Over the past couple of months, the credibility of The Leader has been questioned by a group of emotional – albeit loyal – supporters of a local coffee shop and bistro. They are right in their support; absolutely wrong in their ambush of our reporters.
If you haven’t followed the saga between Slowpokes, an ever-popular neighborhood spot for good bites and spirits on Alba, and its landlord, Sam Momin, you can see the latest on today’s front page. Here’s a summary (and you can read the full story HERE):
Slowpokes leased space in a small shopping center that, as far as we can tell, didn’t have much going for it. The building was a bit unkempt, and the only tenant at the time was a corner store for those in need of a Coke, a pack of smokes or a lottery ticket.
When JC Rubiralta opened Slowpokes, he found a neighborhood more than willing to order up his drinks and food. Success bred success and Rubiralta spent his own money to revitalize the space, which included construction of a wonderful patio where century-old oaks canopied patrons who relaxed and swatted mosquitoes outside the restaurant.
Momin, it turns out, told Slowpokes they could use the patio greenspace for free, but the owner also reserved the right to take the space back if he ever needed it.
Pretty soon, Slowpokes had built such a wonderful reputation that the parking lot brimmed into the street (and in front of Alba Food Mart, which Momin owns).
While most of us were sitting around tables giving thanks in late November, Rubiralta and Momin spent the time lawyering up in pursuit of what each thought was fair.
Momin tore down the patio and, last weekend, he hired a crew of chainsaws to remove the oaks, which he told The Leader he had planned to leave untouched. Momin said he needs the space for parking and a renovation that will attract new tenants. Rubiralta, rightly so, says the landlord is ruining a key part of his business.
Rarely do disputes like this end well, and though some will publicly castigate my opinion, I can see both sides of the quarrel.
But that’s not why I’m writing, and truth be told, I have absolutely no business telling you whether Momin or Rubiralta is right. I know neither of these gentlemen, and it shouldn’t matter if I did.
Here’s where this unfortunate story turned ugly to me.
In November of last year, our newspaper was inundated with pleas from supporters of Slowpokes to get involved. We were asked to write a story about the travesty that would unfold at the corner of Alba and 34th. The landlord was wrecking the wonderful restaurant, and something needed to be done.
We did what any good community newspaper would do. When readers ask us to check on something, that’s exactly why we’re here, and it’s our job to look out for the interests of our readers.
So one of our great writers, Betsy Denson, went to Rubiralta and told his story. She spelled out his complaints, gave his perspective, and Betsy took copious notes.
Then, we did what any good news source would do: We sought out the other side of the story. We couldn’t get in touch with Momin for that edition, but I made the decision that we would run the Slowpokes side of the story only if we also ran Momin’s side.
For our next edition, we were able to interview Momin and Betsy did a marvelous job questioning him on what Rubiralta thought were inconsistencies in events.
Readers reacted with disappointing predictability. How dare we interview Momin for this story. How dare we tell his side of the story.
“I can’t believe y’all write this article from one perspective to begin with,” wrote one person.
“Would you please publish a more accurate interview with Sam Momin now?” another person wrote.
This isn’t an indictment of the people who said we were irresponsible for publishing an interview with the landlord. This certainly isn’t an indictment of Rubiralta or Momin. It is, however, an indictment of what has happened to the general public’s perception of news.
This, in my opinion, shows exactly how backward our consumption of news has become.
You see, people think media should take sides, and if you just started reading newspapers or watching TV in the past 10 years, I’d understand how you could feel that way.
No, to most people today, news stories – whether in print or on TV – are simply a confirmation of how you feel. It’s part of a grander misnomer that we should only expose ourselves to things that make us feel comfortable.
This is the absolute destruction FOX News and MSNBC have created in this country. This shows you what happens when media – mainstream or not – pick sides. All the sudden, if a news source just tries to show both sides of a story, with absolutely no bias, the news source is wrong.
It’s sickening, really. Conservatives don’t watch CNN because they don’t like the stories. Liberals don’t watch FOX because they hate the hosts. Conservatives don’t read the Huffington Post or the New York Times because they only tell stories from the left. Liberals don’t read the Drudge Report because it picks stories that promote the right.
Folks, that is not news. That is confirmation bias. That is picking a group of consumers and pandering to them.
Meanwhile, we try to tell a story from both sides and our writers are forced to defend doing things the right way.
Look, I understand wanting to be right all the time. I understand the comfort of reading things that confirm what I believe.
But that’s not what we do.
Our job, so long as I am in charge of running community newspapers, is to tell you what happened. You can read for yourselves – despite what national media tell you – and you can make your own decision.
Once upon a time, we were just a messenger. And I’m disappointed one of our messengers was shot.