Friday, March 14, 2008

Friess: Comment

Wow, what a surprise to arrive here earlier after being awake for 24 hours of travel to find the kind of battle occurring in the comments of the prior post. I went and deleted the one obscene, completely ridiculous remark and then I wrote a response that Blogger didn't seem to post. That was frustrating, but Miles wouldn't let me rewrite it before we had a "brief" nap which became, well, all day.

I'll try to keep this brief, but I do need to answer remarks made here:

* Re: Steve Sebelius' comment about media criticism in Vegas from the last post: I stand partly corrected and will take his word for it on the points he makes about ad revenues and the history of Matt O'Brien's media column. But it still remains a loss to the community that there is no journalist in this city dedicated to media commentary the way other major cities have the likes of Michael Miner or Howard Kurtz. And it still is left to the Internet to be the more independent voices observing the press rather than the editor of a paper owned by the city's largest newspaper. As hard as Steve works, he is still a top official involved in one of these companies. It's very difficult for him to be seen as truly independent even as he genuinely strives to be.

* My alleged bias against the Sun. Take a good look at this blog. Take a look at all the entries related to the Las Vegas Sun. Here, I'll help you since you wish to make uninformed comments without any backup.  The vast majority of the time, I have great praise for the Sun. My time at the R-J taints me? Why would anything else you have to say be credible when my public record on this is so easy to access and so obviously not as you present it?

* The NYT piece in CityCenter. Yes, I spoke to several public arts experts, including Jack Bender, publisher of the Public Art Review and executive director of Forecast Public Art, as well as Richard Lynch of Americans for the Arts, the leading public-art non-profit. And there were others. But sometimes in journalism we interview lots of people we don't get to quote because (a) there's not enough space and (b) all the experts said pretty much the same thing. And what they said was (a) the MGM project was genuinely impressive in its ambition and scale and (b) it was most certainly public art in the sense that it will exist in spaces that are publicly available to anyone. In fact, that's one reason they're not putting any of it in the CityCenter casino; children can't go there. What's considered "public" is a bit different in Vegas than elsewhere; ordinary people know they can tramp through fancy lobbies and casinos and never feel out of place even if they don't spend a dime because it is customary here for people to do so. I've tried this in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong and was asked by some attendant whether I had a reservation. It's a different world. Furthermore, we journalists do strive for balance. That's why I called on the art critic Joan Altabe  of the Robb Report. She was the most virulently anti-Vegas-for-art in 2002 when I wrote about a Faberge exhibit at the Bellagio and, later, a Monet exhibit. And yet SHE said she was "dazzled" by the CityCenter effort and couldn't wait to come see it. So that felt like an art-world consensus to me that this was a credible and possible game-changing public art effort. That quote, too, was trimmed for space.

* My alleged Vegas-is-tacky posture: See my current Las Vegas Weekly column. I'm the guy in the mainstream media that is very, very quick to take note of unnecessary anti-Vegas bias and inaccuracy. The set-up of the NYT piece on public art actually came directly out of my interview with Maya Lin and two other artists. They were  terribly amused by the idea that they would be the least likely Vegas headliners. It's not anti-Vegas bias to note what the world expects of Vegas -- and I wonder who thought Sinatra was tacky anyhow!?! -- and toy with that.

* Re: Cliched anti-USAT bias: So it's wrong to point out Vegas' traditional history but it's OK to insult hundreds of journalists whose newspaper has vastly improved since, uh, the 1980s? I write longer pieces for USA Today nowadays than I do for the NYT. I am very proud of the pieces I did from China for USAT. The experience of crawling around a country where the press are brutally mistreated with a minimal grip on the language, relying on a network of friends and translators, and being able to turn around textured, lengthy pieces with sourcing from both China and the West (which meant working all night for days sometimes to reach those sources) was a great challenge and a terrific learning opportunity. The USAT staff nowadays is made up of Nieman fellows and Pulitzer winners. To insult its quality because of a 25-year-old reputation is like, well, calling Vegas tacky based in Excalibur.

* A 535-word correction is seriously newsworthy. It is the media's equivalent of a politician being shown to have or having admitted to have exhibited significant incompetence. The media doesn't just shrug when that happens and say, "Oh, OK. Carry on. Thanks for letting us know." Have there been longer? Sure, no doubt. But not that I know of here in Vegas, where I work and observe. And evidently the industry's trade publication, E&P, also saw it as news, which is saying something. And what's more, a newspaper that demands responses from its sources amid controversy has show it does not feel it ought to comment -- even to give a courteous no comment -- amid one of its own. That's hypocrisy, see. And there are many, many questions the public should be asking about the quality of its newspaper and the integrity of its editors in these circumstances. That's not personal any more than any other journalist gets personal covers any other controversy. It's what we do. But we don't often take the time to explain our methods, point out or own worst moments or respond to our readers as I've done here. And, ironically, it is THAT effort that has made people who wish to see a personal vendetta here when, in fact, I have a history prior to this of recommending Joe Schoenmann to editors of major newspapers.

* Back to that Sun bias thing. JeffinOKC is close when he says I make 20 percent of my income from the work I do for two Greenspun publications. It's more like 15 percent. Not a small sum. Which tells you something. I've followed through on this coverage despite knowing that it's vaguely possible that someone could get ticked off and I could lose that important revenue stream. But I do it anyway because I believe it's important. At the very least, I have to believe Joe Schoenmann put more effort into balancing his stories and triple checking his facts knowing my readers and I are watching carefully, and that's good news for everyone -- including Joe. But when was the last time you, oh brave nasty anonymous blog poster, did something that could seriously jeopardize your livelihood just because you felt it was the right thing to do? Never, I'm sure.

* Other bloggers. It is true there are other Vegas bloggers who critique the media, but the generally do it from a serious political perspective. That's a valuable service, but it's not the same as media criticism from a respected journalist with a journalism degree and a lifetime of newsroom experience. Debate that all you want; I stand by my record any day. And other prominent media critics around the country have emailed in recent days to let me know that being accused of being an egomaniac is standard fare for the task.

* Speaking of anonymous blog posts: Some have asked privately why I don't limit this blog's posting abilities. I don't want to do that at this time. The debate is generally healthy, except when it veers into truly offensive language such as what I deleted. I hope nobody thought I was limiting debate by deleting that one notice. It just didn't have any point to it. Well, it showed that whoever was badgering my old editor couldn't win on the merits of a real conversation so he/she went off the wall. But still, it was ugly and unnecessary. I may deputize a friend to delete posts that cross that line while I'm unavailable. Will decide later.

On to dinner in Zurich. Then a little Xanax to readjust the old body clock. Photos coming later!


Tom said...

Steve, Tom here. I've written before. So here's my question:

You wrote just now, "And there are many, many questions the public should be asking about the quality of its newspaper and the integrity of its editors in these circumstances"

Well, I would have thought the newspaper DID the right thing.It published an article, found there were problems, and wrote a correction. Doesn't that go to the paper's integrity? I mean, holy cow, you'd rightfully be pissed if they didn't do that.

Yeah it was long. Not the normal stacatto kind of correction but something that gave more context. I thought that was decent of 'em.

So, maybe I don't get the newspaper business and what would have been more appropriate. how would YOU have written the correction? I'm trying to work with you, man. Help me out.

P.S. Hope the meds helped.

lori in la said...

I stand corrected about your old allegiences to the Review-Journal. My apologies.

But I don't buy your professed respect...and the final straw was using a CHANCE ENCOUNTER with him to once more stir it all up.

Have you no decency?

As for Sebelius' being incapable of legitimate criticism because of his employer: The quality of his criticism of the two newspapers has established him as a legitimate voice, trusted.

He has not looped off into speculations about what happened to a writer, poor fellow, who apparently once was a strong reporter but somehow has become a hack--and then worked to have it posted for all to see in the journalism community nationwide.

That is truly despicable and it was largely based on surmise. How do you not know that the entire mistake was by the editors of that paper? Or that someone rewrote it? Read the annals of corrections. It will show that often, a combination of errors are responsible.

Fact: Newspapers traditionally do not assess blame in corrections because they believe readers don't care. A mistake is a mistake, regardless. The institution made it.

When I read that correction after reading your link on Poynter, I frankly expected far worse. It was fairly simple and straight ahead correction. I thought the same points could have been made more concisely. Then, without volume being the benchmark, it apparently would not have been newsworthy?

I assume you will not be placing that correction in the context of other corrections, as I suggested. I also assume that you will continue to hammer the Sun because it deigns to not speak with you. Goodness, thank heaven the Sun, Sebelius and others don't race off to accuse simply because they can't get answers to questions.

As for USA Today and its foreign coverage.... I know it is better and that it has fine journalists working there. I should not have written generally that it's akin to covering for Boy's Life. It came to me in a heated moment.

I should have limited my criticism to the quality of stringers--an that affliction is not limited to USA Today. Even the NYTimes is reduced to that. More and more, it is relying on questionable voices in the hinterlands.

Anonymous said...

Friess: "And what's more, a newspaper that demands responses from its sources amid controversy has show it does not feel it ought to comment -- even to give a courteous no comment -- amid one of its own. That's hypocrisy, see."

The example noted previously was a Sun piece about chasing Bill Richardson, who, according to the piece, kept promising an interview and then would always renege, despite repeated trips to Nevada during his presidential campaign. It was light-hearted.

This is the same? Really?

The analogy seems daft. The man was running for president. As a westerner. He predicated much of his campaign, at least early on, with a victory in Nevada.
Are presidential candidates perhaps more obligated to return calls? Is the Sun really obligated to discuss internal personnel decisions with a local blogger whose views on the subject at hand are as plain as day? The differences here are not ones of degree, but of kind.

This seems less like legitimate media criticism, and more like kicking and screaming about not being properly acknowledged--I'm a Times stringer! My pieces have "texture"! Only I have the journalistic credibility, independence and courage to heap criticism on the local press! I string for the Times! Yes, and USA Today, which has Nieman Felllows! Did you hear me? Nieman Fellows!
I said Nieman Fellows!

Anonymous said...

I'm the Sun reporter who pointed out some of Joe's other failings, although evidently not the only one. And I was the one who reminded him of the Barbara Lee Woollen stuff, too, which certainly was not lighthearted. In both cases, they were intended to shame and were highly unorthodox for any legit newspaper. And the fact is, our paper certainly expects a response from all its sources amid controversy, even if it's to say no comment. It's a professional courtesy. You can be sure if Steve had called on behalf of the New York Times, they would have at least responded. They didn't not because of who he is but what this is, a mere blog. It's just more evidence that the Sun doesn't believe it ought to be scrutinized like a real newspaper. It reflects badly for every single reporter there. This also bodes badly for the Sun's ambitions to blog. In not responding -- even to say nothing -- it shows its contempt for the medium.

Matt in NYC said...

Lori: The funniest part about the criticism that Steve is getting for aggressively pursuing comment on this case is that when this thing started, the criticism he was getting was that he hadn't called Joe or the paper to get comment. So now he has and people like you are all over him for, uh, being a journalist!

Of COURSE if such a massive correction appeared in a major New York paper, the media critic for the Village Voice or the New York Observer would be calling the paper for an explanation of how such a thing had happened and whether the reporter in question was being disciplined. Absolutely. And in this case, it's even more alarming because through Steve's reporting here, we've seen a pattern of recklessness, laziness and bias emerging on the part of the reporter and a disregard for other journalists emerging on the part of the newspaper. None of this interests you, of course, because you're so busy picking on the messenger.

Finally, it's clever of you to insult freelancers and stringers as if they're less valuable or less skillful than staffers. Most freelancers I know work harder, are more careful with the facts because they have **personal** legal liability for their mistakes and are more energetic and entrepreneurial than lazy staffers who get a paycheck whether they work hard or not.

There are many reasons why great freelancers don't work for anyone full-time, and in Steve's case I've heard him say more than once that he loves the freedom to pursue stories that interest him on any topic (this is a guy whose intellectual curiosity takes him from Steve Wynn to Heidi Fleiss to Maya Lin in the same week, a range unmatched by almost anyone I've known in the business), the rewarding challenge of landing pieces in new publications and the ability to make a lot more money than most salaried reporters make.

But you go on with the shallow assumption that a freelancer means someone who's not good enough for prime time and I'll go on hiring Steve for major pieces everywhere I go because he always, always, always makes me as the assigning editor look great.

Anonymous said...

Looks like nothing's changed for SF, huh?

> Ten Sun-Sentinel reporters responded by letter to E&P, terming Freiss' piece "self-serving" and "selective memory driven." Others broke the story at the same time, they argued. "Perhaps the next time you're confronted with an obviously self-congratulatory account, you might consider making a phone call or some other attempt to verify its accuracy," the SS-ers wrote."

Dan Kane said...

God are you stupid. Steve himself pointed that precise incident and link out two posts ago in noting he is far from perfect himself. What else you got?

Danny G said...

FYI...Joe Schoenmann did it again today...he wrote a piece about the coffee shop he evidently hangs out in AND he misspelled the name of an MGM guy, Rob Elliott. Sad. But people will defend him anyway, won't they?