

Note to our tireless critic Bob V. Thanks for all the negative assessments you send our way—some deserved, some disturbingly cryptic. We hang it all on our Bob V. Wall of Shame. We have a theory here that you don’t appreciate us because we don’t practice your field of expertise, public relations. Yes, our articles are generally not as well-written as those in The New Yorker, and yes, Hunter Thompson was a druggie and a drunk. While we appreciate unsolicited criticism from credible sources like you, in this case give it up, man. You’ve been sending us stuff for a month. Thompson’s dead; long live gonzo journalism.

That’s the thing with a guy like Thompson. People loved him or resented him. (In Bob V’s case, the latter.) There are lots of writers and artists, people like Tom Waits or David Lynch or Bono, whose fans believe they and the objects of their devotion are in on some secret that the rest of us just don’t get. It’s an adolescent mindset, kind of like being a Trekkie. I think that is Bob V.’s objection—he didn’t get it and feels left out. That and the fact that a PR guy is pretty much on the opposite end of the communications spectrum from a writer like Thompson.

Speaking of our critics who were once employed by state universities, I read a letter to the editor in the Enterprise-Record this week that mentioned Jim Gregg, retired CSU, Chico, political science professor. The letter complimented the E-R for having the intestinal fortitude to publish a story Gregg wrote about the local media for the E-R’s special Outlook section, one of those ad-pimping issues that nobody actually reads, with the exception of this one letter-writer from Forest Ranch. And now me. Gregg’s piece, “Rating the media: How well do newspapers TV and radio meet citizens’ needs?” argued that local consumers of news are woefully shortchanged by Chico’s newspapers because we don’t do any investigative and interpretive articles. We just regurgitate press releases and report on meetings. (He does mysteriously mention that “one Enterprise-Record reporter spent eight days writing such a story.” No explanation as to which story that was. Of course, it could just mean the reporter is an incredibly slow typist.)

But here’s the part of the story that got my goat: Gregg suggests that “editors” may shy away from certain stories because the sources, which he described as “community activists,” may be percieved as trying to spin the content of the news. I know exactly what Gregg is writing about here. It was a story he delivered to both the E-R and this paper, playing us off each other to get the story published in both. Gregg handed us 28 pages of printed e-mails and documents and even provided the questions we should ask the sources he included. The story’s aim was to put the Chico Unified School Board trustees in a bad light just as two of them were running for re-election. Gregg asked that we not name him in the story because he was working on the campaigns of two people running to unseat the incumbent trustees. In other words, he was spinning the news to try to achieve a certain result. The E-R bit and ran with the story (I don’t think it took the reporter eight straight days to write it, though). We didn’t do the story. Gregg is still so pissed that he is willing to use it as an example of how the local media fail to serve the public. But you know what, Jim? Sometimes keeping some information unpublished is just the right thing to do. I’ve always respected Jim Gregg, but in this case he was dead wrong.

Here’s an idea: Bright and ugly bumper stickers coated with superglue and aimed at really big SUVs with the words: “I helped muck up ANWAR,” or something to that effect.