Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Schoenmann: No comment.

I'd just had pretty awful dental work this afternoon when Sun city hall scribe Joe Schoenmann came into the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf by UNLV where I was reading the paper before a pre-Switzerland last-minute errand spree. He didn't notice me four-days unshaven in my baseball cap barely hiding unkempt nest of hair, but suddenly I felt incredible nervous.

A journalist friend, via text message, informed me that I was obligated to approach Joe. Here I'd been writing about something incredibly personal, his work and career and the 535-word correction he spawned, for more than a week. I had reached out to him and his editor for comment and received no response whatsoever, a stunning lack of professional courtesy that the Sun itself would never accept from the subject of any of its inquiries. They would, as they should, at very least expect a respectful "no comment." But evidently, the newspaper chose to operate in a stonewalling position that it does not abide in its own sources. I hope its sources take note of that next time they're being chased by someone from the Sun.

Anyhow, I was nervous and I really didn't think I owed anybody anything, but I sucked it up and approached him. I said hello and I must have looked pretty awful because it took him a moment to realize who I was. And I think when he did, his first reaction was to smile before he remembered that I've been blogging about him for a week or so.

I asked why he hadn't responded to my questions. In the nicest possible way, he told me I needed to speak to his editors. I asked him how he was. He looked like he might be willing to answer and then said he didn't want to speak. And that was that.

I've been thinking about this non-exchange all afternoon. I can't say Joe was ever a friend, but I've always found him to be friendly and pleasant, and he was so today even under the circumstances. He did what he should have done if he did not want to give his side, although it is his name that is now forever tied on the Internet to these posts and not that of the people he works for.

Mostly, though, I've been pondering my own role in this. Many colleagues and readers have complimented and supported this coverage and fed me (mostly unsupportable) leads, but many have also wondered where I get off breaking some equivalent of the blue wall of silence and digging in on another journalist.

But here's the problem: There is absolutely nobody else in Las Vegas with the journalistic credibility and the genuine independence to do it. It is one of the saddest facts of this large city that still acts like a hick town, that even the alternative print media (CityLife and the Las Vegas Weekly) are owned by the two competing media conglomerates (Stephens and Greenspun respectively, owners of the R-J and Sun respectively.) The alt-press does occasionally do its job with an item here or there, but it's telling that Matt O'Brien's Media Watch column disappeared in CityLife after it ceased to be owned independently. That may have been a function of Matt's own time constraints as he wrote his book on life in the Vegas storm drains, but if the editors thought it was important, somebody else would have kept it. Instead, the most recent CityLife Media Issue contained not a single bit of media criticism that I can recall.

In fact, if the Schoenmann-Summerlin mess had happened at the R-J, I'd probably worry about my own perceived conflicts because I write for two Greenspun magazines. That's how incestuous this media town is. That said, I have many times in this blog and in private e-mails to editors and reporters, raised coverage concerns (mainly on GLBT issues as a longtime NLGJA leader) and to praise excellent work at both newspapers.

I believe media criticism is an extremely important part of the functioning of the press, especially when the media companies have so many business ties to so many important industries in our community. The newspapers in the major cities are better because they are being watched as carefully as they watch the institutions they cover. The media have far too much power for nobody to be keeping an eye on them.

What should alarm the Las Vegas Sun more than anything is that so many people are looking at this situation and saying, "Eh, what do you expect? It's the Sun." Read the comments on this blog and on Fark.Com and elsewhere where this story has traveled since I started commenting on it. And if you could see my e-mail!

But I see that as a sad, mammoth insult to the journalists over there who do outstanding, award-winning work and the editors who have taken a unique circumstance -- being folded into a full-service daily with no advertising to worry about and no obligation to cover the daily minutiae -- and have used it to do some terrific enterprise reporting. Just this past weekend, for instance, the Jeff German piece about the couple who got screwed by the LAX Nightclub was a piece that needed to be done, could have been cheesy but in fact rang true and advanced the IRS-nightclub saga by showing how it affects real people. (That piece, incidentally, is the sort of thing the alternative press would've done in any other city, but here the nightclub ads are their lifeblood, so...)

Those within the Sun who think that I'm being petty and personal about Schoenmann miss the point entirely: I'm treating you like a real newspaper. This community deserves every bit of accuracy and shoe leather they would get from one. Go ahead and hold yourselves to a lower standard, but don't be surprised when the rest of the community does as well.

It is absolutely not personal. It was good that I dropped in on Joe today because it reminded me that this is more real to him than it is for me, as is the case for most every story we cover. But there's also a reason why we put our bylines on stories, and one is so people can hold someone accountable when things go horribly wrong. I've been on the wrong side of media controversy before and I know how it feels, but I also knew that I deserved my licking and moved on. (See final item here for my worst media hour. Actually, I didn't just accept it. I wrote an apology to my former colleagues for the boneheaded E&P piece I wrote that caused the ruckus.)

Things went horribly wrong at the Sun and, so I've discovered, in other parts of Schoenmann's work. And something ought to be done to show the reading public that the editors of this newspaper know that. A nine-paragraph correction is a start, but it raised as many questions as it answered.

That said, I'm outta here! We're off to Europe! There's email there, too, I hear, but I suspect that, in the great tradition of Vegas scandals, this one, too, will be swept under the rug and forgotten. Oh well.

20 comments:

dan kane said...

Steve: Well done on a thankless task. Can't wait to hear about the Wynn thing!!!

Anonymous said...

It must have taken great courage to confront Joe! I'm glad you did talk to him. It adds serious cred to this blog. I admire you.

Anonymous said...

It must have taken great courage to confront Joe! I'm glad you did talk to him. It adds serious cred to this blog. I admire you.

Tom said...

Steve,
I am a new reader to your blog and am not sure if I see any scandal here other than your treatment of the reporter.
From what I gather, the newspaper published a story that apparently contained deficiencies, and then posted a correction, longer than normal, to address those deficiences that were caused both by the reporter and editor(s). This seems straightforward, yes? So then, why this mission to eviscerate both reporter and newspaper? Shouldn't you applaud the effort?
You then went on a campaign to stalk the reporter, much like a big game hunter cheered on by blood-thirsty friends.
You shot and wounded your prey, and seemed thrilled. So you shot it again. And then when you happened upon it at close range, and it looked at you peacefully, you shot it in the head, and declared the lopsided chase done. Strange sport.
Your writing for the mainstream media is good. You benefit, it seems, from editing.
Let us hope your holiday in Europe allows you time to distance yourself from what seems to have been a self-indulgent obsession.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Steve. I think you're doing well in a very thankless role. We know the story isn't about you, but this gives us insight into why you stay on it.
Jeff in OKC

Anonymous said...

Steve: I have no idea who you are, but you seem to be a hero by your own construction, filled with fantastical and poisonous self-regard. I'm a friend of Joe's. I'm writing this on my own account, without any encouragement from him or coordination with him.

Anyway, after slogging through the poor writing, I find your treatment of him and the "correction" hysterical in the truest sense of that word. I would find it hard to believe that you've ever worked in daily journalism and find it harder still to believe that you've set yourself as some kind of tribune for Las Vegas journalism.

But hey, you seem to be a master at self-fellatio, so keep on trucking, you hack.

Matt in NYC said...

As a former editor of Steve's at a major publication, I'm here to tell you that this kid doesn't need editing. He files the cleanest stuff I've ever seen not just from a freelancer but from almost any reporter. Of course, the expectations for how a news or feature story read are different, but he's anything but a hack. If he were, he wouldn't have the career he's got.

That said, anyone who read this post and thinks that this is a nasty crusade against a particular journalist is an idiot. A 535-word correction is bizarre under any standard and clearly newsworthy. And as stated in several comments in earlier posts, at almost any newspaper or magazine I've ever worked at, a reporter would be fired outright for causing such a mess or at least suspended. Add to it that we know this reporter, thanks to Steve's digging, has lied to his sources (Damon Hodge), fails to balance his stories (both Summerlin and the homelessness story), has corrections on a regular basis (two the week of his Summerlin correction alone), tends to contact easy sources (Mrs. Kirvin - see kirvindoak.com -- or other journalists).

And add this one, too, which I sent to Steve yesterday morning but which he said he wouldn't post because he didn't want to keep picking at the wound. Go here: http://www.fightopinion.com/2007/03/11/meet-joe-schoenmann/

Check that out. Yet another picking apart of a weak, indefensible Schoenmann piece -- a whole year ago.

So those who wish to defend this "journalist" and the newspaper that has and is sheltering him apparently don't care about good journalism. It's even more lame to attack a reporter like Steve with the depth of experience he has and who doesn't need to back up his credentials because they're ALL OVER THE ARCHIVES OF HIS WEBSITE.

Keep up the excellent work, Steve. You explain yourself perfectly well.

Anonymous said...

It's not hard to create the impression of being a journalist. There are the trappings of it all over this place. It's like the reasoned tone that the "Left Behind" series takes. There is a messianic stench to this site, and to the folks trying to attack Joe. Putting "journalist" in quotation marks is about the apex of your wit. But yes, keep up the good work Steve, let us pray that your explanations hold up in court and may the jury be stacked with your camp followers, like your "editor" Matt.

Matt in NYC said...

Hundreds of bylines in USA Today, Newsweek and the New York Times aren't the "trappings" of a journalist. They're the real thing. And the only one who is fanatical is the guy who read my post and responds within seconds without even looking at the link I provided. That's a guy who wants to have a substantive discussion.

And I'd like to ask the brave idiot who won't even put his name to the post: What WOULD the credentials of a legitimate media critic be? You could claim self-righteousness about any media critic, but they're invaluable and have on many occasions unearthed serious journalistic malpractice, as in this case. But I'm sure your criteria would be simply that they don't attack your buddy, whose work you evidently cannot defend on its actual merits. (Steve did a better job pointing out Joe's better work than you have!)

Oh, and I believe Steve and Myles are in the air to to Switzerland right now, dumbass.

Anonymous said...

Bylines in the USA Today. Wow. That's tough. Hey, a cheering section is a cheering section. Go for it, "editor."

Anonymous said...

uhh, are we supposed to somehow be keeping track of steve's travel schedule? that's a bit weird.

Matt in NYC said...

oh for god's sake. steve's record speaks for itself. he's written for the most respected newspapers in the world from all over the world.

This is why i don't try to have substantive debates with nutty anonymous people on the internet (or why respected journalists don't use comments from anonymous nuts as the basis for their news stories.) You don't want to have one. You just want to take cheap shots. (Predictable next cheap shot: What, like the cheap shots steve's been taking on joe?)

Sorry, Steve, wherever you are. I'm bowing out. I've got to finish up here and get to my daughter's soccer game tonight. Just ignore the crazies. Have a great trip.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Even if you had a quarrel with Steve's posts, you don't need to stoop to the ridiculous, hateful, meanspirited namecalling. You claim to be a friend of Joe's? I don't think you are exactly helping his cause with your incessant blather. Maybe, in fact, your claim to be his friend is telling: you can tell a lot about someone from the company they keep.

lori in la said...

Instead of declaring a page 2, 500-plus word correction bizarre, he should do some contextual reporting...go to the New York Times or the LA Times and count the number of corrections--front page and otherwise--that exceeded that count. A great many have. Give us that context.

Also, look at corrections of that length from his former paper, the Review Journal. (If any readers want to know Friess' true motives here, look to his dislike of the Sun from his days with the other paper.)

The New York Times not so long ago rolled back and entire cover story that ran in its magazine....and then noted at the end of the much-longer-than-500-words correction that the same discredited writer had also written the cover story for that very day's magazine--but it was too late to remove it.

The Times took legitimate hits. But no one stooped to the level of personal vendetta. The more he writes, the more he exposes himself.

Some context, some reporting would be nice, Mr. Friess. But no, we get highly personal and uninformed musings whose true intent is to catch the attention of journalism websites and thereby draw readers to his site.

As for setting himself up as a press critic--Las Vegas in fact has a number of bloggers, left, right and center, who critique the newspapers smartly and fairly. They knock each paper from time to time.

More to the point, you don't see them masquerading as impartial press critics while carrying out personal attacks, either against a newspaper they once competed against or one of its writers. How very Foxlike.

Finally, writing as a freelancer from China for USA Today is like covering the White House for Boy's Life.

Some day, the New York Times will find this fellow out and maybe will hire an informed stringer. I know I'll do all I can to have him replaced.

Anonymous said...

"His dislike of the Sun from his days at the other paper"? The Greenspun media group, who publish the Sun, provide about 20% of Steve's revenue stream, IMO. Stephens, who publish "the other paper", provide 0. Are the rest of your points this misguided, Lori? These are evil and personal attacks, not professional. I think everyone needs to act like grownups, and not even look at this site for acouple of days. Jeff in OKC

Chuckmonster said...

I agree with Jeff's last point. We're all adults here. Discussion should be civilized and stay on topic - calm the emotions and check the hate speech at the door.

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of media criticism and not out of any personal vendetta or nastiness (and there's a certain comment that is obviously disgusting and needs to be erased ASAP), I'd like to comment on Steve's piece last week in the NY Times re. the CityCenter art pieces. I believe this article may need a correction, and if the NY Times had a comments section I would have written as such. First of all, the whole top part of the story was rife with inaccurate and outdated cliches about las vegas as a cheesy Celine Dion backwater that doesn't have art. But the part that is really questionable is when Steve calls what CityCenter is doing "public art". It absolutely is not public art and to say so is incredibly PRy and continues to confuse public and corporate interests, which is a problem I come across in Steve's treatment of Joe's story, as well. Actually, CityCenter is doing corporate/hotel art, not on public land, not for the public, but for the people who will live in its buildings, shop in its stores, eat at its restaurants, stay in its hotels and generally contribute to its revenue stream. If Steve had talked to anyone from the public art world for this story they probably could have clarified that for him. Examples: You don't have a right to protest there, and the people that own the collection are the shareholders of MGM Mirage, not taxpayers - i.e. the public. This confusion to me is a sign of someone who maybe has been in Las Vegas too long, because I've never seen a place so mixed up about what's public and what's not. But the distinction is an important one and these sometimes differing interests shouldn't be conflated in the New York Times or anywhere else. And because I anticipate the question - yes I'm anonymous because I work for a media organization and I don't think it would be appropriate to represent the company with my own personal beliefs regarding journalism. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

i wrote the above comment, and wrote it quickly, I thought about it a bit just now and maybe saying the collection "absolutely" wasn't public art isn't fair because perhaps there are some definitions that would include this collection. But basic point about public/private in Las Vegas remains, and I think there's probably a better way to describe that collection that takes into consideration that it wasn't a public effort and isn't on public land... that's all. apologies for the tangents!

Steve said...

Because this blog controversy has focused on getting the facts right, I offer the following.

First, I am editor of Las Vegas CityLife, which is, as Steve noted, owned by Stephens Media LLC, owners of the Review-Journal. Stephens purchased CityLife in March 2005.

Second, contrary to what Steve wrote, the Media Watch column authored by then-Managing Editor Matt O'Brien was suspended long before Stephens purchased CityLife. In fact, the column stopped appearing when Matt took a sabbatical to write his fascinating book about the storm drains of Las Vegas, and the people who live in them. The Media Watch column never returned to CityLife's pages, even after Matt finished work on his manuscript and returned to the paper.

However, media criticism has continued in CityLife, with occasional pieces in the paper, but more often on my blog. Steve may argue that the criticism in both places is inadequate, but he cannot say it doesn't exist. (In fact, at the beginning of this controversy, I wrote one short piece about the Sun's correction, but then linked to this blog, which had far more comprehensive coverage.)

Third, and finally, nightclub ads are most definitely not the lifeblood of CityLife, as a casual glance at our paper would show. We have a few, but not many.