Thursday, September 15, 2005

Newspaper Blues

I finally cut the cord. Despite my affinity for Backfence, Jim Souhan, and the decent - if not ever-changing - comics page, I had to cancel my Strib subscription.

When asked why, I short-handed my criticisms of the paper to "editorial content" (which vastly undersells the impression I get of incompetence.) Pointing out the recent addition of Katherine Kersten's column, as well as that of "the new guy," I was forced to get more detailed in my critique of the paper: I no longer feel I can provide money to any organization employing Nick Coleman as a columnist. That left the service rep speechless. Tuesday night I got a call from someone else at the paper who tried to assure me they're trying to get more balance into the paper. This after I told him cutting the price wasn't enough to re-sign for the subscription as long as the current editorial staff still worked there.

I found it telling that the default assumption by both representatives (before I got into specifics about which editorial content) was that someone complaining about editorial comment thinks the paper is too...leftish. I'm guessing their complaints from the other end of the spectrum are minimal in comparison.

But the bias isn't the problem. To be sure, I can live with bias. Everyone has it, and I enjoy interacting with liberal and conservative thought and philosophy. I read the Washington Post daily, which isn't viewed as a bastion of conservativism. I also read CNN.com, ABCnews.com and a number of blogs across the left side of the spectrum. I'm not afraid of opinions with which I disagree.

What I can't live with is incompetent bias, where facts in the public realm are actively ignored and lies spread to promote a worldview. Jayson Blair was the last straw for the NYT in my eyes. The Strib has finally done it too. There are just too many options out there for me to bother with the poorly informed or idiotic ones. (Not to mention the plethora of letters to Strib editors that show how little reason we have for confidence in the ability of the MSM to educate consumers rather than push a single view. Or how scared I am about the level of actual attention people pay to what's going on outside their windows.)

So, WaPo, Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press and the handful of other papers I read online - you're on notice. You can be biased, but at least be competent about it. That shouldn't be too hard to ask of a news organization in an era where you have an entire blogosphere dedicated to fact-checking.

(Side note: odd that the customer service rep didn't know the name of the columnist who was supposed to assuage my concerns over editorial balance. You'd have thought she could have looked it up in the 28 minutes on which I was on hold after selecting the option to discontinue service. I hope the "new guys" does well enough the rest of the staff learns his name, whatever that may be.)

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