The Blow Back

I actually don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room. I want to talk about Steve Blow, who is biting back at me over on The Dallas Morning News' Metro blog for criticisms I made of him Monday here on Unfair Park.

And sorry if this is just newspaper business inside baseball. I prefer to think of it as a teachable moment.

News metro page columnist Steve Blow left a message Monday for city council member Angela Hunt, telling her he was going to “gig” her in his column the next day. It’s a term I would eschew were I Blow, because of the unfortunate association with nocturnal frog hunts. It’s what people already suspect.

Blow’s column was about Jenny, the elephant at the zoo whom City Hall wants to ship to Mexico. You know all about Jenny. Let’s not talk Jenny. Let’s talk Blow.

Blow’s message suggested to Hunt that she would be welcome to call him with complaints after the column ran. But it was still early in the day -- on the day before the column was to appear. But why not call back now? Why after it runs? Why not before?

The News is a daily newspaper. Stories and columns are not finished, complete, put to bed or set in stone at daily newspapers until quite late on the evening before the day they come out. Angela Hunt, not having arrived in town recently as part of a shipment of watermelons, knew this.

So she called Blow back anyway, in spite of his invitation not to, and she spoke with him at length about the Jenny issue. At the end of that conversation -- which took place in the late afternoon -- Blow told her that, sadly, his column was “already written,” so she had been running her mouth to him in vain.

She asked him how he could have written a column about her without talking to her. Blow told her he had decided not to call out of respect for her time and because he had already discussed her views at length with Joanna Cattanach, a News city desk reporter writing a story on the same topic that same day, who had interviewed Hunt at length.

In other words, Blow was not going to change one word of his column to reflect the fact that Hunt had called him and shared her views. By the way, I confirmed this version of things with Blow today on the telephone.

Hunt was miffed. She knew he had the rest of the day to “go back in,” as we put it in the business, and re-write his column.

I said in a comment here yesterday, “Old school reporting rules are that you have to call the person you're writing about before your deadline, and if that person calls back before your deadline you have to reflect what she says in what you write.”

Blow shot back on his own blog: “Jim has never called me before offering his many, many criticisms of my columns over the years. But I guess ethics are easier preached than practiced.”

That’s why I called him today before writing about him.

I do think there’s a difference between Blow and I going after each other -- hired galoots shooting blanks for the amusement of the crowd -- and a reporter dealing with an elected official. Anybody, elected or not, should get a chance to state his or her side of things to a reporter and have that statement reflected somehow in the makeup of the story, but elected officials carry a little extra gravitas.

And then you have what we all know is the story behind the news story here. The News hates Hunt because she opposed them on the Trinity River project. She goes out on her vacation and demonstrates about a hundred times more initiative than anybody else on the council in investigating and researching the great "Jenny Goes to Mexico" question.

The News city desk decides it has to do a story, but they know their handlers won’t like the story, because the story will make Hunt look good.



What to do?

“Oh, Steeeeeevie! Are you just real jammed up with column ideas? We have to do this positive story about Hunt, and we wondered if you would mind sneaking up behind her and pouring a little of your homemade barnyard porridge on her hair like you’ve done for us so many times before?”

“Yup. But I gotta be home by 2:30.”

Hunt, to her credit, had the moxie to call The News and complain. She said he should rewrite his column that afternoon to reflect that they had spoken.

Blow confirmed to me that he was called at home in Sunnyvale that evening by an editor who told him, “Angela’s fussin’.” It was suggested he might want to go back in and re-work his column a bit. So he did.

What do I think all of this shows? It shows how they work over there. The reporters fight the good fight to write real news stories. Then management sends the columnists out onto the field after the fighting is over to shoot the wounded.

What do I think was so teachable about it? Ha! I think Hunt taught him a lesson. He had to get out of his lounge chair (“O.K., but I’m warnin’ you if this TiVo doesn’t work and I miss that dancin’ show, you’re in trouble”) and go over to his laptop and rewrite the column.

And I admit it. I just love that. It’s why she’s my hero. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky