Sunday, September 13, 2009

Journal Sentinel: Taking Credit Where Credit Is Due – Or Not

One of the strategies the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has employed during its present death-spiral as a daily newspaper is the constant patting of itself on the back for a job so enormously well done. For a couple of months earlier this year, the paper used Page 2 on Sundays for a series of often-embarrassing essays by various editors about how great this or that area of its coverage is. It was the worst kind of self-serving pap, substituting real reporting for glossy reviews of past reporting, written for those who, damn you, just did not appreciate the company's product enough.

The Behind the Headlines series has ended for the most part – when last seen in August, managing editor George Stanley made a lame attempt to pretend everything was just fine after the latest staff purge that ripped the heart out of the fine arts staff and other parts of the paper. But the cheerleading for itself continues in Journal Sentinel news articles that celebrate the real and imagined impact of the paper’s various tabloid-type sensationalist campaigns against BPA, drunk driving, child care providers and whatever other hysterical button Stanley decides to push for the benefit of anxious legislators and right-wing radio hosts.

Usually, a story about a couple of city residents getting indicted for bankruptcy fraud would barely make the back page of the Business Journal, if that. But, unfortunately for them, Willie and Pamela Kohlheim were two of several subjects of the Journal Sentinel’s campaign against inner-city child care providers who were gathering just too darn much money from the state’s Wisconsin Shares program. So, not only were the financial details about their lucrative business in the story three months ago in apparent conflict with their bankruptcy filing; their resulting federal criminal case was blazoned across the front page of the Saturday paper.

What’s the big deal? Oh yeah – here it is in paragraph 3: "The charges, revealed Friday, come three months after the Journal Sentinel published a story exposing how the Kohlheims received nearly $1.3 million from the troubled Wisconsin Shares program..." Thus does the small news become big – not because it has any special significance, but because it makes the newspaper look better (if you think things like campaigns against child care providers "makes the newspaper look better").

This sort of self-congratulation in your own newspaper can, however, get so contagious it spreads to places it doesn’t belong. On the same Saturday front page, there is a fairly hilarious story about some roadway roundabouts planned for the area near Lambeau Field. It seems a Green Bay legislator wrote to the Department of Transportation pointing out that, er, some people coming out of Lambeau may not be quite, er, capable to negotiate the intricacies of roundabout yield signs. One could imagine the impaired Chucky Cheesehead circling endlessly in the roundabout until dawn as he tries to find his way back home.

Failing to find the humor in the situation, the Journal Sentinel took the occasion to act shocked – shocked! – that anyone would suggest that Packer fans might not need unnecessary directional challenges after three hours of tailgating and three more hours of high-priced stadium beer (and, last night, anyway, an exciting victory). In case you might wonder why the paper is waxing sanctimonious about an entirely reasonable request to avoid confusion on the road, the J-S takes extraordinary credit for the entire anti-drunk-driving that has been going on nationwide for at least the past 20 years; again in paragraph 3: "The issue of drunken driving has taken on a new prominence after the Journal Sentinel's ‘Wasted in Wisconsin’ series and other news reports about the toll of drunken driving in the state."

Well, no. The Journal Sentinel’s anti-drunk campaign has nothing to do with exaggerated concerns about tailgating roundabouters in Green Bay. But their attempt to claim credit for the concern does lead to some interesting possibilities for the paper to take credit for all kinds of things they have nothing to do with.

  • Flights out of Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee have become 20% cheaper this year. Full page ads for Air Tran in the Journal Sentinel contributed to the awareness of the new fares throughout the Greater Milwaukee Area.
  • Five Taliban leaders were reported killed in Afghanistan. The Journal Sentinel took a strong stand in 2001 in favor of the killing of Taliban leaders.
  • President Barack Obama’s plans for effective health care reform took a significant hit in Congress as senators continued to step away from including a public option in their plan. A Journal Sentinel columnist, Republican WMC board member John Torinus, has advocated against effective health care reform in the pages of the newspaper for years.
  • Gov. Jim Doyle proposed a new plan to fund regional transit in the Milwaukee area. The Journal Sentinel editorial board has consistently offered lukewarm support for rational regional transit plans, while allowing right-wing former copy editor Patrick McIlheran to write three columns a week spouting wing-nut talking-points against it. The newspaper therefore will later claim credit if the proposal is adopted and if it is defeated.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers announced today that rookie Casey McGhee will be starting at third base in place of veteran Craig Counsel. Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt suggested in a column last week that the Brewers should spend the September of their lost season playing the young guys to see what they can do.

And so on. Really, why not make every story in the paper about the wonderfullness of the Journal Sentinel? Real news generated by real societal currents is so tedious. The message is the messenger, however battered, wilting and irrelevant. The Lords of State Street will apparently be convinced of their own genius up to and through the last day of publication.

Will the last failed editor pretending to save the Journal Sentinel please turn out the lights.


Anonymous said...

Er, the regular folks took a stand against killing Taliban leaders in 2001. This means the JS probably was against it in 2003.

Anonymous said...

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