Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fake "Watchdog" Stops Watching

I've hinted over the past year or so at my dismay at a website called LVJournalReview.Com, a project wholly owned and operated by the Nevada Democratic Party but which purports to be a check on bias in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

It infuriates me because, of course, I believe that media criticism is incredibly important and useful but that taking cheap shots on a daily basis is neither productive nor mature. Nothing written over there is in any way constructive or helpful to the journalists on the beat -- nor is it intended to be! -- because the site is so blindly, arrogantly, personally and instinctively disgusted by what's in the R-J that there's no chance that they can say anything remotely viewed as fair.

The vast majority of what I've seen on this site has been overanalysis and out-of-context musings that proscribe the worst motives to even the most banal, unimportant writings about politics in the paper. It is never, ever balanced out with a pat on the back for anything -- is it actually possible that every single writer at the R-J gets everything wrong for hateful reasons every single time? -- and there's never any acknowledgment that the Review-Journal does, in fact, play it very down-the-middle when it comes to positioning of stories and its choice of national news.

Now I know why. The woman behind this site doesn't, uh, actually read the newspaper.

In a triumphant post today that essentially negates credibility for any future commentary if any credibility actually existed to begin with, the site's operator Erin Neff announces she's canceled home delivery of the Review-Journal because...

"It's just not worth dumping the physical paper into the recycle bin largely unread each day."

You get that? She's been running a website dedicated to an allegedly valid critique of the local paper but she doesn't even take the rubberband off it most of the time. So all she knows about are the pieces she opts to read online or that her liberal pals point her to. She has no context whatsoever -- and hasn't for a while -- of the rest of that which makes up a newspaper.

Is it any surprise to see this result there, then?

So a little bit about Erin. She was, for five years, a liberal columnist for the R-J. She took a buyout in 2008. After she did so, she whined to Norm Clarke that she had to leave on principle after the publisher didn't let her re-endorse Barack Obama the day before the election. (It is common for newspapers to stop running endorsements a couple days before an election and that horrible right-wing rag The New York Times doesn't let columnists directly endorse candidates for president at all.) To the paper's credit, they let Norm write the story of the disgruntled ex-columnist and her complaint.

Look, I'm not saying everybody must read the printed version of the local newspaper. I do and will as long as there is one, but that's me. It's fine if people choose to drop their subscriptions and start reading what's available online. That's the way of the world, and that's one reason I've been so intensely critical of the R-J's uterly idiotic Internet approach. If they don't get better at that, they'll be a world of trouble, people will lose their jobs and this community will be less informed.

But. If you're out there writing a blog solely and specifically about a certain publication, you need to read it. All of it. In every format it exists but particularly in print, where a litany of decisions are made that can be judged, put in context and understood.

Otherwise, don't bother. You're not helping anyone and, in fact, you're perpetrating at least as much misinformation as the publication you so hate.


Vegas Tea Room said...

So in other words you have to eat the entire crap sandwich to have an opinion on the first bite?

Ms Neff is a journalist but not every effort by a journalist rises to Pulitzer standards. Nor should they.

When I'm in the checkout, I don't read the entire Enquirer. Nor should I.


If youre going to make a public hobby out of critiquing the crap sandwich, you bet you need to keep eating it. Of course, the analogy is completely idiotic and anti-intellectual because a newspaper is a very complicated thing that changes from day to day and can never be judged in a blanket manner with so many moving parts. There is no chance that the rj is going to cease to exist or that it's work will stop impacting our community. So those who take a critical eye to examine it should try to be balanced and fair, the very attributes they claim they want the paper to exhibit.

Yes, someone who chooses to be a media critic should actually know what the publication in it's crosshairs is publishes. And if it was someone who viewed the sun as a crap sandwich, you'd say the same thing. And that right there is what's wrong with political discourse today. Congrats on being part of the problem!

Anonymous said...

"Congrats on being part of the problem!"

That wins Slapdown of the Day honors.

Anonymous said...


Nice piece. I have a silly question: How does she earn a living running a site that does nothing but critique a single newspaper in a not so major market?


Vegas Tea Room said...

But you fail to see that she ISN'T a fair and balanced journo. She is the owner of a very partisan blog who also has a personal ax to grind with the LV Teabagger. Congrats on not seeing the oaks for the pines.

And what make a medium critic a critic, self acknowledgment! It seems that sanctimony is a credible journo's primary armor.


Andrew: The whole point of calling the blog that is to appear like a journalistic watchdog. The reason I haven't assessed it as a normal journalistic enterprise is because of that. But now she's saying SHE DOESN'T READ THE PAPER. So she just gave up all of her modicum of credibility.

Erin has, by the by, in the past asked me what I think of her site. I've never really said other than a snark here or there. But if you're going to ask a serious media critic what he thinks, then you have delusions that you're performing an actual public service and a journalistically credible one at that. Erin is not; she's offering opinions she has now admitted have no context.

Finally, there's the other part of this. You call the RJ a crap sandwich, Erin regards it as polluting her life with toxicity. That means that THE ONLY THING YOU CARE ABOUT IS POLITICS. The only thing you care about is who wins and who loses and what, day by day, determines that outcome. You don't care about all the other things newspapers cover that explain life in our community, the stuff that ONLY the R-J has the staff to cover with more than a paragraph.

Today's paper had stories about all sorts of people and activities and news and controversies that have nothing to do with what has evidently become your ONLY interest in the world. You may be able to get your national and international news from the Web but I'm betting you won't get the breadth and depth of it there because online people largely only read what we already know we're interested in. The joy of reading a newspaper is bumping into a story about things in parts of the world we didn't know we cared about by accident.

So if you're a political activist and you refuse to know what's actually happening in your community, you're a lousy political activist and you're going to lose.

Any way you slice this, it's an embarrassment for Erin Neff to be proud of saying that she is deliberately ignorant not just of the R-J's political coverage -- WHICH SHE'S STILL GOING TO READ! -- but all the rest of the information.

Left-wingers like to claim they're smarter than righties, more intellectual, better informed. Maybe that's true elsewhere, but it's clearly not true in Vegas.

mike_ch said...

Yeah, all the righties had Sun subscriptions back in the day, right?

Politics is the spectator sport for the fate of the world, Steve. It is where the most pressing issues of our time will be addressed. Other community events are covered, but not exclusively in newspapers. And Vegas has the lease cohesive community than maybe any other city thanks to high vagrancy levels. I have TV news, radio (though sadly we only have real newsradio for a few hours in the morning on two stations before both turn to opinion talk), the alternative weeklies, and yes the internet.

I do wish there were more local community blogs featuring non-political stories, though. San Francisco has so much online journalism that the rapidly-downsized SF Chronicle really isn't must-read news anymore.

Before you say the RJ isn't going anywhere, I'd consider how bad their efforts to adjust to the internet actually is. Maybe it won't go in name. Maybe.


Actually, mike, the demise of the standalone sun was about the demise of afternoon papers in general, not that people didn't read it bc it was too liberal. And actually, the last, heartiest sun readers were sports fans bc the coverage was fantastic, and sports fans tend to skew right. So your point on that is completely historically inaccurate even as I'm not even sure what your point was supposed to be.

But, seriously. Is it too much to ask that a woman who runs a blog specifically to critique or even attack a specific publication actually read it? Are you seriously arguing that I'm wrong about that???

Anonymous said...

I tend to disagree with Steve about a lot of things but this is one in which we are of like mind. It's hard to say what Neff's motivations are concerning her blog. She clearly has a chip on her shoulder about her time at the RJ. When I first found her blog, I thought it was going to make a real contribution to the local media but it turned out to be more of a platform for airing her bottled up anger.

Speaking of the Sun, Steve, have you considered doing a follow up on the Greenspun people who were laid off a couple years ago? Has it been that long? I wondered what happened to them all, whether they found work, changed careers, etc.