Monday, September 13, 2010

R-J's Angle Suit Tops Top Journalism Blog

OK, so the headline above is a little off, as the R-J hasn't endorsed the Republican candidate ... yet. But Jim Romenesko of the Poynter Institute, the world's original media-watching blogger, prominently highlighted this morning my PoliticsDaily.Com piece posted over the weekend that raises three critical questions for the Review-Journal and Nevada politicians going forward now that the R-J front company Righthaven LLC has taken the unprecedented step of suing (for anything) a major-party candidate in the heart of an election season:

* Must Nevada's largest paper now include a passage in every news story it does on Angle's race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledging that its owners have sued her?

* Can the R-J, whose publisher and editor have been outspoken supporters of the Tea Party darling, actually endorse her for Senate after having publicly accused her of stealing from them?

* Will they sue candidates who reproduce their endorsements in other races, long a de rigueur campaign practice?

My favorite part of the piece is UNLV J-School prof Mary Hausch on how exactly Shermy Sherm & The Funky Bunch will address the lawsuit in their forthcoming endorsement of Angle: "I guess they could say, 'We think she's a thief, but we like her a lot.' "

Let's see how long Editor Tom Mitchell and Sherm Frederick can duck the journalistic questions herein, if they can sober up long enough to remember that that's what their enterprise is actually supposed to be about. What I'd love is for Brooke Gladstone or Bob Garfield to cross-examine them on NPR's "On The Media." More than likely, the Bonanza Road bosses are much too craven to subject themselves to that or will squawk about "pending litigation" or, best option yet, turn it over to their journalistically clueless PR disaster, Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson. (Gibson didn't appear on Dave Berns' Nevada Today talk show on KUNV on Thursday, claiming he was tired of talking about this in the media.)

By the way, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has removed its R-J stories from its site since I made mention of it here on Sept. 3. And Steve Green of the Sun reports today two more entities settled confidentially, including the prominent blog Sweetness & Light. S&L owner Steven Gilbert -- goodness there are too many Steve/ns involved in this story, although not the thin-skinned one who prizes himself as a (cough) crack TV investigative journo and editor of a (cough) muckraking (cough) alt-weekly -- offered up this:

When a reader asked Gilbert, "What’s to keep them from tapping you again and again?," Gilbert wrote: "I have blocked all of their current holdings from my various browsers and they are blacklisted on S&L. I would advise anyone with an Internet site to do the same."

Can someone explain to me technically how that would work? Does this mean that R-J reporters at work can't access that website? And does this really and truly mean that the R-J has sued itself altogether out of view of one of the Web's largest conservative audiences?


Jeremy D Brooks said...

Just to say they're 'blacklisted' is could mean that they are preventing Stephens Media-based IPs from viewing their site, or it could just mean that they won't discuss any Stephens-based info (articles, etc).

Jeff Simpson said...

Hey, Steve. What's with the snarky shot at Steve Sebelius? You don't think City Life is the most muckraking (and best)of our three alt-weeklies (Vegas Seven and Las Vegas Weekly being the others)? In my opinion he's a great columnist, strong editor and does well in his role on Channel 8's I-Team. I'm just wondering why you're taking a shot at Steve.



Thanks for commenting. Let's take that one by one.

First, CityLife is not an alt-weekly and neither is the Weekly; the only truly independent weekly here is Seven. That is, in fact, precisely why Sebelius hasn't said anything about Righthaven; he can't. That lack of independence is part of the problem.

Second, the vast majority of CityLife's serious cover stories are very, very thinly sourced and often propped up on preconceived premises that are never fully realized. A cover story on an alleged effort (that actually does not exist) by Nevada Republicans to reach out to gays doesn't even include a comment from the Nevada Republican Party? A cover on animal control efforts that doesn't even acknowledge the Las Vegas' shelter was the scene only two years ago of one of the worst cases of mismanagement, rampant disease and eventual euthanasia in American shelter history? Once in a long while CityLife unearths something, but considering such work is kind of the publication's raison d'etre, it's far too seldom to be proud of.

The reason I'm hard on CityLife is because it claims to aspire to do serious journalism. The Weekly is comfortable with its place dwelling on pop culture. Seven does seem to be the one right now dabbling in both areas consistently and allowing its writers the most space to explore. It also seems to simply have the most content, too. Of course, Seven is largely written by your former GMG colleagues, so it's no surprise they do good work.

As for Sebelius as a columnist, I've always enjoyed his columns and they've often made me think. Same for his punditry. Yet I am a bit confused by the TV gig. He was never known as an investigative journalist, but if he is one, now poring over public or secret documents and working sources to expose corruption or shed light on significant undetected information critical to the public good, the question ought to be asked: Why isn't his first allegiance to breaking stories in the publication for which he's the editor? How does his charges feel when their leader gives his best stuff to the TV station? How can anybody be an investigative TV reporter and the top editor of a weekly magazine and do both especially well?

Finally, there's the issue of thin-skinnedness. He is. He takes criticism of his publication or his work personally and responds accordingly. And that's too bad, because it is never intended personally. I believe he makes important contributions to the political discourse of our community. In the roles which he is gifted, I have great admiration. When I think others ought to know what he says -- which is often, actually -- I make sure they do. But he can't bring himself to do the same. Not much I can do about that and it certainly doesn't change the way I do my work. It does, however, speak volumes about how he does his.

Jeff Simpson said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response to my comment.
I'm not sure whether independent ownership distinguishes whether a paper is an alt-weekly (I thought the long-defunct Mercury was the best alt-weekly I've read during my 11+ years in the city, and it was Stephens-owned) but I won't quarrel with you there.
I have seen Sebelius take many shots at the R-J (in print and on TV) and he had a running feud going with R-J Editor Tom Mitchell in the last couple of years. I bet he could write about Righthaven if he wanted to.
I have found some City Life stories to be very interesting and well-sourced and during my time here have found it to be the one weekly I'd prefer to read if I could only have one. I particularly like Steve S.'s and George Knapp's columns, Ask A Mexican and Dan Savage. I agree with most of your assessments of Vegas Seven and LV Weekly (I read your column every week but not much else in LVW unless Abby Goldman is writing that week. I like Dave Schwartz' and Michael Green's columns in V7 and the national news copy as well. I understand the advertising and demographic reasons behind all of the nightclub coverage and photos in LVW and V7 but I personally don't care -- I'm old. I do care about theater, music, dining and movie reviews, and all three papers have their strengths and weaknesses in those categories.
As for serving two different masters, in print and on TV, I think that's a challenge a lot of folks in the media tackle, from Jon Ralston, to John L. Smith, George Knapp and maybe even you. As long as it's OK with his employer and it's not affecting the quality of his product, it seems OK to me.
I don't have any experience dealing with Steve S.'s response to criticism, but I have always enjoyed his political analysis (we share similar political perspectives on most issues) and his caustic and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor, much as I've enjoyed your sense of humor and sometimes offbeat way of looking at things that leads to cool stories and blog posts.
Anyway, thanks for the explanation, and keep up the good work on your blog. I check it every day.



Thanks again for writing. There is a vast difference between going tit-for-tat with Mitchell on some coverage or political issue and addressing how the parent company operates its business and legal matters.

One of the most important functions of true alt-weeklies -- and was from their inception -- is to hold the mainstream media accountable. There's no way for either the Weekly or CityLife to do so properly or consistently without their corporate conflicts of interest tainting the perception of their work in this regard and Seven, unfortunately, doesn't do it at all. But even when CityLife has attempted to do media coverage -- their cover attempting to explain why GMG has faced such cutbacks and disbanded its Pulitzer team so quickly -- they lack the depth to understand the actual reasons for GMG's dramatic staffing cutbacks. The drama over/notion of overspending on Rob Curley's efforts are red herrings; the Las Vegas Sun has been a major-league money-losing operation for decades. What's changed is that the Greenspun family heavily invested in three big losers in this recession -- real estate, casinos and media -- and decided THESE losses were unsustainable for the first time ever. None of that ended up in that piece. Another example of totally missing the story while focusing on something relatively small and insignificant that was clearly someone's theory to be borne out. CityLife covers are like that time and again.

The other folks you have mentioned have made clear choices regarding who their primary masters are and it's really not that hard to do so. Ralston's is his daily TV show, the format of which leaves him plenty of room to also break news online. He's not responsible for driving or orchestrating the Sun's political coverage; he's a columnist. Knapp's the same way; he's a TV guy first and foremost, has the column as a secondary outlet. Sebelius is the EDITOR of CityLife. He is primarily responsible for every word in it. And he can do "investigative reporting" on the side? Any scoops he has ought to belong to his magazine. If one of his full-time reporters had a good story and sold it to a TV station or a competing publication, surely that wouldn't be kosher. Why is it OK for the editor to do so? Especially when the publication itself is devoid of scoops most of the time?

Anyhow, I'm enjoying your columns for RateVegas, too. So hosannahs all around, even for Sebelius. His political commentary and analysis is important and I'm glad to read it as often as it's available.

Scott Dickensheets said...

Sebelius and I are friends, so my defense is predictable and I'll skip it for now. I'll just say this: However right or wrong you might be about Steve's strengths and weaknesses, it seemed awfully petty for you to swing out from the main point of your original post to take a unexplained, unsupported potshot at him --- unrelated to what you were actually writing about. I mean, look at the post: Your impetus for attacking Steve was simply that there were a lot of Steves involved in this affair. If his first name was, I dunno, Archibald, you presumably wouldn't have mentioned Sebelius at all. Seems weird.


Fair enough, Scott. It was petty. If I had something to say, I should have said it in a post of its own.

Great first column, by the by. Looking forward to more.