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FEATURE NEWS

“Nice try but the damage is done”
Seattle Times reader response to piece from Times editor asking for another chance

October 21, 2012




Times editor asks readers for another shot.
Chronicle Staff
News & Opinion


(MONROE, WA) -- It was a mind altering slippery slope fat-loaded with .44 magnum newspaper killing potential that the management of the Seattle Times willingly decided to traverse this week.

The media and political worlds were rocked with the stunning news - news that reverberated around the country - that an ad manager at the venerable Times, evidently with the blessings of the Blethen family that runs the newspaper, had decided the paper would out of the blue become a partisan participant in two political hot potato races in this state by bankrolling a $150,000 ad buy in the paper’s pages supporting Republican Rob McKenna for Governor and the gay marriage act measure.

What is equally stunning is that the entire management team at the paper that signed off on this crazy idea evidently did not know – or did not care – about the firestorm that would surely follow; a firestorm most second year journalism school students could easily have predicted for them.

The Times, mired as are all old line print dailies in a deathly quicksand of falling revenues, falling subscriptions, falling relevancy, massive overhead and a tattered relationship with a public that no longer believes as a majority that such newspapers report fair and impartially, appears to have sunk another three feet into that quicksand with a mind-blowing decision to back candidates and issues with money – a decision that simply reaffirms the public’s perceptions and suspicions that such newspapers have always played favorites, have always backed horses in races, have always had unseen hands in the background tipping the weights on scales.

And now the Times asks for forgiveness. Asks for another chance.

But as the Times reader comment noted in the headline of this piece – produced in response to a column written by Times Executive Editor David Boardman called “A vow to continue impartial reporting,”- it may be far too little and way too late.

That bell’s been rung. Elvis has left the building.

CONFIDENCE SHAKEN

In the piece published Saturday evening on the Times website, Boardman asks readers to trust “the men and women of The Seattle Times News Department. We know that for some of you, your confidence in us has been shaken over the past week with the news that our employer, The Seattle Times Co., is paying for political advertisements in our newspaper …but no one in the newsroom, including me, had any involvement in this project.

I was given a heads-up after the plan was set, an opportunity to express concerns but not to change the course. And I can assure you that when our reporters, editors, photographers, artists and producers opened their papers Wednesday morning and read at the bottom of a full-page pro-McKenna ad, "Paid for by The Seattle Times Company," they were as surprised as any of you.”

He talks of a group of reporters beginning to draft a letter to publisher Frank Blethen, whose family has owned the Times for 116 years, after the reporters found out just how badly they, and perhaps their careers, had been sold down the river by the ad managers upstairs.

To say that they were screwed, blued and big boy tattooed would not be doing justice to screwed, blued and big boy tattooed.

The letter said in part: "The decision to publish these ads ... threatens the two things we value the most, the traits that make The Seattle Times a strong brand: Our independence and credibility."

The ad program, the piece said, is "creating a perception that we are not an independent watchdog."

THAT THING ABOUT PERCEPTION

And that is precisely the double-whammy problem. That ill-conceived ad program most certainly did not “create” the perception the paper was not an independent watchdog.

The problem is the vast majority of the reading public already had that perception. The announcement of the ads simply confirmed what they had already believed, rightly or wrongly.

Someone evidently forgot to tell the advertising suits upstairs that thought up this cockamamie idea that in business, politics, love and war perception is everything.

Perception is not the only thing, perception is not one thing, perception is simply everything.

It does not matter a wit that perhaps the Times never in those 116 years did any of the things many readers suspect they did, what matters is that many readers have long had the perception that they did such dastardly acts and now the Times ad managers have simply confirmed that perception for them.

And it is a shame because whether the public realizes it or not, it still needs publications like the Seattle Times.

Love the Times, hate it, remain ambivalent about it, the public still needs what the Times can bring to the table.

It still needs the Times rooting out corruption and peeking into dark corners that the average person cannot do for himself or herself. It still needs those honest reporters and editors doing what they can against so many odds to bring the news to people.

OF JELLY DONUTS AND BLOGGERS

Sorry but bloggers do not cut it. Feel good outfits like Fox News and the Huffington Post do not cut it.

Oh sure, it feels great to get the “news” from an outfit that simply confirms every day what you already think is the truth about everything including the fact that your poop does not carry an odor -- but everyone else’s does.

But that is nothing more or less than enjoying a big, fat, jelly donut.

It does not have any nutrients, does not build strong bodies twelve ways, does not stretch your mind and in the end makes one fat, pimply and lazy and part of an ongoing problem with no solution.

Jelly donuts will give you bowel cancer and the terminal stupids.

Bruised and battered and as imperfect (and smelly) as it is, communities still need newspapers like the Times.

And need is far different than want. You might want a flashy red sports car but need a steady-as-she-goes truck to get to work and back

But whether the Times will get another chance from readers is an iffy proposition.

David Boardman writes in his piece asking for another chance, “Independence is a core value of The Seattle Times, a concept driven home to me since I began here as a cub journalist 29 years ago.”

But his statement rings hollow in the face of fact.

Had independence been a “core value” of the Times, the Blethen family would have fired the ad manager who suggested such a knuckle-headed idea of buying ads for candidates and measures when the vast majority of the public already distrusts the motives of mainstream media.

As soon as the words came out of this guy’s mouth they should have realized he was the devil incarnate; he was Dr. Death staring them in the face.

Not only did they not fire him, they let him go through with constructing and deploying what was to become a huge IED that would explode right in front of their noses.

An explosion so predictable it is almost inconceivable the suits upstairs at the paper did not understand that.

It is quite possible Mr. Boardman’s plea for another shot will go nowhere and whatever slippery slope to extinction the Times might have been on will simply get slicker and faster riding after this caper.

As one reader from Lynnwood wrote to the Times:

“I love the headline: "A vow to continue impartial reporting"

"Continue"? That horse - and my paid subscription - left the barn years ago Mr. Boardman.”

That is another way of saying that dog just don’t hunt no more.





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