News brownout

Over the last week, the staff juggled a few ideas for editorials: The transition of television from TV box to computer viewing (which mirrors the move from newspapers to web) and the Reno Gazette-Journal’s story about a sexual harassment lawsuit involving the Washoe County District Attorney’s office. Maybe something about the Michael Jackson celebration of death. How about the developing Sen. John Ensign sex scandal?

The news editor is always hesitant to write editorials about stories on which he’s reported, but really, an editorial about District Attorney Dick Gammick seemed like a no brainer so it fell to the editor to write the opinion of the newspaper. Here we go.

The Reno News & Review published a Nov. 6, 2008, story on this topic. Related lawsuit. Two of the same alleged victims. Same alleged perpetrators. Here’s the link:

For comparison’s sake, here’s the link to the RG-J’s story:

Now, it’s easy to say that Gammick’s alleged arrogant treatment of these women and his above-the-law attitude of good-ole-boy-Teflon power are worthy of public notice and an editorial.

Be that as it may, as a journalist and a consumer of media there’s something that bothers me just as much. After all, my entire chosen career rests on the answer to this question: Why did the RG-J wait eight months to publish the whole story?

Except for a 14-sentence story on April 14 that contained no quotes from the alleged victims or their attorneys or the lawsuit filing, the RG-J waited all this time to inform their readers of the allegations. Other news enitities, such as KOLO and the Daily Sparks Tribune, provided more thorough coverage than the RG-J, the paper of record.

I mean, the Gazette follows us all the time on stories. We follow the Gazette on stories. TV news follows newspaper follows bloggers follow newspapers follow other print follows TV news in an infinitely intersecting loop. Professional media outlets credit their competitors, particularly when they haven’t completely re-reported the story. Sometimes (see above) they’ll actually link to related stories.

Now, there are only a few reasons the RG-J wouldn’t report this story when they first heard of it. Among them: 1) They don’t want to appear to be following other news entities. 2) They assume all of their readers see other media, so it was unnecessary to publish the story. 3) The newspaper wanted to protect Gammick’s office from negative press.

Can we dismiss 2 and 3 from consideration? Two is kind of ego-stroking, and we know for a fact that the RG-J knows for a fact it’s not true. Three is unfathomable.

So No. 1 becomes a contender. And that’s almost as hard to stomach as 3. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s responsibility is to its readers. If the newspaper is withholding information from its readers out of some misplaced competitive pride, it is failing in its responsibilities. Its irresponsibility is the reason that newspaper’s dwindling to no bigger than a newsletter. Its lack of news is the reason it’s no longer leading the community in the dissemination of news.

That suggests there are other places the RG-J withholds its illumination. And that’s worrisome for all the people in Northern Nevada.