By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This week, for example, I planned on devoting this entire space to a pointy-headed discussion about the merits of newspaper-TV newscast partnerships, in light of the growing trend nationally and the recent announcement that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was dumping Channel 11 and snuggling up to the bigger-ratings bosom of Channel 5. I will still get to an abbreviated chat about that, but not until I spend several hundred words telling you once again how strikingly dumb the commanders at the Belo Death Star be.
Here is the background. Last week, I received a phone call from Avi Adelman. Some of you may have heard of Mr. Adelman. He is a Lower Greenville resident who runs a Web site at www.barkingdogs.org. On this site, Mr. Adelman has for years railed against the powers that be in this city. Specifically, he has complained about how they ignore his demands that the bars and clubs and restaurants along Lower Greenville be made to comply with city codes, and that they ignore the harm to his neighborhood caused by the patrons of these establishments, who inevitably pee in people's yards while drunk, and their cars, which are invariably parked on surrounding streets.
I have known Mr. Adelman for more than 10 years. I wrote perhaps the first story about his complaining ways in 1991 or so. I recently received $500 from a national magazine to write 300 words on his Web site, a damn fine freelance rate, for which I am grateful. I always respond to his calls and his e-mails cheerfully. I do so even though I believe he is wrong about most every aspect of his Lower Greenville campaign. I live not far from Adelman, and I live there because there is an active nightlife in the area; it's one of the few sections of Dallas that has a pulse. Mr. Adelman reminds me too often of the person who moves near the airport and then complains about all the noise from the damn airplanes flying over his house.
Why then do I not argue with him? Because he's completely, obsessively, insanely outer-limits nutbar. I do not have the energy or the time to anger someone who so loves being the little guy screaming at the big bully. He lives for that stuff, you understand. He is never so happy as when he is railing against The Man, when he can take on the role of the righteous speaker of free speech, the man being squelched by the oppressive Big Brother. I know several such people, and I make it a point to always be kind to them, because life is too short to be on the wrong end of a jihad.
Belo does not understand this simple philosophy. In fact, Mr. Adelman called me and offered to give me information about how Belo was messing with his Web site. He said he had received a letter ordering him to no longer "deep link" to stories on The Dallas Morning News Web site. The letter threatened legal action if he did not comply. In other words, he could not offer a link on his site to a story in the paper; according to Belo, he could only link to the home page, www.dallasnews.com, so that people could then be exposed to all the pop-up advertising Belo wants you to see when you enter one of its sites. This was an outrage, Adelman said, and he would not stand for it. Did I want to write about it?
I will now tell you that I made a mistake. I said no; he gave the story to wired.com, which wrote about it; and a national media dog pile formed atop Belo. On the journalism Weblog site www.poynter.org/medianews, folks wrote in to mock the company, and a Belo VP even typed an e-mail to defend the idiots at the Death Star who had given Mr. Adelman exactly what he wanted: a chance to be seen as aggrieved. Incredibly, after Editor & Publisher ran a story about the controversy, a Belo spokesman clarified the company's position thusly:
There has "been a lot of miscommunication and confusion over this," he said. "It really involves us and a particular Web site...This is an isolated case."
I'm angry at Belo for a couple of reasons. First, they expose the fact that I didn't want to write about another Avi Adelman gripe just because I'm weary of them, and that my personal feelings got in the way of covering a legit news story. I mean, ABC News did a story on this. Ralph Nader's group, Public Citizen, is giving Adelman free legal counsel. All told, my boss was less then pleased. Therefore, you will pay, you bastards.
Second, they force me to write about it anyway by admitting that this isn't a company policy; they just hate Avi Adelman and they want to target his Web site. I see no other way to read the company's "defense" of its actions. Good sweet heavens, how silly, small and vindictive is Belo?
(A personal note: Mr. Adelman, all of the above is just shtick. I believe in everything you do.)
"We approached Channel 5 about four years ago to do this, but they weren't very interested then," says Star-Telegram editor Jim Witt. "So we went with Channel 11 a few years ago. And the folks at Channel 11 are great; Tracy Rowlett has really turned that station around in terms of quality. But their ratings just aren't anywhere near what Channel 5's ratings are. Plus, after September 11, Channel 11, like a lot of people, started doing even more international news and not as much local. So, four or five months ago, Channel 5 approached us about doing stories together, running their weather folks on our weather page, all sorts of stuff. And with their ratings, we just thought this would give us a larger group exposed to our stories."
Witt knows that making such partnerships work is very difficult--unless it's the one between WFAA-Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News, both of which are owned by Belo, and therefore managers at each company can be forced to play nice. Channel 5 will get a copy of the Star-T's story lineup every day after the paper's 2 p.m. "news budget" meeting and will then decide if there are stories it can add pictures to and run on its newscasts that evening. The stories would be tagged as coming from the Star-T. Witt hopes the paper can also join with Channel 5's reporters to work on some long-term projects.
"Heck, we know that every radio and television station in town uses the Star-Telegram and the Morning News every day as their tip service, anyway," Witt says, chuckling. "At least this way, we can get credit for it."