The official word from the DMN on its arena investment

Bailon for the defense

Word from The Dallas Morning News is that the editors there would like to find -- then gut, dress, and eat -- whoever has been leaking to Buzz internal newsroom memos concerning the controversy over Belo Corp.'s decision to invest in the arena and the Mavericks.

Buzz finds this a bit disturbing. We'd hate to think of anyone losing his or her job at the Morning News over anything printed here, especially since we don't know who's been sending us the memos. Still, to protect the innocent, we're willing to offer up a hint of whom we think it might be. Buzz's personal psychic tells us that the snitch's initials are B.O. and that his first name rhymes with "Merl."

Sic 'em guys. Woof, woof, woof!

This week's installment of Days of Our Morning News comes from Executive Editor Gilbert Bailon. It's his response to a memo, posted by on an internal electronic bulletin board and leaked to Buzz, by the paper's three City Hall reporters (Buzz, July 29). The three wrote that the Morning News' coverage of Belo's investment was unbalanced and that the paper's credibility was suffering because of Belo's close ties to the business establishment. (Belo owns the Morning News.)

In fairness to the Morning News -- Buzz will try anything once -- we're publishing Bailon's response with a minimum of snide commentary, even though Bailon has refused to return phone calls from the Dallas Observer, and there is much in Bailon's memo that's downright laughable.

Oops. That was a snide comment. Anyway, here it is:

From G. Bailon:

Here is my response to the debate over Belo buying a stake in the Dallas Mavericks/arena. DMN Today [the electronic forum where the first memo was published -- Buzz] is not the best forum to have such a layered conversation, but since the memo was posted here and it has run in the Dallas Observer, I need to respond about how the story came together.

At 11 a.m. Aug. 4 in Belo Building conference rooms 1,2,3, Stu [Wilk, managing editor] and I will talk with any staffers about this issue or any related matters. [Nearly 150 staffers attended the meeting, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.] A note will be posted for the staff. I urge you to read on here and then attend the meeting before you draw any conclusions or lob any bombs about the integrity of the newspaper or its managers.

I was out of town Monday [July 26] and discovered late that night the memo from the City Hall reporters on DMN Today. Suffice it to say I was stunned that it was the forum chosen for such a discussion. An honest talk about ethics and our coverage would have been very appropriate and welcomed with those three. Unfortunately, we did not talk until a day after the memo had been posted, sent to the Observer and a series of folo [that's newspaper talk] notes from staffers had been posted.

An open discussion about the issues of covering the arena was fair game. Doing it in the absence of the editors first thrust this debate into a vitriolic public forum. [Buzz is blushing.]

Belo's decision where to invest its funds isn't under the purview of the newsroom. While many might hold opinions about such moves, those are not decisions we make as journalists. My professional concern is how we should do news coverage, not handicapping Belo's strategic investments. Ownership does make covering the arena more tricky, but fair coverage is very possible. This issue is not unique to Belo.

It is complex for many media companies. The key theme is whether that ownership drives coverage. I submit it will not.

What about Tribune Co. [publisher of the Chicago Tribune] owning the Chicago Cubs; Ted Turner when he owned the Atlanta Braves and CNN; what about our TV critics critiquing Channel 8 or TXCN. [Belo also owns WFAA and the Texas Cable News network. The paper recently killed a column by TV critic Ed Bark concerning the departure of WFAA anchor Tracy Rowlett. See the May 6 Buzz.] How did the Boston Globe write about the Mike Barnicle/Patricia Smith flaps [two of the paper's columnists, caught fibbing].

It's not easy to report on one's company, but it can be done fairly and completely. To conclude reflexively that we can't report objectively on the arena because of a small, non-active investment is premature and unfair. The instinct to pounce and presume the most unseemly scenario without facts is not a good trait for professional journalists.

To say people are leaving the company because of [the] situation is absurd and without any factual grounding. I embrace vigorous debate and will concede any past mistakes we might have made. But leaking memos to the Observer is not constructive nor will it help answer any questions that might loom about the arena coverage.

Now it's probably a self-fulfilling prophecy that our credibility will suffer because of the arena investment. Someone on staff made sure of that by leaking that memo before anyone could respond to the authors. Yet some are waxing eloquently about ethics and fair play.

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