Ending the News-Editorial Shell Game

No one denies that the Star Tribune has a liberal bias on its editorial page, the place where newspapers traditionally quarantine commentary. But the Strib says a firm wall exists between its liberal editorial page commentary and it’s objective news page coverage.

To be sure, individuals, organizations and causes of all ideological stripes regularly get lit up on the Strib’s news pages. For those who doubt that liberals get torched, see the charred remains of their top standard bearer (Former ubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch), top rising stars (Former Speaker Matt Entenza and Former State Auditor Judy Dutcher), and top legislative priority (property-income tax swap proposal).

Still, like the swallows return to Capitstrano, we can count on conservative shrieks of bias and victimhood whenever someone from their club gets scrutinized on the news pages. The so-called “Red Star” is the target of nearly as many as bizarre conservative conspiracy theories as the Tri-lateral Commission, ATF and Tinky Winky combined.

But there’s one thing that fuels legitimate reader confusion and mistrust about The Wall of Separation. News columnists. The Strib and other papers have long allowed news columnists such as Doug Growe, Katherine Kirsten, Nick Coleman, Dennis Anderson, Ron Schara and others to express red hot personal opinions about policy issues…on the news page side of The Wall.

While the highly sophisticated Rowdy Crowd understands the difference between the role of news columnists and news reporters, I submit that it is confusing as hell to more casual readers. You can’t blame folks for questioning objectivity on the news pages, when a substantial hunk of the news pages are dedicated to biased, incendiary commentary.

I’m not saying these columnists shouldn’t exist. I’m saying they belong on the editorial pages, clearly labeled. If the Strib wants to cut down on the commentary v. news confusion, it has a lot of options. It could put all the commentary in one place. It could more clearly label it. It could even use a different color, masthead, layout, font, and/or format (e.g. magazine style insert). Perhaps those who so frequently call for better disclosure from the public sector should themselves do a better job disclosing.

Of course this won’t stop the complaints. There is no FDA-approved cure for persecution complexes. But maybe it would help reasonable readers better understand and separate the duel function of newspapers – to journal and to opine.

By the way, I don’t mean to single out the Strib. The same applies to many other outlets, especially cable TV news channels. Fox TV, for example, maintains it has unbiased news reporting, yet constantly co-mingles, without labels or predictable patterns, objective news coverage and thermonuclear editorial coverage. Again, as with the Strib, if they want to clear up the confusion, they could make the separation of editorial and news more distinct and clear through better partitioning and labeling.

– Loveland

15 thoughts on “Ending the News-Editorial Shell Game

  1. Rowdy Realist says:

    “More casual readers” aren’t confused by the paper’s use of mostly-liberal news columnists.

    What’s confusing to them is how many from the Strib “news” department use the paper as a launching pad for careers with and in support of the DFL – i.e., RT Rybak, Lori Studevant, Dane Smith and Joel Kramer.

    Wonder why none has gone on to be GOP operatives?

    What a farse.

  2. That would be “farce.”

    I think this is a good piece, Loveland, but my sincere thought: If people can’t tell the difference between a news piece (from a reporter) and a column (from a columnist with a headshot), I have a hard time caring what they think. But that’s just me personally, and I can be an asshole.

    And at the same time, the Strib — or other outlets in a similar position — have to balance reality (there’s a separation between reporters and columnists) with perception (there’s a lean or a bias). Is the perception some people have so strong and such a problem that they need to make a real, physical, overt change just to try — note: TRY — to appease those with a negative perception?

  3. jloveland says:

    Realist, if you want to argue more Strib news columnists lean left, I’d agree. If you want to argue most news reporters privately lean liberal, I’d guess you’re right. But if you’re arguing that Strib news reporters don’t cover both sides of issues or scrutinze officials and ideas of all stripes, I don’t see it.

    It’s perhaps telling that those from both the left and right who get frustrated with the mainstream media because of lack of balance often flee to media with no pretense of balance – talk radio, blogs, advocacy sites, etc. It makes me wonder if it’s balance they seek or validation.

  4. Rowdy Realist says:

    “Balance” is the wrong goal. People want truth.

    I would submit to you that there is an absolute truth to describe every story.

    Liberal-slanted coverage is one problem. The greater problem is story selection that misses the greater or real issue, problem or cause. And then we have bastardization of the English usage:

    For example: Use of “Undocumented workers” or “immigrants” to describe ILLEGAL immigrants is a slap in the face of anyone with at least a 3rd grade education. And yet we see this kind of slanted crap every day from the Strib in its “news” pages.

  5. Strib 2.0 says:

    SF Chronicle Managing Editor Resigns

    SF Chronicle Managing Editor Resigns, Paper Bracing for Deep Cuts

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco Chronicle’s managing editor is stepping down as the Hearst Corp.-owned newspaper braces for a round of deep editorial job cuts.

    Robert Rosenthal, who joined the Chronicle five years ago, said in a note to staff Tuesday that he is leaving the paper “without rancor or acrimony.”

    Management told the union it plans to eliminate 80 union and 20 management positions, out of a newsroom staff of about 400, unless the cuts could be made through buyouts and retirement incentives within 30 days.

    “The business model for newspapers is clearly broken,” Rsenthal said.

  6. Benidt says:

    Research shows reporters are more liberal than the general population, and, unlike the general population, they don’t become a great deal more conservative as they age. Publishers are more conservative than the general population.

    The irony is that, while almost all reporters I’ve ever known are biased against big institutions and in favor of the individual (everybody loves David and Goliath stories, stories about people being screwed by big bureaucracies or fighting and winning against the institution), most coverage ends up backing the status quo, taking the institution’s viewpoint as the given in any conflict. Loveland’s written about that very well on this blog before. So liberal reporters are writing and broadcasting stories giving conservative institutions the benefit of the doubt and the strongest voice.

    BTW, I love Rowdy Realist’s challenge about the language of illegal immigrants. How one chooses to describe something absolutely affects the listener’s perception. Fox News calls bombings in Baghdad “homocide bombings” rather than “suicide bombings,” the term most other news outlets use. Very different values carried by these words, and by the terms Rowdy Realist highlights.

    But, as a reporter for 10 years and as a writer and reader of history, I gotta say “there is an absolute truth to describe every story” doesn’t sound like the world I’ve known. Great New Yorker piece this week on Lincoln and the words Secretary of War Stanton supposedly said at his death: “Now he belongs to the ages.” Or was it “Now he belongs to the angels”? We’ll never know — there were too many witnesses. Finding the truth is a damned hard job, and I’m a little scared by people who are certain sure they’ve found it.

  7. Hans von Schlongmeister says:

    “‘homocide bombings’ rather than ‘suicide bombings'”

    Let’s see, the proponderance of death is with people OTHER than the bomber himself. Thus, homocide bombing seems to more accurately describe the result, and the intent. No problem here.

    We conservatives delight in the DFL’s recent use of “tax relief” in this legislative sesssion. Even though they don’t understand what it means, it’s great that they have adopted the expression as part of their lexicon. When liberals are put in the position of promoting lower taxes, even for those who don’t pay much or any, it’s a good new paradigm.

  8. jl says:

    Namethaticantbringmyselftorepeat, I agree with you on “homocide bomber.” It more accurately reflects the stated intention of the bombers and actual effect. I don’t understand why that isn’t used.

    But claiming the use of the term “tax relief” is new to the DFL is historically inaccurate. Whether you agree or disagree about whether they correctly applied the term, they have for decades used that term, usually when proposing to cut for some and pay for it (revolutionary idea) by increasing for others. Nothing new there. I’d argue reporters are wrong to call that either a “tax cut” or “tax relief.” Because it both cuts and increases, it’s a “tax shift.”

    I can’t come up with a good term for cutting our taxes so our kids can pay off the resulting deficit. The only ones that come to mind would even make Namethaticantbringmyselftorepeat blush.

  9. Hans von Schlongmeister says:

    I thought “tax relief” was a creation of my idol – Frank Luntz?

    Very revealing – I enjoyed your use of “pay for” in relation to tax cut. I think the GOP could do a better job of busting libs for that usage.

    At least you didn’t call taxes an “investment,” the ultimate insult.

  10. Cowardice. Been thinking about it — and that’s the word that comes to mind for not raising taxes now, but borrowing or deficit spending so our kids and grandkids will have to pay.

    Cowardice.

    Buy votes now with the mindless “no new taxes” pledge. And hope nobody notices that you’re mortgaging the future.

    Cowards. Cynical cowards.

    “They must take us for idiots,” I.F. Stone said. “And I’m sorry to say that their faith in our idiocy is not misplaced.”

  11. Star Trib Investor says:

    I love it – a terrorism plot was foiled in NY today, and nowherere is it to be found on the website of Minnesota’s largest “newspaper.”

    No bias here.

    I wish to accelerate my forecast of the Star Tribune’s demise – to Q2 2008.

  12. No New Taxes Coward says:

    Bruce,

    You have to reconcile something for your readers.

    As a percentage of GDP, our national debt under W is nowhere near historical highs (under the Truman administration).

    Further, the problem is spending – not taxation.

    Even with the Iraq war, US military spending as a percentage of GDP is at historical lows. It’s entitlement spending that’s out of control. (‘Free’ drugs and healthcare for all)

    See: http://www.heritage.org/Research/features/issues/charts/Defense/Defense2_s.gif

    With regard to Pawlenty, MN’s economy was able to grow from a huge deficit to a $2 billion SURPLUS in 4 years – with no new taxes.

    The assertion that MN government is starving doesn’t pass the straight face test.

  13. Good challenge, NNTC.
    Hmmm, the historical high was under Truman. After WWII, when we bankrolled and produced armaments for the global war against tyranny and then fought that war for four years. Piled up a big debt, money well worth spending. Despite the rhetoric, we’re not fighting anything like that kind of war. Saying Bush hasn’t gone that far into debt yet is faint praise.

    And I don’t measure quality of life by deficits or surpluses. The state’s balance sheet may look good on paper, but what about the cities that can’t fund cops, roads and bridges, libraries and other things that government is formed for?

    We simply disagree on what government should tax and spend for. Doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong. I just see government under Republicans too often helping those who don’t need much help, those who have plenty of resources already.

    Both Democrats and Republicans deficit spend. What gives me a cramp is that Republicans seem more hypocritical to me because they foist the due bill off on the next generations while saying they’re not raising taxes. Taxing the unborn. Is that’s what meant by pro-life?

  14. I’m surprised there was no mention of the NY terror plot on the web — it was the top story on 1A in the print edition of the Strib. I didn’t see the website Sunday.

  15. Benidt: Just because the truth is damn hard to find doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. More likely, it means that Avista or McClatchy doesn’t have the resources to find it. 🙂

    And while I’m strongly on the side that hates the “undocumented worker” phrase, the “homicide bombing” phrase is even worse. Hans (above) tries to say it’s better than “suicide bomber” because “the proponderance [sic] of death is with people OTHER than the bomber himself. Thus, homocide [sic] bombing seems to more accurately describe the result, and the intent.”

    He’s right in that the goal of journalistic descriptions should be accuracy, but consider this: Wasn’t the bombing at the Oklahoma City federal building a “homicide bombing”? The bombers didn’t die — it wasn’t a suicide bombing — but plenty of people were killed. Homicide. Saying “suicide bombing” doesn’t make me think any more or less about the assailant or the victims; it just tells me the person was willing to (or forced to?) die for something. A *hell of a lot* different than Oklahoma City or the Unabomber.

Comments are closed.