Lean to the left, lean to the right
The search for an editorial direction which will offend no one continues to elude the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Despite its best efforts, the struggling Cowtown daily still has not managed to fully placate the Religious Right. And now, the paper's Arlington edition managed to hack off liberals as well.
Several months ago, the American Family Association succeeded in pressuring the Star-Telegram to transfer a gay editor out of his job. But the self-anointed Christian watchdog group still isn't wholly satisfied that the newspaper is sensitive to the AFA's concerns.
The AFA's beef is that the former editor, Todd Camp, now a feature writer at the paper, was allowed to review several mainstream movies that feature transvestites.
In its April newsletter, the Fort Worth chapter of the AFA lauded the Star-Telegram--and particularly editor Debbie Price--for booting Camp out of his previous job as graphics editor of "Class Acts," a weekly supplement aimed at young readers.
Price decided to transfer Camp after one AFA member sent the paper copies of cartoons Camp had drawn for the Texas Triangle, a weekly gay and lesbian newspaper published in Austin. Camp had free-lanced cartoons for the Triangle for several years, with the permission of his supervisors at the S-T.
The AFA claimed the cartoons showed Camp was "preoccupied" with the subjects of pedophilia and incest. Price obligingly moved Camp out of the editor's job, made him a feature writer, and wrote an apologetic letter to the complaining AFA member.
While Price's action has drawn criticism within both gay-rights and journalistic circles, including embarrassing stories in The New York Times and the American Journalism Review, the AFA was delighted.
"The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has responded appropriately for a change to criticism over a homosexual employee," the AFA's newsletter informed members of the self-anointed moral watchdog group.
Still, Price better not bask in the glow of being on the right side of the right wing just yet. The newsletter went on to complain that, in her letter, Price had promised the AFA member that her paper "will continue to maintain the highest standards of decency for Class Acts."
The AFA takes issue with the scope of the editor's promise. "Price may be committed to maintaining the highest standards of decency for Class Acts, but what about the rest of the paper?" the newsletter asked.
"Mr. Camp's debut in his new position as a feature writer on the arts appeared on February 3. It was a review of the latest home videos about transvestites. A disgusting photo of three men dressed in drag accompanied a detailed review of nine movies," the newsletter continued.
"One can't help but wonder if the Star-Telegram felt compelled to placate the homosexuals after having transferred Camp, much to the disapproval of homosexuals across the country."
The AFA is concerned, but is not asking Price to do anything in particular to placate its members, says David Miller, executive director of the Fort Worth AFA chapter. The group "is not pursuing" any other action against the paper at this time, Miller says, instead concentrating its efforts on a campaign to force Diamond Shamrock from selling adult magazines at its convenience stores.
Meanwhile, some liberals became upset with the newspaper after it cut back the number of times liberal columnist Molly Ivins appeared in the Arlington edition. After eliminating Ivins' column on Tuesdays, the paper initially tried mailing Ivins' unpublished works to complaining readers. After enough gripes came in, the Arlington edition resumed publishing Ivins three times a week, like the other Star-Telegram editions.
The decision to scale back Ivins' column came after some readers asked for more conservative commentary, says Arlington editor Gary Hardee. Hardee was dispatched from Fort Worth to Arlington to oversee the S-T's battle with a new Dallas Morning News zone edition that has been started in Arlington. In response to the Morning News incursion, the Star-Telegram has begun packing its Arlington edition with local news.
Pat Weed, an Arlington resident, says she and other subscribers are thinking about switching to the new Arlington Morning News because the Star-Telegram's victory-at-all-costs effort to win the Arlington newspaper war is, ironically, driving them away.
While Weed says she appreciates the increased coverage of Arlington, it is being pursued to the exclusion of news from Tarrant County, Dallas, and the world in general. "I need to know what is going on in Dallas," says Weed, who works in that city.
The problem reached a crisis point for Weed when the Arlington S-T decided to stop running Ivins, the paper's own syndicated columnist, on Tuesdays.
"One of the main reasons I take the paper is because of Molly," Weed says. She complained to Arlington editor Hardee and the paper's ombudsman Phil Record without much success.
She says Hardee told her that surveys had shown that Ivins generated little interest in Arlington. But Weed believes the move was a misguided attempt to appease conservative Arlingtonians.
Then, Weed says, she uttered the magic words, that she was considering switching to the Arlington Morning News. The S-T then agreed to mail copies of Ivins' column to Weed. The prospect of a newspaper mailing unpublished material to placate a reader struck Weed as a bit bizarre. "They're doing anything they can to keep us happy because of the competition," she says. "It's just crazy."
Ivinistas began circulating a petition calling for Ivins' return on Tuesdays, but never had to present it to the paper. After receiving about a half-dozen complaints, Arlington editor Hardee changed course and resumed publishing Ivins three times a week.
Hardee says the Ivins flap was just part of the paper's efforts to fine tune its Arlington edition. "You can't ignore complaints," he says. "At the same time, you know you'll have readers on one side of the fence and readers on the other side."
The paper regularly commissions surveys to find out what readers want, Hardee says, but vocal minorities have their impact. "You weigh a decision on people who care enough to call," he says.