Bad Journalism + Biased Editor = The Gray News

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

“mugged by the blogosphere”

This entry is dedicated to Elizabeth Prata, Jeanne Adams, Gary Foster, Andy Upham, and anyone else who the Administrators on the ‘graydissidents’ and ‘BWG’ blogs abused over the last few months, abused either through their own postings, or allowing terrible comments to be posted from those hate blogs’ anonymous and non-anonymous contributors.

The following was printed on the Washington Post blog. It’s an explanation from Executive Editor Jim Brady, on why he turned off comments. It is excerpted below. Original here--

As biased as the Gray News is, their reporter Nathan Tsukroff is even more biased on his Gray News no-holds-barred BWG blog. For example, in “Monument promotes a candidate” he presents skewed information to the reader, and fails to tell them that just as candidate Julie DeRoche’s release was sent to the Gray News, and Alison Libbey’s was sent to the Gray News, (Or, ‘Ann Libby’ according Tsukroff) the Walls release was sent to The Gray News, too. It’s just that with Walls’s release, Nathan chose to make fun of Walls, the sender, and his competitor newspaper.

Pointing out these facts to anyone involved with 'graydidssidents' or 'BWG' always results in abusing the commenter, who is usually called a "howler monkey" or "viral implant" or worse.

So here is why biasbuster chose to enact to comment moderation. The Brady excerpt is written well and explained clearly by Brady, and it represents my feelings exactly.

WP editor won't let comments area become an attack zone
Washington Post executive editor Jim Brady wonders why people became so angry during the Deborah Howell column flap. "Maybe this level of anger has been out there for a long time, waiting to be enabled by technology. Forget about writing a letter, getting a stamp and mailing it in. Anger now has an easy and immediate outlet," he writes. But "we won't allow our comments area to become a place where people can use whatever vulgar language they want, personally attack Post staffers or bully other contributors to our pages or discussions.” What’s distressing about Brady's recent experience is that a small number of highly partisan, energetic bloggers poisoned the debate instead of contributing to it.

Brady writes--“My favorite story from this adventure involves one blogger who proudly runs a no-holds-barred blog that relishes name calling. Nonetheless, we invited this blogger to participate in an online discussion about ethics on the Web. During the discussion, this blogger peppered me with many of the same questions that I'd answered in other forums. In one of my responses, I noted the investigative nature of her questions and suggested that when she was done playing Columbo, she might actually discuss the topic we'd invited her to discuss. More than 50 of this blogger's readers later sent e-mails to me demanding a public apology for comparing this blogger to a fictional television detective. One of the complaints about my manners closed by telling me to go do something unprintable with myself "and that Wa:Po rag you ride about town." Uh, thanks.”

“But we won't allow our comments area to become a place where people can use whatever vulgar language they want, personally attack Post staffers or bully other contributors to our pages or discussions. There are folks who call this position naive. That's their right. There are those who will decide not to be part of the discussion we're having on because they don't like our rules. That's their choice. We have chosen to build a certain type of community on our site, and based on the e-mail and letters I've received in the past three weeks, there are a lot of people who want to join it. But what do I know? I'm an idiot. Just ask the people who don't know me."

Jim Brady is the executive editor of

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bias happens...when you're involved

In August 2005, Mr. Clark wrote:

"At its workshop last week, the Council wondered why the Gray Public Library Association hasn't raised any money yet. Councilor Andy Upham was quoted as demanding to know "If they are a fundraising arm for the Library, why aren't they raising any money?" Well, Andy, I'll tell you-as you already have been told: The GPLA cannot raise money until it knows what it's raising money for."

BUST: This paragraph has several problems. First, Upham "was quoted as saying"? Where? Was Mr. Clark hearing the quote first hand? Or is it second hand hearsay? Second hand hearsay should never be in a news article. It is very wrong. Unless Mr. Clark heard it himself, or the source is cited, he should not put it in.

BUST #2:, using the word "demanded" is an emotionally loaded word. News reports should stay away from adjectives. Unless Mr. Upham himself used the word 'demanded,' for example 'I demand to know,' then Mr. Clark should stick with the more neutral 'said.' That way, readers can decide if Mr. Upham was being demanding by reading what he said instead of Mr. Clark telling them how he said it.

BUST #3: Mr. Clark had said a few months earlier that the express purpose of the GPLA is “to support the library, to acquire property on their behalf, to raise funds for the construction of the library for purposes of education.” This excerpt is from the town council minutes of May 17, 2005, available online. The GPLA Bylaws say nothing about waiting for Pennell before they can fundraise. They are supposed to fundraise, period. Not lobby for the particular fundraising event that they WANT.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Clark should not be so involved, that's when bias happens

On December 16, 2005, Ray Clark wrote:

"Essentially, he suggested that the Council would be amenable to spending about $160,000 to provide what he called "white space" for Library use. He said the plan would add 3,200 square feet of Library space; others estimate only about 2,200 square feet would result."

BUST: What “others”? From what source? Are the ‘others’ authoritative? Is it Ray’s poet brother in Peoria or a knowledgeable contractor? And why did Mr. Clark fail to cite the source? Is it made-up? These are questions readers have when anonymous sources are used in an article. Mr. Clark should not use anonymous sources. The point of a news article is to present facts, not indefinite insinuations with no source.

"The Gray Public Library Association, a fundraising group dedicated to supporting the Library, met on Thursday to discuss the Council's offer."

BUST: Using the word “offer” is a misleading term. The council did not make an offer. They were not negotiating with the Trustees. The Library Trustees are a town committee whose boss is the Council. The meeting was to inform the trustees of the council’s plan, not to make an offer. Mr. Clark should be more neutral in the words he chooses, and ensure that they reflect the actual situation and not color it with his own bias. Mr. Clark is involved with the issue, both as a Trustee and a GPLA member at that time. That is why he is biased. He is involved.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tsukroff promotes a candidate (or two)

Today on the Gray News blog, ( Nathan Tsukroff of The Gray News wrote "I recommend a vote for Julie DeRoche or Ann Libby." Both these people are candidates for council. (The correct name of the second candidate is 'Alison Libbey.')

BUST: Reporters should not influence the news, especially not to make recommendations to voters on which candidate to vote for. According to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, journalists should: "Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist the pressure to influence news coverage."

Nathan failed to resist the pressure to influence news coverage. Though, this is not the first time The Gray News has participated in politics. Their Board of Directors were campaign officers for Legislative candidates. Ray Clark was elected to the charter commission in 1999, and subsequently reported on himself. Ray Clark also served and does serve on Town committees, participating on local government. Nathan participated in the political recall campaign by circulating petitions. Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Tsukroff reported on themselves while participating in political events. This is wrong.

The New York Times code of Ethics says:

"No staff member may seek public office anywhere. Seeking or serving in public office plainly violates the professional detachment expected of a journalist. It poses a risk of having the staff member's political views imputed to The Times, and it can sow a suspicion of favoritism in The Times's political coverage when one of its staff is an active participant."

Hear hear. Ray Clark and Nathan Tsukroff's past and current participation in politics destroys professional detachment expected of a journalist. That is why their paper is biased.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

No News is good News

I got this week's Gray News Friday and digested it. I looked for material from a news article to use as a basis for the Biasbuster lesson. But there's no news in it. Just press releases and a few opinion pieces from citizens. I guess that is one way not to be news biased. Don't print any news.

There's one editorial from Ray Clark, a terribly written one, but this blog's job is not to educate Mr. Clark on good writing or community astuteness.

Maybe I will look for something from Nathan Tsukroff, but Ray doesn't usually let Nathan write, Nathan is only a note-taker or a minutes gatherer. We'll see what I come up with tomorrow. Unfortunately, when there is news in the Gray News, it is sure to be biased. Past issues provide plenty of material, so not to worry.

Here is a private musing: how can a publication named the Gray NEWS actually not have any news in it? Don't that beat all.

Clark is flat out wrong

On April 7, 2006, Mr. Clark wrote:
"Library renovation cost set at $513,000"

”The proposed renovation of the Gray Public Library basement will cost at least $513,000, according to an estimate presented by Port City Architecture.”

BUST: The estimated cost of the library renovations was not “set” at $513,000. The estimate was set for $200,000 by the Gray Town Council. Mr. Clark’s headline and first sentence is wrong.

The $513,000 figure came from an unsolicited report from an outside group, of which Mr. Clark was recently the President. Mr. Clark does not state that the estimate was unsolicited, that the council estimated the cost at $200,000, nor that he is part of the story. All these are gross failures of the Journalism Code of Ethics, which states:

"Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Editorials must be factually correct, too

Biasbuster note: IMHO is short for ‘In My Humble Opinion” and is an opinion editorial, not a news report.

IMHO May 12 by Ray Clark:
“... Sometime in the near future, the Town Council hopes to pass an amendment to the Town Charter that would take that power away from you. The Council would print up a budget and you would vote on it at a referendum. Your choice is yes or no to the whole thing, just as it is to the School budget, ..."

BUST: The point of an editorial is to use facts as the foundation to put forward your opinion about those facts. Mr. Clark states that the council's proposal would take away the opportunity for debate at town meeting or the chance to change the budget. Even editorials must state correct facts. Ray Clark's May 12 IMHO is factually incorrect.

The Town Council has been clear that the change to the charter would not take away the two main items currently enjoyed at Town Meeting: debate, and budget adjustment through majority vote. This can be checked by viewing the DVD, reading the minutes, or reading Mr. Dale's document.

Town Attorney Bill Dale sent a legal opinion to council outlining the ins and outs of the proposed change. The memo stated that the town meeting would still exist. This legal opinion is a public document that the Gray News staff may request.

Mr. Clark is almost always absent from meetings where council discusses things. Mr. Clark should attend meetings on which the discussions are being held. That way, he would hear it first hand, and his factual distortions would not occur. Actually attending the meeting would also mean Mr. Clark would have instant access to the paperwork related to the discussion, and he could take that paperwork with him to refer to when he is writing up his pieces for the paper.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Code Violations


Ray Clark wrote: "Drive to recall Councilor begins According to reliable sources, a group of Gray citizens will take out a petition Friday" ...2006-02-10

Ray Clark wrote: "RiteAid to buy out Community Pharmacy? Sources say that RiteAid will shortly buy out the Community Pharmacy in Gray Plaza and close it." 10-08-04

From the Code of Ethics:
Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
BUST: Ray Clark uses unidentified sources in his articles, something the Code of Ethics advises against.


Ray Clark wrote: "At last Tuesday's Town Council meeting, Chair Gary Foster repeatedly told the audience" ... 5-19-06

From the Code of Ethics: 'Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."
BUST: Ray Clark did not go to the meeting which he is reporting on. He hardly ever does. He is violating the code by failing to test the accuracy of the information. Distortions occur. The Chair of the Gray Town Council publicly corrected many of those distortions last week, several of which were revealed as deliberate.

Clark is good at bullying and abusing

On July 08, 2005 Ray Clark wrote,

“Council Hears Differing Views On Pennell Disposition"
"More than 50 people attended Tuesday night's Town Council Meeting-enough to fill two hours with informed, semi-informed and uninformed rhetoric about the future of Pennell Institute.”

BUST: it is inappropriate for Mr. Clark to make judgments about the quality of the discussion. It is the reporter’s job to transcribe the statements under discussion as neutrally as possible. This is an example of opinion journalism because Mr. Clark inserted his own opinion into the news article instead of leaving it to the reader to make his own decision as to the level of informed discussion.
June 24, 2005, Ray Clark wrote:

“Foster Elected Council Chair; Sturgis Resigns"
"In a Town Council Meeting that progressed from stunner to stunner, Gary Foster was elected Chair and newcomer Andrew Upham Vice-Chair and Councilor Matt Sturgis announced his resignation-exactly one week after elections. Between those two totally unexpected-except, perhaps, by the Councilors themselves-events, the Council voted to table the proposed Zoning amendments, approved…”

BUST: Mr. Clark says, ‘except perhaps for the councilors themselves…’ Again, Mr. Clark is inserting his opinion into the article. News articles should be as factual as possible and as neutral as possible. If Mr. Clark had a concern about the activities of the councilors, he should name the councilors, and firm up the facts around the supposed activities. Instead, he made an insinuation without substantiating it. This is opinion journalism, journalistic bullying, and just plain abusive.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Ray Clark is an unethical bully

August 2005, Ray Clark wrote: The Truth About the GPLA

"(The Town's litigation, on the other hand, involves just Pennell and one acre, which doubtless confused The Monument.)"
BUST: Newspapers do not use their newspaper to take potshots at readers or at other newspapers.
BUST: This article is published as an article, and not an editorial. Making personal statements of opinion in news articles reduces Mr. Clark's credibility to zero.

"The GPLA has no "plans" to present a bond-of $660,000 or any other number. ... The bald statement that "GPLA plans to present bond" is indeed fiction."
BUST: IRS form 1023 states that the GPLA had slated a bond, included a cost, and provided a date. This source was referenced in The Monument's article and a photo of it put online. Here, Mr. Clark puts himself in a Catch-22. Either Mr. Clark lied to The Monument about never intending to put out for a bond, or he lied to the IRS about the opposite.

"And The Monument, in response to a letter, darkly implies that there is some conflict of interest in serving on both the Library Board of Trustees and the GPLA. Neither The Monument nor anyone else has even suggested what this conflict might be. The GPLA's attorneys see no conflict of interest. While Town Council member Andy Upham has brought up the issue, no formal action has been taken."
BUST: using the word 'darkly' is an adjective that has no place in a news report, which by its nature should strive to be as neutral as possible. The statement should say "The Monument stated that..."
BUST: Mr. Clark is a member of the organization he is writing about. He should not participate in the news and if participation is unavoidable, he should have declared that he was a member of the organization. That he did not, leaves the reader to possibly suppose that he was using his bully pulpit to lobby for his own organization.

In 2000, Ray Clark replied in the same issue to a letter writer thus: "The Editor replies--no, he doesn't. He has no words. Also, no more patience for Mr. Cutter's vituperation. Good night, Cal.)"
BUST: Editors should allow comment without the writer fearing the Editor will insert a snide remark. To do so is inappropriately using the newspaper as a bully pulpit.

Here are industry statements that speak to this kind of bias reporting that Mr. Clark does: “No employee of NPR (or any other journalistic organization of good repute) should abuse their position to advocate or pound the bully pulpit. If they want to do so, they should leave journalism and go join a lobby group.” NPR Ombudsman

“There should be clear boundaries between public relations and lobbying on the one hand and opinion journalism on the other.” The Hawaii Reporter

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ray Clark is inconsistent

Ray's policy on anonymous letters changes, depending.

Example: in IMHO, Ray Clark's opinion column, in Feb 2004, he reiterated:
"But we won't print your letter if you won't sign it."

But a few months later, he did:

"This is the text of the letter from the anonymous donor"

And in 1998, a letter from an anonymous person, signed,

"An Anonymous Resident who cares." With Ray's explanation,
(Ed. Note: As you know, The Gray News doesn't usually print anonymous letters. We're making an exception with this one.)

So, with Ray Clark, a policy is a policy, unless it suits him.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hot air pumps Clark

April 28, Ray Clark wrote:
Rally pumps Upham-but was it legal?

A rally Monday on the Stimson Hall steps in support of Town Councilor Andrew Upham appears to have been illegal

BUST: It was not a rally. It was an interview by Channel 13 of Mr. Upham.
BUST: "Appears to be" is not news reporting. Either it was, or it wasn't. If it was, cite why. If it wsn't, do not bring it up. To bring it up but leave the incorrect impression in readers' minds is biased reporting.

Among the supporters were representatives of The Monument Newspaper, which has styled itself an expert on election law and which has supported Mr. Upham.

BUST: All three are incorrect. Channel 13 and The Monument were there as news gatherers.
BUST: The Monument had not publicly endorsed Upham. The Monument had not given any indication that it is a 'supporter'. Yet the Gray News failed to report that it was part of the recall itself. Extreme bias.
BUST: A reference to 'styling itself on election law' has no reason to be in the article. Mr. Clark's failure to back up the sentence with a fact is biased reporting.

"Portland television channel 13 covered the event, apparently called by rally organizers."

BUST: It was not an event. It was called by Channel 13. It was not called by rally organizers, since it was not a rally.
BUST: 'Apparently' is not a proper news word. Either it was or it wasn't. A good reporter would have verified the fact and then stated it neutrally.
Omissions are also biased reporting. Mr. Clark fails to mention that recall organizers were also called by Channel 13, one of whom refused to speak on camera. Presenting only one side of an issue is biased reporting.

"Council Chair Gary Foster was called to disperse the rally, but arrived too late to stop television coverage. In February and again in March, Mr. Foster had ejected citizens gathering petitions from the Gray Public Library, citing a personnel policy.
BUST: Mr. Foster arrived after the short interview conducted by Ch. 13 was concluded.
BUST: The last sentence has no bearing on the issue Mr. Clark is reporting on. When reporters reference facts that have no bearing on the issue at hand, and arrange them in an incorrect manner it is biased reporting.

This is actually very clever biased reporting, since none of the article's stated facts are true but it is written as if it was.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Gray News writes contrary to reality

May 19 edition, Ray Clark wrote:

Example #1: Dale told Foster that the procedure was handled in accordance with State law, and that "at this point, it's a done deal and there's simply no appeal".

Biasbust 1: Incorrect. Dale said that in cases where there is an egregious breach, you may appeal to court. Andy Upham noted that 'egregious' was subjective and therefore Dale's earlier statement that there was 'absolutely' no appeal was now qualified by Dale's admission that some rulings could be appealed. Dale agreed.

Example #2: And although Foster said that Dale had called the amendment "a "substantive" change, in actuality Dale said no such thing.

Biasbust 2: Incorrect. Dale said that the issue was so close to the line one could go either way. Some might consider it a minor change; others, a major change, Dale said.

Gray News continues to publish wrong facts

May 19 edition, Ray Clark wrote:

Example: A lengthy investigation by the Maine Attorney General's office into the destruction of e-mails by Town Council Chair Gary Foster has finally ended.

Biasbust: Incorrect. There was no investigation. Using the word 'destruction' is over-excited and misleading. Also; there was one e-mail, yet Clark repeatedly uses the plural to incorrectly leave the reader the impression that it was a bonfire bonanza of wanton destruction. Not so.

Example: The verdict: Foster shouldn't have deleted the e-mails, but since nobody knows what was in them, no further action will be taken.

Biasbust: There was one e-mail, not more than one, so using the plural is wrong and purposefully misleading. 'No further action will be taken' because Foster did not break the law.
The entire sentence is a misleading suggestion to the readers, formulating their conclusion for them. And it is an incorrect conclusion at that. Clark should have written what Foster reported, not Clark's wishful assembly of incorrect statements. That's what bias is.

Biasbust: "but since nobody knows what was in them" is factually incorrect. The assistant AG and Gary Foster knew what the e-mail said.

Example: Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner made the decision after several months of inquiry, which was spurred by a query from The Gray News. A Freedom of Access request from Nathan Tsukroff revealed that some of Foster's e-mails had been deleted, although by law e-mails pertaining to Town business must be maintained. Foster pleaded ignorance of the law his first year in office.

--There was not several months of inquiry. There was one phone call from the Assistant AG to Foster.
--'Some' of Foster's e-mails' is incorrect. There was one.
--Using the word 'pleaded' is inappropriate. It is a word used in court and evokes an incorrect picture in the readers' mind. Clark should have used 'stated', a more neutral word.
--"although by law e-mails pertaining to Town business must be maintained" is correct. The one e-mail under discussion was being maintained by the then-council chair and the Town Manager. That is why the AG said there was no issue and since the information in it was still available to the public, it was in fact still being maintained.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

A gentle reminder

Please, no swearing. Thank you. Keeping your comments to the topic and not personalities will be appreciated. Thank you.

Gray News, Ray Clark lies

Gary Foster wrote:

Example 1: "On April 7, 2006, Ray Clark wrote: “So far as I know, The Gray News has never been accused of misquoting a member of the present Council.” This is not true."

Foster biasbust 1: "On August 22, 2005, Andy Upham requested an apology and retraction from Nathan Tsukroff for the Gray News headline “Upham Opposes Fire Department Celebration.” Mr. Tsukroff specifically asked Andy after a Council meeting if he opposes the celebration, and Andy responded “No” that he was not opposed to the celebration. His request for retraction and apology was refused."

Foster biasbust 1b: "Again, On August 28, 2005, I requested an apology and retraction after Nathan Tsukroff wrote “The forwarding occurred minutes after he received the e-mails, and without an apparent request from Prata for those e-mails,” in regards to my forwarding emails requested by The Monument newspaper. In fact the emails were forwarded minutes after receiving the request, not minutes after receiving the original emails. This time the request for apology and retraction was ignored. "

Biasbuster 1c: The use of the word "apparently" is not a news word. Either the reporter knows the fact as verified, or he does not. If he does not, reference to the fact should be omitted from the story. Anything otherwise is speculation, and speculation does not belong in a newspaper.

Foster's biasbust of Gray News on GPLA

Gary Foster said:

As there have been many misunderstandings, mischaracterizations and misrepresentations regarding the Council and Council members since last summer, perhaps it is time to address and clear up some of the innuendo that has been generated and promoted since then.

At the May 6, 2006 Town Meeting, Lynn Olson of the Gray Public Library Association, Claudette Simms of the Library Board of Trustees, and others suggested that Council’s proposal to prepare the Library basement for expansion would cost $511,000, citing estimates from Port City Architecture, and not $200,000 as proposed by Council. This is not accurate.

$200,000 in fact would cover the scope of work proposed by Council. The scope of work proposed by the GPLA and Port City Architecture would cost $511,000. For several years, the Library Board of Trustees has requested that the Council consider expanding the library to meet current space needs. The present Council considered their request and proposed $200,000 for basic library basement renovations, as preparation for expansion, thereby meeting the current needs of the library while allowing time to prepare for a new facility to meet future needs.

The Council did not solicit the services of PCA, nor did we request or were we invited to discuss the basement renovation with PCA. The GPLA, a private organization that does not represent the Council or the Town of Gray, hired the architect entirely on their own, and provided a scope of work and estimate different from that which Council proposed.

The Library is a Town owned facility, and GPLA received no authorization from Council to hire the architect or alter the scope of work we proposed for the basement. The Council merely proposed to appropriate $200,000 to prepare the basic space, which included tiled floor, painted walls, suspended ceiling, elevator, climate control, and code compliant stairway.

Funding for more lavish amenities and for furnishings would then be provided by the GPLA whose stated purpose is, among other things, to raise funds for capital improvements of the Library. This would have met current space needs at a minimal cost to the taxpayers of Gray.

The GPLA, instead of raising money to furnish the space that Council proposed or to fund the scope of work that they proposed, opted to expend funds to oppose the library expansion entirely. In summary, the Library Board of Trustees had requested additional space for the library, the Council responded with a proposal to prepare space for expansion, and the GPLA and Library Board of Trustees successfully lobbied against the expansion.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Council chair BUSTS Gray News (2)!

Council chair Gary Foster’s biasbust;

“On May 12, 2006, Ray Clark wrote that the Council is considering ‘abolishing the town meeting altogether.’ This is not true. The proposal which Council supports, is to hold Town Meeting as usual, resulting in preliminary action on the municipal budget. Final approval of the budget would take place by referendum at the June municipal election, when Town meeting reconvenes. At no time has the Council suggested abolishing Town meeting.”

That’s right, at no time did they ever talk about getting rid of town meeting. Ray Clark wrote an outright fabrication.

Council Chair BUSTS Gray News!

Chair of the Gray Town Council, Gary Foster, finally had enough, too. He read a lengthy report into the record that corrects Gray News falsehoods. BiasBuster will post those corrections.

But first, BiasBuster will bust the lie that Nathan lied about in his apology about the lie:

Tuesday night, Mr. Foster said: "Mr. Tsukroff specifically asked Andy after a Council meeting if he opposes the Celebration, and Andy responded, No,"

After asking that question and getting that answer, Nathan of The Gray News had written for his headline and first sentence: "Upham opposes fire department celebration... Gray Town Councilman Andy Upham opposed Gray Fire-Rescue's planned 125th Anniversary Celebration during discussion at Tuesday night's town council meeting at Stimson Hall."

Mr. Foster's statement Tuesday night prompted Nathan to go to the microphone and say that he was sorry, the headline 'could have been better' but the 'whole of the story was correct.’

That is not true, Nathan's first line also contained the falsehood.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Clark vents over radon

May 12 “Council debates radon solutions”

Ray Clark wrote:

Example #1: Council Vice-Chair Andy Upham suggested that the problem can be eliminated by having the town’s maintenance man drill a hole in the concrete floor and put in a pipe and a fan. The problem, however, is more complicated than that.”

BiasBust 1a: Mr. Clark is wrong. The issue is not complicated. Mr. Upham’s resolution for radon abatement is exactly on the money, according to the remedies outlined at
"A variety of methods can be used for radon gas protection in your home. In some cases, radon reduction may be attained by sealing cracks in floors and walls. In other cases, simple systems using pipes and a radon exhaust fan or radon vent fan can be used to reduce radon. Such radon reduction systems are called "sub-slab depressurization," and do not require major changes to your home. This radon abatement method removes radon gas from below the concrete floor and the foundation before it can enter the home.”

BiasBust 1b: Telling the reader that something is complicated is editorializing, not reporting. If something is complicated, show the reader with proof, through examples. Otherwise the reporter is making judgments for the reader and that is not the reporter’s job.

Example #2: “Bennett will put out a request for proposal for a more professional approach to solving the radon issue. But even that may be a problem: Mr. Upham has demanded at least three estimates,”

BiasBust 2a: Mr. Clark is wrong. The Town Administrative code outlines bidding. It includes a protocol for soliciting three bids through a formal process.

BiasBust 2b: Using the word “demanded” characterizes. Reporters do not characterize for the reader, they chronicle by using neutral language.

BiasBust 2c: Using the words ‘more professional approach’ Mr. Clark is making judgments for the reader. If including more specifics as noted above, it would allow the reader to make his or her own judgments as to the level of professionalism. The goal is always to provide enough neutral information written in neutral language that allows the reader to decide.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Another biasbust of Ray Clark

April 14 issue of The Gray News, headline, FinCom meeting illegal? Maybe not... then again...Ray Clark wrote:

Example #1: Questions have been raised about the legality of a meeting of the Gray Finance Committee held on April 6. [excerpted...] It was hastily rescheduled for April 6. According to Council Chair Gary Foster, the Portland Press Herald was notified, thus fulfilling the letter of the Open Meeting laws of Maine.

Biasbust #1a: In the headline and in the first paragraph Mr. Clark alludes to a potential illegality. But then he dispels it by stating the meeting met the letter of the law. Do not allege illegality if there is no basis behind the allegation.

Biasbust #1b: "Hastily" does not belong in a news article. Unless Mr. Clark was in Town Office and saw the clerks rushing around to reschedule it, using hastily is conjecture. Conjecture does not belong in a news article.

Example #2: But further questions were raised when it was learned that the Finance Committee now consists of three members of the Gray Town Council: Foster, Andrew Upham and Skip Crane.

Biasbust #2: “questions were raised” is bad writing. It’s passive tense, so it is really bad news writing. Second, who raised those questions? What questions were asked? Without attributing the ‘questions’ that were supposedly raised to an actual person, and stating what the questions were, it's using anonymous sources. Or it could be an outright fabrication. Ditto for 'it was learned.'

Example #3: Last Fall, the Council introduced a Charter amendment that would change the makeup of the Finance Committee to one Council member and an unspecified number of citizens at large. The amendment was passed. Recruiting has apparently failed to attract citizen members

Biasbust #3: The use of the word ‘apparently’ is inappropriate. Either the council attracted new members, or it didn’t.

Biasbust #3b: Mr. Clark’s supposition that no citizens attend is false. Janet Neal and Lynn Olson, are both citizen-at-large ad hoc attendees who regularly participate.

Biasbust #3c: Mr. Clark’s new interest in the Right To Know law is too little too late.
--Mr. Clark participated in an illegal meeting last June. He organized the meeting with three days’ notice and did not notify the public, and there were more than three elected officials present.
--Mr. Clark participated in an illegal executive session, for which then-Chair Pam Wilkinson later publicly apologized for the illegality.
--Mr. Clark participated in an illegal meeting of the Trustees recently which was dispersed by Councilor Duda due to lack of notification.
The first can be confirmed by Chair Gary Foster. The second two are on the record and can be proven.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ray Clark's reporting on Town meeting

On May 5, 2006, Ray Clark wrote:

Example #1 Town Departments were told by the Town Council to submit two budgets for next year: a flat budget no higher than last years (except for energy costs) and a "bare-bones" budget, presumably even lower than last year.

BiasBust #1: This is false. Departments were told to prepare a zero-based budget along with a business case that justified any increases or new programs.

BiasBust #2: The word presumably does not belong in a news article. It is up to the reporter to verify the statement for the very reason that words like presumably shouldn't have to be used. Secondly, it is an opinion word, chosen by the author, and it belongs in an editorial.

Example #2: from the same article: The Warrant asks citizens to approve taking $200,000 to pay for renovation to the Gray Public Library's basement. However, an architectural firm estimated that bringing the space to code would cost upwards of a half-million dollars. The Council has not said how it intends to proceed.

BiasBust #1: Mr. Clark does not reveal that the architectural firm was not a town sponsored firm nor was its report solicited by the town. It was paid for by an outside entity, The Gray Public Library Association (GPLA.)

BiasBust #2: Mr. Clark does not reveal that the GPLA put extra things in the report that the Council had never intended to do. Those extras made the renovation more expensive.

BiasBust #3: Mr. Clark does not tell the reader that he was recently part of the GPLA as an officer, nor that he still is a library Trustee. His failure to reveal his associations with and personal interest in the subject on which he is reporting imediately dissolves his credibility.

BiasBust #4: The last statement is false. The Council has been very clear on how it intends to proceed. They want to sell the Post Office for $200,000, use the proceeds to renovate the library downstairs, and publicly discussed the scope of work for that renovation. They also said that it would be up to the GPLA to add furniture, shelving, and decorations.


Clark's reporting on Fire Suppression all wet

April 21 Ray Clark wrote:
Example #1:
[Council voted] to accept Order #77, which forbids requiring developers to provide certain water-related fire safety provisions, despite the pleas of several members of the Planning Board. Don Hutchings, of the Planning Board, pointed out that the present Ordinance requires builders to provide water sufficient for fire suppression; he named the specific section of the Ordinance, and asked Councilor Andy Upham to read it aloud. For unknown reasons, Upham chose to read several extraneous sections.

BiasBust #1: Don Hutchings cited only a small excerpt of the ordinance. The ordinance under discussion is Subdivision regulations, Article 10, Section401.34 - Water Supply and it goes from A-H. Mr. Upham noted that the pertinent sections discuss public water supply and all the subsections have to be taken into account, not cherry picked out of context. The Planning Board relies on only part C, but in effect, if read as a whole from A-H the picture becomes clear.

BiasBust#2:The last sentence is false. Mr. Upham clearly stated his reasons for reading the other sections. Several times, as a matter of fact. He said it was for purposes of context as stated above.

BiasBust#3: Using words like “for unknown reasons” is inappropriate. If the reasons are stated, reporters should put them in the article. If the reasons are not stated, reporters should ask and then put the answer in the article.

BiasBust#4: Mr. Clark should actually go to the meetings that he reports on.

To read the section of ordinance:
Subdivision Regulations