Bad Journalism + Biased Editor = The Gray News

Friday, June 30, 2006

Ray Clark's journalism is unscrupulous, lazy, and vague

June 30, 2006, Ray Clark wrote:

“Mrs. Cabana will be the fourth town manger in Gray in the last ten years. She has many friends in Gray, who characterize her as pleasant, efficient, and a confident leader. Her appointment was not unexpected.”

So, who were the other managers? If a reporter goes so far as to mention one part of one fact, then finish it off by providing the rest of the information. It begs the question and is actually just plain lazy not to.

That Mrs. Cabana has many friends is nice. However, it is useless to put that in a news report unless the friends are quoted. A diligent reporter would have called the friends and asked one to make an on the record statement to support the reporter’s claim that Mrs. Cabana has these characteristics. Substantiate. Otherwise, it is editorializing.

Second, and most problematic, is the last sentence. The hiring process is extremely confidential. That Ms Cabana was currently employed while seeking a different position is especially sensitive. Why was Mr. Clark expecting her appointment? By the reaction of Ms. Cabana’s boss in Cape Elizabeth, it was quite unexpected. Did Mr. Clark have inside executive session knowledge? Was there a leak? It looks so.

It was wrong of the council, or Acting manager, (The only people privy to executive session material) to leak executive session information. Someone should be investigated, and censured.

If Mr. Clark knew something that he shouldn't, he should have kept it to himself, out of respect for the people involved and out of respect for the process of executive sessions. He did this before, when he named an employee who had previously been carefully unnamed, regarding a problem with her department and an upcoming executive session to censure her. Mr. Clark apologized over that one. He should apologize again.

Unscrupulous, lazy, and vague journalism. Busted!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ray Clark should be consistent

June 23, 2006, Ray Clark wrote in his editorial:

"But apparently there is a sort of character test for the men and women who run the cameras. At least, Fran Monroe has such a test. She applied it to Paul Proudian and three highly-principled members of the Council decided that he flunked."

It's good that Mr. Clark is outraged that a citizen was allowed to speak against a council committee candidate based on personal or moral characteristics. I agree that it shouldn't enter into it.

But where was Mr. Clark's outrage when his friend Lynn Olson heatedly spoke against an applicant for the CEDC, when Ms. Olson uttered vile inaccuracies on camera? Leona Crooker did the same.

Mr. Clark did not speak out against those people because he is friends with those people, and he opposed the candidacy of the certain candidate.

But now, when the tables are turned, and his friend is spoken against, he is suddenly outraged that moral or personal character is brought into the equation.

Mr. Clark can have all the opinions he wants. But when his opinions change depending on whether his friends are on the line, he loses credibility. Editors should advocate for principles, not for friends. It's not a club. It's the Fourth Estate, and consistency matters.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Selective quotation belittles

June 23, 2006 Ray Clark wrote:

“Upham brought up six "hot buttons" he wanted action on: the Library roof; the heating conversion at the Public Safety Building; the sale of the Post Office building; radon abatement in several Town buildings; the merit pay issue; and a checklist for agritourism qualification. The list of Council "action items" extends well beyond these six, but Upham wants progress on at least these.”

Why is hot buttons in quotes? Either a major portion of the sentence should be quoted or none at all with a paraphrase. Highlighting “hot buttons” belittles.

Read the difference:

Ray Clark wanted more ads for his “newspaper” but so far has been unable to get them.

Ray Clark wanted more ads for his newspaper but so far has been unable to get them.


Ray Clark says he is “an editor” but he has no experience in journalism and no professional affiliations.

Ray Clark says he is an editor but he has no experience in journalism and no professional affiliations.


Next; Alison Libbey also wanted certain items addressed at the next council workshop, but Mr. Clark chose not to bring out her issues. Was that so he could make fun of Mr. Upham’s? Choosing to highlight only Mr. Upham’s issues, putting them in quotes, and failing to mention another councilor’s concerns is biased because it does not truly reflect the breadth of the discussion and it belittled one councilor’s issues while failing to highlight another’s.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Editorializing in news stories is not good

June 23, 2006 Ray Clark wrote:

“After the vote, several attendees at Tuesday night's Council meeting expressed dismay at what appeared to be a blatantly political decision by the three members of the Council. Other than resident Fran Monroe's displeasure with a blog run by Proudian during the recall, no reason for the rejection was given. Cable Committee Chair Brad Fogg has been seeking members for months, and Proudian was, by all accounts, an active and valued part of the team that televises Council meetings and other Town events.”

“Appeared to be a blatantly political decision" followed by ‘no reason for the rejection was given’ means that no one knows why Proudian was rejected. Therefore, Mr. Clark is editorializing. It is his conjecture that the decision was political. And ‘appeared to be’ is non-specific. Appeared to whom? Himself? Editorializing again. Facts should be in an article, not Mr. Clark’s personal perceptions.

“Other than resident Fran Monroe's displeasure with a blog run by Proudian during the recall, no reason for the rejection was given.”

Mr. Clark is incorrect as to procedure. As a resident, Mrs. Monroe cannot give reasons for a rejection, only the council can, because they are the ones voting on it.

Also, no reason for the affirmative vote was given, either. Mr. Clark failed to mention that.

“and Proudian was, by all accounts, an active and valued part of the team…”

If Mr. Fogg was the only person who spoke to Mr. Proudian’s value to the team, how can Mr. Clark report that ‘all accounts’ held him as valuable? Were there other accounts? If so, Mr. Clark should report them. If not, then it is biased to puff something up by using language that makes it seem more than it is.

Monday, June 26, 2006

How do I do it?

I love bustng the Gray News. It's very satisfying to provide this service and to let people know how to detect bias. I've got another one ready to go already for tomorrow.

How do I do it? I simply go to any Gray News online (it's a bit difficult for me to obtain a regular copy) and I point my mouse to any entry. Click! I can shut my eyes and click at random, because I know that with almost every single newspaper after Ray Clark took it over as editor, that I will find something to bust. It's extremely easy to find examples of bad news gathering or biased writing, and that is the heartbreaking shame. It should be hard.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ray Clark twists the truth (or ignores it)

June 23, 2006 Ray Clark wrote:

"There was considerable discussion of the concept of merit pay increases for certain Town employees, an idea promoted by former Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, especially after Park and Recreation Director Dean Bennett pointed out that under the terms of the new contract Town employees would have to pay a share of insurance increases, which would in some cases result in an actual reduction in pay. But no decision was reached."

Wrong wrong wrong. The council had decided this, long ago, during the budget process. It was former Manager Berkowitz and Acting Manager Hill failed to carry council's directions through. It was only recently that Council discovered neither Manager had properly accounted for merit pay increases. The discussion was to find out why, where the money went, and how the failure happened.

First, Merit pay was promoted by the current council. Market pay was promoted by the former manager. In merit pay, only meritorious employees get extra money, which may or may not include the manager. In market adjustment, everyone gets a raise, including the manager. During the budget development process, the council wanted to ensure that the meritorious employees could be somewhat compensated by health care costs going up, and have a chance to recoup that loss through good service.

About a month ago, or more, stand-in for the Acting Manager, Dean Bennett, announced that the merit pay increases were not in the budget. Council was perplexed- they had been clear, they said. They said that they had directed Mrs. Hill to calculate the merit pay increases based on the evaluations Manager Berkowitz had completed prior to his quitting. A figure had been proposed. Money had been budgeted. And, council said, they thought that Mrs. Hill had carried out those directions. But, she had not.

Council met with Mrs. Hill at a Finance Meeting several days before Tuesday's meeting, Councilor Crane said, and they told her again.

So on Tuesday night council was again perplexed as to why the Acting Manager Mrs. Hill was not following through on the merit pay, despite repeated Council direction. In fact, they were quizzical as to why Mrs. Hill was giving Mr. Bennett different directions that they had given her "a few days ago" as Mr. Crane put it. So they discussed it again on Tuesday night.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ray Clark is a bad reporter

June 23, 2006 Ray Clark wrote
Council says no to Proudian reappointment, says it nears Town Manager decision

There is a lot to discuss in Ray Clark’s reporting in the June 23 issue.

1. First, Ray Clark was not at the meeting on which he is reporting. Remote control journalism is lazy and is fraught with potential errors. Mr. Clark might miss comments uttered by council or citizens who do not speak directly into the mic. He loses the opportunity to ask for clarification of councilors after the meeting. Also, how do we know he was even watching it? The report is already second-hand, purportedly watching it from another location on tv. Mr. Clark could be passing it off as a report but have gotten the information from someone else without even having watched it al all. We just don’t know.

2. “Things got so heated at one point that Foster gaveled the meeting into recess.”

A report should inform. It should be concise, with who-what-where-when-why. This sentence is too general. And why is it general? Because it was Mr. Clark’s friend John Welch who caused the meeting to be recessed. A report that deliberately omits specifics in order to protect his friends is bias of omission.

3. “The Council again refused to clear up the matter of former Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz's departure.”

That’s because it is settled. And at practically every meeting since April, the council has explained why it is settled. Mr. Berkowitz resigned in March. He received his exit money. He got another job. He has been working at this other job for months. But Mr. Clark refuses to believe that it is settled. When a reporter perpetuates an issue that is not newsworthy, is concluded, and has been publicly explained as settled, it’s a bias of personal agenda.

4. “Later, former Councilor John Welch responded to a proposal to establish a new Council rule that an absolute minimum of three bids would be required for any expenditure of more than $10,000 by asking what would happen if only two bids were received, and the answer he got was the same as his wife's: no answer.”

Oh, so wrong. First, there was not a proposal. The chair explained that the night’s business was to reaffirm existing policies. One of those existing policies is the bid policy. It is not "new" and if Mr. Clark had been paying attention, or going to meetings, or reading town source documents, he would know that the council has been following this rule for years.

Second, the council did answer. Maybe Mr. Clark was in the bathroom both times the council answered. Or maybe Mr. Clark was not really watching the meeting on tv at all. Or maybe Mr. Clark did not like the answers that were given. Or maybe Mr. Clark is just lying.

Whatever the reason, the council answered that in the case of the post office bids, they were not sent to commercial brokers as instructed. So the bid was reissued. In the second answer, the council explained that in the case of a truck bid, the bid ended up being too company-specific. In these cases, the bids are reissued.

There is probably plenty more to talk about but just this snippet of one report in one newspaper is enough to demonstrate The Gray News’s failure in reporting, lack of ethics, and bias.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Photo of Biasbuster

This is the get-up I put on when I delve into another biasbusting session of The Gray News

The Biasbuster Gray News outfit consists of a hat to show that the Biasbuster is a Professor of BiasBusts, mask to protect the face, crystals for the eyes to allow for objective and clear vision, the beak is stuffed with spices or herbs to purify the air that is breathed near the newspaper, a wooden stick to push away victims who have fallen for the Gray News's spin (the victims easily identified, they are often too addled to function and they stumble around pitifully), leather gloves to protect the hands when touching the paper, gown waxed from the exterior so the lies would not stick to Biasbuster's clothes, and full length boots to wade thru the manure falling out of the paper.

(PS-- source of photo and revised entry is from Wikipedia, entry about the Plague Doctor outfit)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Detecting Bias in the News

Here is an article similar to what BiasBuster has been saying about bias in the news. It is from Gear Up, a program to encourage low-income, disadvantaged students across Washington to plan for and succeed in higher education where more than 1,000 students from middle schools and junior highs came to the University of Washington Libraries for classes.

Article begins (excerpted)

News stories are influenced by the attitudes and backgrounds of interviewers, writers, photographers, and editors. Bias can creep into the news in the following ways:

Bias through selection and omission: An editor can express bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news story. Within a story, some details can be ignored, others can be included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported. Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of sources can this type of bias be observed.

For example, if people boo during one of President Clinton's speeches, the booing can be described as "remarks greeted by jeers" or the boos can be ignored as "a handful of people who disagree."

Ray Clark and Nathan Tsukroff do this very well. Use of loaded language slants a story. Remember, "Upham complained," versus "Upham said."

Bias through placement: Where a story is placed influences what a person thinks about its importance. Stories on the front page of the newspaper are thought to be more important than stories buried in the back.

The Gray News will put non-news on the front page, and buries news that they can't avoid printing which is unfavorable to their friends in local government. News they can avoid printing which is unfavorable to their friends...they simply don't print.

Bias by headline: Headlines are the most-read part of a newspaper because they are often printed in large and bold fonts. Headlines can be misleading: conveying excitement when the story is not exciting; expressing approval or disapproval.

The most famous example is Tsukroff's "Upham opposes celebration" which has been established as a lie.

Bias by photos, captions, and camera angles: Pictures can make a person look good, bad, sick, silly, etc. Which photos a newspaper chooses to run can heavily influence the public's perception of a person or event.

Matt Perry's photos are excellent. He is a stupendous photographer and any photos the Gray News chooses to run by Matt Perry are respectful to the subject. Nathan's aren't bad, just un-creative and boring. Their photos are heavily skewed toward government photos of their friends, however.

Also, they both sometimes 'stalk' subjects at meetings, training their long lenses on them for extended periods in order to intimidate the intended target, perhaps into a goofy experession or a display of physical awkwardness. Some of these photos ended up on The Gray News's blog, which is not good.

Bias by choice of words: People can be influenced by the use of positive or negative words with a certain connotation.

Clark uses 'complained' and citizens who speak up are characterized as 'disgruntled' or 'naysayers, etc.'

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nathan Tsukroff is a quitter

He quits things. How can he be a good reporter when he goes in fits and starts? He'd just get up to speed but then leave...always starting over. He said he was a resident of 48 states, moving around a lot. He used to work for The Monument but quit. He used to work for the SAD as traffic cop but he quit. He used to have a column called the Towne Crier in the Gray News but he quit doing that. A good reporter shouldn't quit things so much, he would have more credibility if he stuck to something for a while. Readers look at quitters as flighty and unreliable, and don't trust their reporting.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Proof of pocket publication status

March 24, 2006, Ray Clark's opinion editorial. It might as well be re-titled, "Boo-hoo, my pocket buddy's gone. Where will I get my news now?"

It is not biased to opine in the opinion box, especially if it's clearly labeled. This entry is more about illustrating the overall bias of the Gray News being a pocket publication (in the officials' pocket, with stories slanted favorably toward them). There are several examples in Mr. Clark's editorial that reveal Mr. Clark's bias toward the manager (government) and against the council (the people).

The Town of Gray will survive, no doubt, without Mitch Berkowitz. So the question is not whether, but why.

I have no doubt the town will survive. It always has, under Gray's revolving door of top administrators. It's normal, nationwide, for executives in these positions to leave within about 5 years.

Mitch made some mistakes; we all do. And he accepted the blame for all of them-plus a few dozen he had nothing to do with. In the five years he ran the Town, I never once heard him lay blame on someone else. If he blundered, he took responsibility and moved on. If somebody else did, he just... moved on.

The Manager is paid to oversee the town's operations. If the town isn't operating correctly, it is ultimately his responsibiity to take ownership, not blame his employees. Second, Mitch took the blame for ... all... of them? Goodness, how many were there? A few dozen ?? Isn't that, er, a lot?

And in the nine months since the new Council was elected, I never once heard him complain about its treatment of him. He never told The Gray News a word that wasn't public information.

The Manager isn't supposed to. That Mr. Clark finds it incredulous the manager allegedly isn't sharing other than public information is a clear indication of the newspaper's Pocket Publication status. (Plus, I don't believe a word of it)

He never groused about staying long into the night as the Council talked, talked, talked.

It's the manager's job.The taxpayers pay him $73,000 to do exactly that. I know a lot of people who make minimum wage and would be happy to stay into the night if all they had to do is listen to people talk.

He accepted the vicious cartoons and references to him in another paper as legitimate public discourse.

Cartoons and editorials are legitimate discourse. Ever since Publius and the pamplets of the colonial times. Not to mention the French Revolution and, British Restoration... well, I could go on. That the Gray News thinks cartoons and editorials about town officials are scurrilous is another example of how they are a pocket publication. It's what newspapers do, hold officials accountable. Except, not the Gray News.

He didn't even complain about the series of executive sessions the Council held to discuss his "performance".

It's the council's job to review him and the manager's job to be reviewed. And the quotes around "performance" indicate Mr. Clark's low opinion of anyone reviewing his pocket buddy's job performance.

He said when he came here that he hoped he would retire here, and I believe he meant it. He won't, now,

Why not? He quit of his own accord. And no one's forcing him to move.

and if you want to know why, watch the videotapes of Council meetings and workshops. How long would you have stayed at a job where your new bosses gave every indication they wanted you gone?

They gave every indication they wanted an honest day's work out of him, the 'dozens' of mistakes to stop, and a respectful attitude.

He wanted Gray to be a harmonious, happy, fiscally healthy Town. He's leaving a fractured, angry-but fiscally healthy-Town, and he's responsible only for the fiscal health.

The former manager fomented the recall, the most divisive event in Gray's history. And is it the Manager's job to make the town "happy"? I don't see that in the charter's job description. And, as far as leaving it fiscally healthy, the numerous big-ticket financial mistakes directly attributable to his office are an indicator of the opposite. What one calls fiscally healthy others call grossly overtaxed...something the town auditor said two years in a row.

The Town Council has not seen fit to express even a shred of regret-not even the formal kind politicians customarily express-at the departure of Berkowitz.

Why would they when they had a manager who was reponsible for "dozens of mistakes", fracturing the town, and making it "unhappy"? And they did say "Thank you" when he resigned.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gray News is a 'pocket publication'

January 20, 2006, Ray Clark wrote:
Council reviews Berkowitz again

For the third time since it was sworn in seven months ago, the Gray Town Council will go into Executive Session next Monday to review Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz's performance.

Wrong. The first time was to go over expectations. The council announced that because there was a new chair and three brand-new councilors, it was best to establish expectations before going too much further forward. It was not a review.

The second two times were equal to the number of times the previous council had reviewed Mr. Berkowitz. Mr. Clark's arrangement of incorrect facts here slants the story to seem like something unusual is going on, when nothing is.

Some members of the Council, notably Vice-Chair Andrew Upham, have been critical of the Manager for not providing information early enough for them to study it before making decisions.

The Manager is the top Administrator of the town, and he should be administrating efficiently. By charter, it is the Council's job to review efficiency in their top employee. Again, Mr. Clark wrote this as if it was out of line for the council to want clear expectations, efficient administration, and performance review.

Two weeks ago, for example, Mr. Upham complained that he had not received a copy of a bid proposal for a fire truck in timely fashion, although it had been in his mailbox at the Town Office several days in advance of the vote.

Incorrect. The Manager claimed he had put it in the box two days before, but Mr Upham and Mr Crane said they checked that afternoon and it was not there. Mr. Clark should not put in the parts of the discussion that suit his purpose. He should report the entire discussion and let the reader decide.

I have spoken before about Mr. Clark's use of the word 'complained' which is loaded and not neutral. Mr. Clark should have written, 'Mr. Upham said that he had not received a copy.'

Mr. Ray Clark, and the Gray News is what is called "Pocket Publication", or, publications that are in the pocket of town government. This report is an example of how a newspaper advocates for their buddies in local government. He wrote the article in such a way as to seem like the council were wrongdoers, and not the employee. Pocket publication, for sure.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tsukroff admits to printing rumors

August 6, 2005, Nathan Tsukroff wrote in the Gray News:

A second request revealed numerous other e-mails that provide a glimpse into a potentially inappropriate relationship between the town council and Monument News Editor Elizabeth Prata.

Mr. Tsukroff continued, at intervals, to spread the rumor in print that Mr. Foster and Ms Prata were inappropriately connected.

However, when pressed and asked directly, Mr. Tsukroff wrote on his hate blog:

No one has presented any evidence of a romantic relationship between Foster and Prata. It appears to be an unfounded rumor.
Nathan | 03.09.06 - 11:09 pm

Mr. Tsukroff starts rumors himself and uses the Gray News as a vehicle for perpetuating them. He also passes off rumors as news. A newspaper should not print rumors. For a reporter to so casually admit that he wrote a rumor in a news report fails the citizens who rely on newspapers to print the truth.

Mr. Tsukroff should apologize to Mr. Foster and Ms. Prata for his rumormongering, and to the Gray News Board of directors for misusing their paper. Then he should resign. It is the right thing for a reporter to do.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Opinion reporting disguised as real reporting

Town Attorney says TM
Ray Clark
Headline makes no sense. At least there’s a byline. That’s good.

“At last Tuesday's Town Council meeting, Chair Gary Foster repeatedly told the audience that Town Attorney William Dale had agreed that Moderator Donnie Carroll's decision to allow an amendment to the Library warrant article should have been ruled out of order.”

This is correct, the Chair did say that. Though I do not know how many times it needed to be said it for a reporter to decide it was said “repeatedly” Two? 13? 47?

“A reading of Dale's opinion, however, gives an entirely different view. Dale clearly says that the reduction of the amount of money (from $200,000 to $45,600) was legal, and that the change from basement repairs to roof repairs and other expenditures is a "gray area". Nevertheless, the Town Meeting decided the question, and the decision is final.”

This is where the report turns into an editorial by Mr. Clark: 'A reading of the opinion gives an entirely different view.' Who read the opinion? Whose view? Ray Clark. Mr. Clark read it and had a different opinion and he uses this paragraph to tell the reader of all about it. If the meeting participants had discussed the opinion and questioned its variance from the earlier statements, then fine, it's reporting (what others said).

Using “clearly” is not necessary. Any word ending in –ly should not be in a news report. Let the reader decide of it was clear or not. The more a reporter allows the reader to make up his own mind the better. The more the reporter tells the reader what to think, the worse.

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

Not so true. Later in the meeting Dale did say there were several cases where a municipality could appeal. First, a town could appeal at any time, if it chose, nothing was stopping a town from making that decision. Dale said also that the town could appeal if there was an “egregious” breach. Upon questioning further by Andy Upham, Dale said that ‘egregious’ was subjective and an appeal could be made on what the merits of what the town thought was egregious.

In this report, the reporter did the classically biased mistake--he chose certain facts and left out others. In failing to present all the facts and the fully fleshed out discussion, it makes a biased report, one that reflects what the reporter wanted the reader to glean, not the accurate snapshot of what really occurred. In the end, it's all just Mr. Clark's opinion.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ray chooses strong negative language. It is biased to do that

May 5, 2006 Ray Clark wrote:
Upham wins by a hair

”Town Councilor Andy Upham has survived a recall effort against him, with 776 voters opposed to the initiative and 746 in favor. (One voter cast a blank ballot.)Under the Town Charter, he may not be the subject of another recall for a year. The narrow victory means the closely-knit team of Council Chair Gary Foster, Skip Crane and Mr. Upham will remain in power. The other two incumbent Councilors, John Welch and Denise Duda, are not running for reelection this June. Mr. Upham's supporters liked his no-nonsense style and willingness to make drastic changes in Town administration, while detractors decried his treatment of his fellow citizens. "The close vote demonstrates a deep divide in the Town. The bitter campaign ended with Mr. Upham receiving nearly twice as many votes as he did in winning election less than a year ago.”

Here is another way to write it. Biasbuster will use the same facts but choose different language. It is no secret that the Gray News backed the recall and its staff actively worked to get Upham off. Therefore, Clark chose strong and negative language to report the recall result. This is biased.
A non-biased report would go something like this. Please compare:

Upham to stay on council

Vice-Chair of the Gray Town Council, Andy Upham, will remain on the Council, with 776 voters voting to keep him in and 746 voting to recall him from the council.

Upham’s supporters liked his non-nonsense style and his work to bring a business ideology, clear performance standards, and accountability to the employees. His detractors did not like his brusque style, saying it was inappropriate and was perceived as harsh treatment of employees and volunteers.

The close vote demonstrates a wide interest in the issue due to the fact that the voting turnout is the highest it has been for 5 years. “This is unusual for a single-issue, off season election,” said Maine Municipal Attorney Joe Blow. The campaign ended with Mr. Upham receiving nearly twice as many votes as he did in winning election less than a year ago.

“I am pleased to have stayed on the council, I am looking forward to continuing to serve the citizens,” Upham said.


Delete the second part about another recall. It makes it sound like another one is imminent. One is not. Therefore, the fact has no reason to be in the article.

Delete the third part subjectively characterizing some councilors as closely knit. It is Clark’s subjective opinion that the councilors are “closely knit.” Further his omission of Duda and Welch make it seem like the other two are not closely knit, which raises more issues in the readers’ mind than if he had not written it at all. News should be clear, not raise questions. Additionally, Crane and Foster have nothing to do with Upham's successful campaign to stay on the Council. And using the phrase "in power" is unnecessary. They are "in office."

Clark said "drastic changes". What is 'drastic'? Using that word demonstrates Clark’s opinion. Others may think the changes are “necessary” or “welcome” or “reasonable”. Also, the changes he mentions are left unexplained. What changes, then? If you mention something, then explain it. News should be clear.

Clark rarely seeks outside comments from authoritative sources, such as MMA or USM etc. Using outside sources helps bring perspective to issues and lends greater credibility than if it is just Clark claiming that the vote was “bitter” and the town is “divided.” Those are his opinions, and in informing the reader, it is always better to include sources other than yourself.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ray Clark can be unbiased when he wants to

On March 17, 2006, Ray Clark wrote:

1,090 signatures turned in on recall
Ray Clark

"Organizers of the petition drive to recall Town Councilor Andrew Upham turned in 1,090 signatures to the Town Hall on Monday.

"The signatures will be checked by Registrar of Voters Donna Hill against the official Town voting list to see whether at least 830 of the signatures are valid Gray voters, the number needed to require a recall election. The tally must be completed within ten days. If a sufficient number of signatures are valid, the results will be certified by the Town Clerk, presently Mitch Berkowitz, and the Town Council must call an election within 45 days. The question on the ballot will read: "Shall Councilor Andrew Upham be recalled?" The question will be decided by majority vote.

"If Mr. Upham is recalled, he must step down from the Council immediately. The Council may appoint someone to serve in his place until the next regular election, which will be in June. Mr. Upham may run again for the office in June, but he is not eligible for the appointment.

"This is the first effort to recall a Town Council member in anyone's memory."

There is nothing wrong with this news brief. There is a byline. There are no insinuating words. It is factual. It is informative. It leaves the reader to come to his own conclusions about the information. This is what a news article is supposed to do. Good job!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Gray News takes freebies from elected officials

The Gray News should not accept gifts. But they do. They accepted free rent from Councilor Barter, who not only was an elected official on the town council at the time, but he ran for state legislature. He got lots of free space to run his frequent commentaries. His opponent didn't.

The Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics says:
Act Independently. Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
(It's a conflict all right to take free rent. A real one.)

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
(Getting free rent does not pass this one either)

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment,
(Oops, failed this one too)

Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
(They never disclosed that when they reported on Councilor Barter they were getting hundreds of dollars in in-kind gifts from him each month. Uh-oh.)

Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
(I do not remember on single challenge of the councilor, his ideas, his comments, or his performance. Was he perfect? Or was the Gray News less than vigilant or courageous in holding him accountable? I go with the latter.)

The Gray News is unethical.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gray News should use bylines

“Nathan Tsukroff, a professional photographer”
On Aug 20 2004, “staff” wrote:

Nathan Tsukroff, a professional photographer, offered to create, at no cost to the Town, an official photograph of the last two Gray Town Councils.
So just before the Town Council meeting on August 2, Tsukroff set up his backdrop, arranged his lighting, posed the Council and got ready to snap the photograph.
Just before he could do so, an amateur with an inexpensive digital camera snapped the picture and published it as the "official" portrait.
The attempt to appropriate Tsukroff's professional work appears unethical, if not plagiarism.

Problem 1: Who wrote this? It is obviously not a press release, it was created and written by someone within the newspaper. That someone should have a byline. Bob Steele, Senior Faculty & Ethics Group Leader at the Poynter Institute said of Bylines: “A newspaper has an obligation to be honest with its readers, to tell where a story originated and who is responsible. Readers deserve to know this information….The news story byline personalizes the report so readers know someone is responsible for what's reported and written. It allows readers to hold someone accountable for the story."

Problem 2: The staffer wrote, “Just before he could do so, an amateur with an inexpensive digital camera…” Why isn’t the person named? Ray Clark had said that he would never use anonymous sources, but he allows anonymous subjects in news articles. This is hypocritical. The paper is hiding behind the cloak of anonymity by using the word “staff” instead of a byline, and it is hiding behind the cloak of anonymity by failing to name the person who allegedly did the bad act. What the report amounts to is a series of insinuations rather than a factually based news report that informs.

Problem 2a: ‘an inexpensive digital camera.’ It is important not to state a fact unless you know the certainty of it. How does Ray Clark know the expense or lack of expense of the camera? Unless the fact has a point in the story and further, is a confirmed fact, its use in the story just becomes another vehicle to denigrate. Do not include extraneous facts in an article. If facts are included, confirm them.

Problem 3: This report uses the words “appears unethical”. It is either unethical or it is not. If so, then the writer should indicate why by using attributed sources or documents. If it is not unethical, it is a moot point and its inclusion in the article serves no purpose other than to cast aspersions. Newspapers should inform, not allege or insinuate.

Problem 4: The report is based on a non-issue. The photograph was taken at Stimson Hall during a publicly noticed meeting. Any other person there may have had a camera and could take a photo. Citizens are allowed to take photos, take notes, to record or to video meetings. This report actually harms the democratic process because it insinuates that only certain people may photograph or record what happens at public meetings.

Problem 5: In the very same issue, the Gray News received a photo of a young student that was taken by her mother. The Gray News published that photo with the credit “Photo staff.” The photo was not taken ‘by staff’ and that work was not theirs to claim. The Gray News is hypocritical.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Nathan Tsukroff is biased

As a reporter, Nathan Tsukroff should not engage in political activity. But he does. He circulated petitions for the recall, and he has contributed to political campaigns. Recently, he contributed $200.69 worth of in-kind donations to the Chris Miller Campaign for Governor. Being active in political campaigns is an activity that is usually expressly forbidden.

The following Ethics Codes excerpts are from well-known journalism companies of stature. Decide for yourself:

National Public Radio
VIII. Politics, Community and Outside Activities 1. NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist's impartiality in coverage.

San Antonio Express-News Ethics Code
Contributions to or work for political parties or direct involvement with issues is prohibited for all editorial staffers.

Ethics code: The E.W. Scripps Co.
The Company remains independent in all political matters and will not make monetary contributions, directly or indirectly, to political campaigns or causes, or to political parties. They must not serve in elected or politically appointed positions. They must not participate in political fund-raising, political organizing, nor other activities designed to enhance a candidate, a political party or a political-interest organization. They must not make contributions of record to political campaigns nor engage in other such activity that might associate an employee's name with a political candidate or a political cause.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Making unfounded allegations is wrong

On 9-23-05, Ray Clark wrote:

“Councilor Andrew Upham call for an Executive Session next Thursday to discuss the Council's interaction with Town employees; how this fits into the State's Open Meeting law was not explained. On the face of it, such a meeting would be of questionable legality.”

The Society of professional Journalists Code of Ethics states:

Minimize Harm
"Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. … Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."

It is unfair to question the legality of something without explaining why. It shows bias to allow an unfounded cloud to hang over a newsmaker without presenting any facts. It demonstrates harm to write this without having asked the parties for their reasons. Stating 'on the face of it' indicates that Mr. Clark was too lazy to dig. Reporters are supposed to look under, over, everywhere to present solid facts, not use their paper to make allegations. It is lazy journalism to fail to present the actual law so readers could either look it up or read for themselves.

Mr. Clark failed the Code of Ethics when he alleged wrongdoing without being diligent in seeking the facts nor was he being respectful to his subject.