If you’re one of those people who follow our newspaper on social media, or via our website, you’ve heard far too much about this, and you’re welcome to skip a few paragraphs down (I’d kind of like to do the same thing, just because I’ve tired of telling the story).
Over the past week, news about The Leader has been published around the world after 20th Century Fox paid a marketing firm to create a website that confused readers into thinking we were a legitimate news source telling ludicrous stories.
What happened after was actually quite neat, not to sound British or anything. From the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune to French newspapers I can neither pronounce nor spell, to local TV stations, all the way to industry trade journals like Editor & Publisher, it seems like the world came to the defense of a small newspaper that covers the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas of Houston.
Pretty cool, huh? Well, “cool” isn’t exactly the right word, but at a time when media has been tarnished – largely by its own doing – it’s been refreshing to see so many of our peers want to tell our story.
But what has been best – more than interviews in which I sounded like I was rocking a baby to sleep (because I do that a lot these days) – has been the reaction of the local people who know The Leader, trust our brand, and support the kind of journalism we try to do each week.
One fine man sent a local TV station a note excoriating them for their inability to tell a complete story about the situation. Another fellow, who often writes to our newspaper, sent nightly notes keeping track of all the press we had received (I assume he was pleased with the coverage).
But the best letter – and the one that spurred this column – came from a lady named Gail who suggested I use the events of the past few weeks to further educate our readers.
To be honest, I had no intention of writing one more word about this (unless 20th Century Fox ever has the courage to apologize to us for their slimy marketing firm’s encroachment on our reputation). But Gail made too good of a point for me to pass up the opportunity.
“Jonathan… There [is an] additional point you may want to make to your readership… I wonder if the public might be less susceptible to news fiction had they not bought into the fallacy of the neutral press, a press part of a money-making industry and, as a result, conservative (not liberal) by its very nature. Had the public the ‘expectation’ their media had a point of view, they might bring more critical thinking to bear on what they consume.”
Besides the fact that I should probably hire Gail as my life coach and personal journalism consultant, she makes an oft-argued point that makes a lot of sense these days.
In college, I tried to write a research paper proving that media, as a whole, are not biased. I didn’t get very far because, as a student of the press (newspapers were still a big deal way back when), I learned quickly that editors and publishers always – and I mean always – have an agenda.
Here’s an example: I was the metro editor of a fairly large daily newspaper early in my career, and the company for which I worked, Gannett, had a policy they kindly dubbed “mainstreaming.” What that meant was that every story in our newspaper had to include diversity.
Now diversity, on its own, is not a bad thing. If you live in Houston, you’d best love diversity, and I think most people – inherently – love people of different shapes, sexes and colors.
One of my reporters at that newspaper in Alabama was assigned to go cover a statewide meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Not to get too far off track, but that meant my reporter (who happened to be black), was in a room completely full of white men.
When the reporter came back, he filed his story, I edited it, and then sent it to the team that designed the pages.
Our executive editor, who said the word “mainstream” every other sentence, read the story and asked why we only had white men as sources. My reporter, in his wonderful humor, responded: “Was I supposed to interview myself there?”
Yes, Gail, every member of the media, from the top down, has an agenda.
And that gets us back to the reason I’m so thrilled at the timing of this week’s edition of The Leader.
One of the kind readers, who took up for us this week, wrote a letter to a local TV station in defense of their hometown newspaper. Here’s what he wrote:
“The Leader has been a North Houston Community Newspaper for over 50 years and does a fantastic job of keeping the area informed with quality, non-political news.”
We, like every other news source you read, watch or hear, have an agenda at The Leader, and today’s edition is the best evidence we can offer. Sure, I have my political bents, which I try to hide most days. But our agenda is to publish the best local news you’ll ever read. We do it in print. We do it online. We do it wherever you want to read it. But it’s not fake because it’s about you. And what’s best is our readers always hold us accountable.
For the past few weeks, we’ve had all kinds of support from you, our readers and advertisers, and we appreciate it more than you know.
I have no idea how long a printed newspaper will last, but having such a great edition to publish this week couldn’t have come at a better time.