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Posts published in “Day: November 12, 2007”

Who can write what

Ahot debate has emerged around and about the Spokane Spokesman-Review in the last few days not so much about the paper's recent layoffs - cutbacks which, especially in the Idaho part of the operation, we consider tragic - as a news report about them. The debate has to do not with the accuracy or general approach in the piece, but rather with who wrote it.

"Leaning Tower," about the cutbacks, appeared in the Spokane alternative Inlander, and was written by Kevin Taylor. The tag line at the end notes that the writer is "a former Spokesman-Review employee," and he was. He worked in the paper's Idaho bureau, and was fired from his reporting job there, before linking up with the Inlander.

You can read the article from the link; our quick take on it is that it seems generally neutral and fair.

Which made for an unusual post from Steve Smith, the Spokesman's editor. Smith's blogging (he does a good deal of it, and commenting too) ordinarily runs toward the thoughtful and well reasoned. But he sounded scattered in his post about the Inlander article:

"I have no specific complaints about the report except for its superficiality. What is happening to this newspaper and the industry overall is complicated and important and worthy of in-depth outside review. Of course, that isn't The Inlander's goal when they report on the SR. My biggest complaint involves Taylor's assignment to this or any story about the SR. The note at the bottom of his story describes him as a former SR reporter. Well, that is like calling Jayson Blair a former New York Times reporter. It's true, but highly inaccurate."

Running through . . . Most news reports, notably most in most newspapers (daily and weekly both), necessarily, are superficial: They are produced fast, and only limited space is alloted for them. Would a book length have met Smith's standards? (Not that the subject of what's happening to newspapers wouldn't be worth that treatment.) He gets into mind-reading when he prescribes a "goal" for the Inlander, which seems unfair since the only available evidence, the article itself, read like a straight news report. And in fact, "calling Jayson Blair a former New York Times reporter" would be accurate - a description insufficient for fair understanding of the situation, but accurate nonetheless.

Our interest here, though, is in his suggestion (generally in the post) that certain reporters shouldn't write about certain things - that Taylor shouldn't have been allowed (or assigned - we evidently don't know which) to write about the Spokesman because of the blowup involving him and it.

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Puzzle pieces

Mary Verner

Mary Verner

The Spokane mayoral win last week by Mary Verner - we can call it that loosely, since though some counting is yet to be done, opponent Dennis Hession has conceded - and analysis is coming in.

This runoff election was fairly close, enough that Hession's decision not to concede for a couple of days was reasonable. In any close election, the tide can turn based on any number of factors - in this one, you possibly could point to a half-dozen elements that could credibly have made enough difference to flip the result. Here, we'll look at two of them, one narrow but possibly impactful, and the other maybe helping to indicate why it had such impact, and why the race was close in the first place.

The closeness of the race was not foreordained. A year, we'd have given Hession, the incumbent mayor, a solid edge to win election. He had been appointed by the city council in 2005 to replace the recalled Jim West; the appointment was without controversy, and for quite some time Hession seemed to be successfully putting a fractured city on a coolly professional track. He was a stable downtown professional, and he seemed the image of why such people so often have become mayor of Spokane. Usually, some voter gratitude figures in when this sort of thing happens.

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