Sometimes juxtaposition—of time, events, whatever—can tell us a lot. In 1973 when Henry Kissinger of the United States and Le Duc Tho of Vietnam received the Nobel Peace Prize, the news of the announcement ran on many front pages with news of intensified U.S. bombing of Vietnam.
There was one of those intersections a few days ago. Over the weekend of April 17-19 the community was treated to a barrage of tree wastage with the Reno Gazette-Journal’s fawning coverage of the Reno Aces opening home games. On page after page after page after page, hyperbolic and glowing adjectives appeared in a way that would have shamed the editor of a chamber of commerce newsletter. In one edition, six of the eight pages of the first section were entirely devoted to the subject.
We are hardly saying that the topic was not a legitimate one for news coverage. It is, and the RG-J’s fine staff could have provided it. When given the chance, the RG-J staff tears up the field, as Anjeanette Damon did this week in throwing a floodlight on closed and secret meetings of the Nevada Legislature. But the Aces coverage was not news. It was boosterism.
“There are offerings for just about anyone.” “Depending on your mood and your group’s size, there’s sure to be a zone for you—from family break times to parties of several hundred.” “Aces ballpark will be hitter friendly” “[T]he new crown jewel of downtown Reno.”
These were not quotes from those interviewed by the RG-J. They are the voice of the newspaper itself.
After this display of advertising masquerading as journalism, Monday arrived, and with it the news that the Las Vegas Sun had received the Pulitzer Prize for public service.
With the same kind of length and space devoted by the RG-J to the Reno Aces, the Sun dissected the facts surrounding an unusual number of deaths on casino construction projects on the Las Vegas strip. Packed full of facts and figures and analysis, principal author Alexandra Berzon and additional contributors J. Patrick Coolican and Michael Mishak told a story that eventually came to the attention of Congress and sparked worker safety reforms. It achieved the depth lacking from the RG-J’s massive effort.
This is a story that once would not have seen the light of day in the Sun. Its founder, Hank Greenspun, began as a maverick editor/publisher but later became an establishment insider. (He once attacked the rival Las Vegas Review-Journal for reporting the arrival of Howard Hughes in Nevada because it upset some of his own wheeling and dealing.) But the Sun has become one of the best newspapers in the West. It took fortitude by the Sun’s current management to take on the powerful construction industry in a city and state that live on growth.
There are those who say the newspaper business is dying. If so, we hope it goes out with the kind of class the Sun has shown and with a respect for the values of our calling rather than the shallow and advertiser-friendly chaff offered in Reno.