Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Everybody's an editor

This was to be posted on Monday, but was preempted by a four-hour power outage. I was watching the Simpson’s on Fox 55 as the storm hit, but the station afforded me no warning of the advancing tempest. Gus Gordon would never have let this happen on his channel. Plus he’s a song and dance man of a type you don’t often find these days.

Two front page articles from the Sunday SJ-R were topics of conversation on talk radio Monday morning.

WFMB’s Sam Madonia questioned a story that substantiated rumours that the resignation of former LLCC president Jack Daniels was instigated, at least in part, by reaction to a romantic affair he was having with an underling. Madonia’s take was that if the SJ-R is going to start reporting on the lascivious behavior of all public officials, they had better hire more reporters to cover what will undoubtedly be a wide beat. In short, he felt that the story served no legitimate purpose and shouldn’t have run.

I disagree. Sunday’s story is important in that it fills in a gap in previous stories on Daniel’s resignation. Although Madonia and others were aware of the rumours surrounding Daniel’s affair, others not privy to this information would have thought it odd that he resigned unexpectedly, especially since he wasn’t presently accepting another position and that he planned to pursue interests outside his career field. I understand the concerns of needlessly delving into people’s personal lives, but Daniel’s resignation from a publicly-funded position made it newsworthy. I’m sure reporters at the SJ-R had heard the same rumours that Madonia had, but they didn’t run with them until they became part of the larger story. That sources with first-hand knowledge of the situation agreed to talk on record about the affair, further legitimizes the decision to run the story.

So I do think that the public interest was served in this case. You can say that you could care less if he was carrying on with an employee, and that’s fine. I don’t necessarily disagree. But if his actions were deemed a serious enough offense to warrant his resignation, whether the board called for it or if Daniel was allowed to respond to the writing on the wall, then it is a significant issue in the story. There is also the consideration that Daniel’s was in a position, as president of LLCC, that placed him in the public eye. There are benefits to being in such a position, and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is that if you screw up, people want to know about it and the press is more likely to report it.

The SJ-R coverage did disappoint me in one respect, however, in that they didn’t ask the pun-loving guy who writes the sports section headlines to come up with title for the story. Jack Daniels, sex, a public resignation. It’s ripe for comedy.

Meanwhile, Mike Wilson, filling-in while Jim Leach rinses out his lederhosen after a series of performances as Captain Von Trapp in the Muni’s production of the Sound of Music, was commenting on the SJ-R’s look into the troubled backgrounds of three youths who severely beat a 98 year-old woman. Wilson wondered if the purpose of the story was to generate some sympathy for the accused, of which he had none.

I don’t think that is the case here. The reporter, Sarah Antonacci, was merely answering a question that many people in town were asking: what kind of sick individuals could commit such a horrendous act? Some readers may have come away from the story feeling sorry for the accused based on their abusive upbringing, although I think the more common reaction was anger towards their worthless parents.

Although I disagree with the hosts’ takes on these stories, these were good discussions to have in that the topics are timely, specific to local interests, and aren’t particularly given to partisan bickering.

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