By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
begins at home
Obviously it's a little much for BeloWatch to expect The Dallas Morning News--whose editors talk so much about objectivity, accuracy, and even-handedness--to describe the world as it really is.
But it's quite astonishing how sharply the paper skews reality when it's reporting on itself.
On February 20, the News published a page-one story about one of the paper's many local philanthropic activities. Written by reporter Laura Griffin, the story carried the headline, "News Charities distributes $461,074 among 13 agencies--Shelter, mental health program among those benefiting."
"More homeless outreach workers will be on the streets and a substance-abuse treatment center for the homeless will be a reality because of money contributed this year to The Dallas Morning News Charities," Griffin began.
"The 10th annual fund-raising campaign received $461,074, which is being split among 13 nonprofit agencies that provide shelter, food, clothing and other basic assistance to those in need.
"The 1995-96 drive brings the total for the past 10 years to more than $4.9 million."
Griffin then quoted her boss. "The program illustrates the community's concern for those who need assistance," said Burl Osborne, publisher and editor of The Dallas Morning News. "Our hope is that with each campaign we'll not only raise significant funds to address the problems of the hungry and the homeless but also continue to raise community awareness."
The News went on for another 11 paragraphs--in consummate press-release fashion--talking about all the great things possible with the money the charity raises; how the benevolent daily pays all the administrative costs; and how the money is doled out.
Only in the 17th paragraph--well inside the front page--did the paper bother to mention that "this campaign's total was less than five of the past 10 years and the lowest since the 1992-93 drive." The number of donors, Griffin acknowledged, had also plummeted, from 1,700 last year to 1,195 this year, while contributions fell from $503,643 to $461,074. By BeloWatch's calculations, that's a 30-percent drop in the number of donors--and an 8.4-percent drop in collections.
"This year's drive was, however, higher than several other years, three of which were during the late 1980s," noted Griffin, rushing again to put the best face on the report. She added: "Yet even with a lighter year, recipients say every penny helps them keep sorely needed services in the community."
Is the Morning News doing something that helps the community? Of course.
Is it appropriate for a daily newspaper to sugarcoat its own bad news? Of course not.
Griffin's story, needless to say, buried the lead. The simple, harsh reality is that the fund will likely help fewer people this year--not more. The paper's front-page account was insultingly misleading. Even the News doesn't report on other charities that way. The United Way's failure to meet its goal--while often sugarcoated as well--customarily gets mentioned well above the 17th paragraph.
It is, of course, Belo's newspaper--and Belo's charity. But in so often brazenly distorting the truth--especially in covering itself--Dallas' Only Daily continues to erode its own credibility.
Presumably fearful about his weekly's long-term prospects, Met editor Eric Celeste has begun an aggressive campaign to ingratiate himself with the top dogs at other local publications.
Celeste has cloaked his job hunt in articles he has written for his weekly and its World Wide Web counterpart. But if the first two installments are any indication, it might as well be a rŽsumŽ.
Item No. 1: a treatise on D Magazine publisher Wick Allison's acquisition of the slick monthly from Glen Solomon, the real-estate investor who resurrected the magazine. With all the fawning, Celeste never found time to mention in print that he worked for D for years--a fact he did disclose in the obscure reaches of cyberspace.
Item No. 2: Last week's fawning Internet interview of News publisher Burl Osborne, opening with Celeste marveling that "the most powerful media executive in the Southwest" sometimes answers his own phone (at least in the middle of an ice storm)--and deigned to talk with him.
Why shouldn't Osborne grant an interview to the editor of The Met? The News is in business with his paper, for Belo's sake (another fact Eric conveniently neglected to mention). As Celeste's deferential pontifications made clear, chatting with the editor of a publication that depends on you for its very survival is a safe and comfortable enterprise--not like, say, answering questions from scary BeloWatch, which Osborne refuses to do.
It's square to try to be hip
Some days, it's downright painful to read the Morning News editorial writers struggling to make all those boring columns they write readable.
On January 29, the paper gave one of its snappy "thumbs up" editorials to a local legislator for suggesting a summit meeting about the implications of Uncle Sam handing off social programs to local government.
"Elected officials in North Texas should pay attention to state Sen. Florence Shapiro," the News advised. "The Plano Republican suggested that local officials gather to discuss the new duties they will have if states take control of federal programs like Medicaid. Ms. Shapiro now has a date and place for the summit: Feb. 15 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Hotel."
Searching for a snappy ending, the News wrote: "Be there or be square."
And watch out for racial spurs
Under a headline reading "Troubled arenas," a brief in the February 2 Morning News sports section reported that "Long Beach State [basketball] coach Seth Greenberg also discovered an anti-semantic message inside the visitor's locker room before the game.