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April 14, 2015 / jeffnward

A local newspaper can learn a lot from a magician

Whether it’s Dave Mason, Roger McGuinn, or Who’s Line is it Anyway, my wife and I love those Elgin Community College Arts Center performances. It’s such a great venue! And last Saturday, it was the Spencers: Theater of Illusion because I can’t pass up a magic show!

Their first trick was the ripped newspaper mysteriously putting itself back together and, though I understand exactly how it works, when deftly done, it’s a lot fun to watch. But the real surprise was, as Kevin Spencer unfurled the Daily Herald to great fanfare, the audience’s response was a whole lot of silence mixed with a reasonable smattering of boos.

Faced with that underwhelming result, Mr. Spencer said he thought a hometown paper would generate a little more applause and he was now worried we’d be a particularly tough crowd.

DHGiven the upbeat nature of the show, even I was surprised that the DH didn’t garner at least a polite round of applause, but then I remembered this is exactly what I’ve been predicting for the last couple of years.

While they’re certainly not the only newspaper to face some tough times, those folks seem particularly dead set on proving Einstein’s theory of insanity correct. They will keep doing the same thing over and over again until they finally get that different result. Sadly, I think their (former) readers are catching up with them.

I understand that newsrooms have endured massive cutbacks, but why is it that those upper echelon folks – the ones who consistently make the bad decisions – never seem to lose their jobs?

As a result, newsroom staff is stretched to the breaking point which forces them to either wait for stories to fall in their lap or to go after the low hanging fruit. Yesterday’s online DH trumpets, “Management, community and respect rule in Winfield teacher’s first grade classroom” as a major story. My wife is a teacher and my first thought was, who cares? So now we’re covering first grade classroom dynamics? It reminds of the Andy Griffith episode in which Opie and his friends started a school newspaper.

Worse yet, they’re going after those low hanging apples without the most basic fact checking.

The DH recently ran an Elgin City councilwoman “campaign violation” story – right before an election – based solely upon the word of a small conservative activist group which is a real no-no. When that group turned out to be wrong, the DH had to print a retraction two short days later.

I’m no fan of what the Courier-News has become, but at least they got that story right from the get go – other than the fact that it was never a story to begin with.

Then there’s their highly heralded endorsements (pun intended) which have become a parody of themselves.

In an editorial last fall, DH assistant managing editor, Jim Slusher, wrote a flowery piece explaining newspapers’ obligation to the democratic process including, but not nearly limited to, endorsements. He said that, while some considered that process to be obsolete, the Herald would continue this grand tradition because, by golly, the readers have a right to learn about the candidates.

But with the DH editorial board becoming almost as thin as their newspaper, they would simply throw five candidates in a room and attempt to “interview” that gaggle in 60 short minutes. One Elgin hopeful told me his endorsement interview  immediately degenerated into a mini-debate with the loudest folks getting the most attention.

And if you look at some of the DH’s bizarre choices over the last few years, you’ll see exactly what I mean! C’mon! Mark Davoust over Jack Cunningham for Kane County Clerk? I’m no fan of Cunningham, but can anyone name a single Davoust accomplishment in his more than 8 years on the county board? And for the DH to endorse him on the basis of a clerk “working harder to get the vote out” is beyond the pale.

Not only would that effort potentially double the Clerk’s budget, but wouldn’t a Republican Clerk face immense pressure to get out only the Republican vote?

Their worst offense, though they’re not nearly the only paper with this problem, is that too many of the DH reporters and editors don’t live up to the standard they so eagerly thrust upon the people they cover. Many of their reporters, in collusion with their editors, regularly play favorites and/or pit one politician against another just to get the next story.

Then there’s the aforementioned fact checking thing.

Worse yet, Paddock Publications is still using a sales tactic whereby an unsuspecting charitable donor suddenly gets a “free” subscription to the paper without knowing they’ve subscribed – until they get the bill and go into collections, that is. There have been 21 BBB complaints since 2014 and if you take a look at their Yelp reviews, it ain’t a pretty sight!

As a consultant, I understand it’s difficult to control subcontractors, but if the DH caught another business pulling this kind of thing it would quickly become headline news.

And then they refuse to respond when they’re called on the carpet which is particularly disingenuous for an entity whose primary purpose is calling people on the carpet. Papers take on bubble prone politicians all the time, but I wish I had some of the drug those DH editors and publishers must be taking because it’s gotta be really good.

Though I’ll be the first one to admit I have my moments, the irony is, the DH will dismiss me as a “bleep” for daring to criticize them out loud and some editors will privately claim I’m some sort of traitor. But much like Danny Devito’s Larry the Liquidator character once said, “I’m not your best friend, I’m your only friend.” Because I’m the only one willing to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t working and you don’t have much time to try something different.

We desperately need local papers to survive and earn respect or Cicero, Illinois is gonna start looking a lot like Candyland.

But don’t listen to me! Guys! They booed your newspaper! It’s time to pop that bubble.

4 Comments

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  1. The Observer / Apr 14 2015 10:04 am

    Your reference to Jim Slusher and his columns strikes a sour note with me. About a year ago he wasted 38 square inches of newsprint space on a column advising “Letters to the Editor” writers to be more concise…space he wasted that could have been used to print two or three additional letters!
    And when Slusher writes a column, it is so long and rambling it appears he is being paid “by the word.”

    I have a collection of DAILY HERALD political endorsements, which make very interesting reading.
    During the year the HERALD promotes “new people” entering the political area, yet their election endorsements favor incumbents about 70 percent of the time.

    But, I see the HERALD’S greatest fault as publishing so much nonsense from the ASSOCIATED PRESS and WASHINGTON POST. without questioning the validity of it.

    A real “newspaper?” I think not.

    • jeffnward / Apr 14 2015 10:19 am

      Dear Observer, I would advise you against being too subtle. Next time, you should speak your mind more freely!

  2. DK / Apr 14 2015 2:20 pm

    .

  3. The Observer / Apr 15 2015 4:32 pm

    Here is another one: The CHRONICLE recently reported a car accident, a roll-over and collision
    with a tree, on Green Road just 100 feet south of Smith Road in Blackberry Township (within ten feet of where a Batavia girl was killed in the same style accident three years ago.)

    The problem with this is the CHRONICLE’S lack of “transparency” in the matter: the age 29 male driver’s name was listed, but his passenger’s name was withheld from the article. The passenger, a WOMAN (not a GIRL) age 23, was obviously not a minor, but someone pulled strings to keep her name out of the paper. This is strange, because the male driver was ticketed for DUI, and evidence at the scene (beer bottles and cans) indicated BOTH had been drinking while he was driving.

    So, CHRONICLE, just WHO was the woman, and WHY did you withhold her name from the news article? If it was MY daughter, would you have been so secretive and “protective” of her name?

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