Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Sick Newspaper?

There’s a genuine sadness connected to the gradual failing of Lexington, Kentucky’s only newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, a McClatchy property. Through the years it’s called attention to government misdeeds particularly, the most recent being the pilfering of the city’s airport by top management of hundreds of thousands of dollars in just the last three years. The results of its good work included an audit by the state, resignations of the perpetrators, and possible criminal trials. Without the paper’s activity, these thieves, who were already making salaries in the six figures, would have kept right on in their stealing from the public.

The paper’s editorial activity can be correctly labeled as “far-left fringe,” perhaps part of the reason for its loss of customers, such loss already in process well before the current downturn in the economy. Kentucky is not a far-left state, though its voter registration is overwhelmingly democrat. Its two senators have been republican for many years and all but two of its six congressmen are republican. It voted heavily for John McCain last year.

The paper has a sort of mean streak in both its news and editorial departments, the objects of its excoriations often being religion or people/institutions with which it simply disagrees editorially. Here is a segment from this blog of April 2006, for instance:

“Finally, the saga concerning the student expelled from the University of the Cumberlands, because of his flaunting his homosexuality by describing his “dating life” on two Web-sites, is over, and the Lexington Herald-Leader, which adopted this affair as a cause celebre has had to move onto other areas of supposed discontent/abuse/discrimination/exclusion/racism/whatever for its ridicule and bashing. It bashed Southland Christian Church last December, ridiculed the governor’s prayer breakfast earlier this year, and then tried to make some sort of cockamamie issue out of this business [UC homosexual], which might have warranted a small space a couple of times in the regional-news (B)-segment of the paper. UC receives some funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, whose churches number nearly 800,000 members in just this state, and so, ipso facto, the school was ripe for degrading on the twin axes-to-grind subjects of church-state and discrimination, since a proposed pharmacy college at UC had been voted funds in the just-ended legislative session.

On seven days of a nine-day period, the paper made the subject front-page-above-the-fold stuff, positioned in the area devoted to the most important news of the world. This says something about the managerial mentality and professionalism attached to this publication. In addition to the huge front-page segments, pictures, and headlines, the paper dedicated a huge plethora of columns and pictures to the subject on its interior pages, all in the front (A) “news, editorial, op-ed” section. In the process, it furnished free-of-charge in the supposed “news accounts” the information that a protest drawing people from all over the state would be held at UC, Williamsburg, Ky., on the nineteenth. On the evening TV news accounts of that “protest effort,” there seemed to be more interviews with law enforcement people, standing around sort of slack-jawed and obviously wondering why they were there, than with the participants. The paper said “about 50” showed up, so there might have been 35-40 actual participants. There are 1,700 students at the school, so it might be correctly assumed that their apathy was evident.”

Southland Christian Church is probably the second-largest church in the state and is active in a plethora of community activities to especially care for the poor, involving huge outlays of cash. The paper castigated the church because it cancelled regular services on Christmas 2005, a Sunday, though technically there was a service in progress on Christmas, having been in progress after midnight on Christmas Eve. The paper couldn’t have cared less about the Christmas situation. It merely wanted – for whatever reason – to hurt the church. In the case of UC, the school’s handbook stipulated that homosexual behavior would not be tolerated, the same regulation as that of the military. This was no big deal, though it deserved a mention, but the paper apparently saw it as an opportunity to hurt the university, which is a private institution and can make its own rules.

The paper also seems to have as its mission a constant drumbeat of race-baiting. One columnist in particular has made it practically a cottage industry to fan the “race-flame” as often as possible, once devoting a column to the charge that black students were “afraid” to attend the University of Kentucky. Afraid! Black athletes, as in most universities, are fully accepted. Only one white player has had any appreciable game-time during this basketball season. The UK quarterback in 2006 and 2007 was African-American. The notion that black students were afraid to attend the school right in their hometown was so ridiculous as to make one wonder why the paper printed such lies. Strangely, the very next year the enrolments – same town, same school – jumped dramatically. The fear was dissolved practically overnight.

The paper is being victimized, as is the case with well-established papers throughout the country, by TV and the Internet, though the loss of advertisers does take its toll. Monopoly papers, such as in Lexington, would do well to try for a better editorial balance – not just on the op-ed page, but within the guts of the paper, as well. When there were two papers, there was balance in the city. Also, no editorial or commentator-comment should occur in news accounts…or even a byline. Let the people read the news and decide for themselves what it means. If they need help, they can turn to the editorials.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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