Striving for mediocrity at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Price is equally adamant that no one receives special favors from the newspaper under her regime, and wonders why the prospect even merits much interest. "Your story is going to be so boring," she says. "Why do you think people are gonna want to read a story about, 'Oh boy, Debbie Price is a puppet, and this is a climate of fear at the Star-Telegram'? Who's going to read this?"

Above all things, satisfying readers is what seems to concern Price and Connor these days. In interviews for this story (Price tape-recorded hers), each revealed something of their philosophies of journalism and what makes for good newspapering. More than personalities or disputes over the handling of specific stories, their comments illustrate what is wrong at the Star-Telegram.

Price explained that newspapers are in a fight for survival and must "get better" if they are to last. "There's a reason that the public doesn't like us right now, and that's because, for too long, we've been arrogant, we've been biased...we've been inaccurate, and we've gotta clean up our act.

"It's an education process," she adds. "People who have been doing things one way for a long time think the way they're doing it is just fine. Well, sometimes it isn't."

Paramount to that change, Connor says, is less emphasis on the opinions of hard-charging reporters, and more on the interests of the community and the paper's readers. "As you well know," he says, "there are things that reporters, editors, and copy editors sit around bars--or coffee bars now or whatever--and wring their hands over. And well they should. That's their nature. They ought to question all power, whether it is held by me, or the mayor, or somebody building a racetrack. That's fine. What I worry about are the people who read this newspaper and the people we are serving in this community whose lives we are attempting to enrich with a quality newspaper."

Written between those lines is the prescription that is turning the Star-Telegram into the journalistic equivalent of a widget factory. Absent from Price and Connor's analysis is any mention of the public interest or the press as watchdog--certainly nothing as cliched as the First Amendment, afflicting the comfortable, or comforting the afflicted.

That, at heart, is the cause of the despair that has settled on the Star-Telegram newsroom. It is a feeling that the newspaper is drifting away from service to the cause of good journalism--an undertaking that sometimes requires a paper to expose readers to things that are corrupt, hurtful, or even offensive about their community. That is why they cannot share the sense of celebration publisher Connor displayed at last year's Katie awards ceremony.

"Why do you get into this business?" asks one former editor at the paper. "You get in because you're curious. You like to do fun, interesting things. You like to maybe do some investigative reporting that sheds new light and actually makes your city better or your town better. At the Star-Telegram, all of that is disappearing, little by little.

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