The Blog Squad

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Suddenly, the T-D is mum on Johnson

This Johnson story continues to get more interesting. Now Style is reporting that Johnson does not believe it to be politically motivated while at least one rumor out there contradicts that. What was not said today in the Times-Dispatch I find even more interesting. Ross Mackenzie's column was actually about one thing today, public officials behaving badly — namely, Michelle "MissBuns" Mitchell, Paul "That'll be $15,000 please" Goldman and William "Some of my best friends are mush" Cooper.

Notice anyone missing?

It was such a glaring omission given the amount of space the T-D has given the Johnson story. And if the T-D didn't think that Johnson "behaved badly" why run the story to begin with? That brings up what I wanted to get to today anyway — the paper's role in this whole story. You could certainly argue that the some of the private affairs of public figures are fair game. Years ago, we took a lot — a lot — of heat at Style for printing a story about former Mayor Leonidas Young and his penile implant. But that was part of public record in a lawsuit listing various items he purchased with money he allegedly had bilked out of congregants of his church. It was an unfortunate embarrassment that it was a penile implant and not, say, LASIK eye surgery, but we went with that story and I still think it was the right decision. The Steve Johnson story, though, I have a very hard time arguing from a journalistic perspective — especially its placement as a A-1 story at least three times since it broke.

What do you all think? Should the T-D have run with this story based on what we know, especially if the informants are unknown to the T-D? If yes, should it have been given the play it was given?


At Fri Dec 16, 10:45:00 AM EST, Blogger John said...

In addition to noticing Ross' conspicuous lack of attention to the Johnson story in his op-ed, I was impressed that the TD actually ran something timely in their editorial section. The trend has been for the editorial team to throw together a cobbled, half-response to an issue or topic three or six weeks after it has lost its momentum -- Mackenzie was virtually on the cutting edge of their editorial coverage this week!

What I find most interesting at this moment vis-a-vis the Johnson story is how it demonstrates at a local level the inability (or plain ol' lack of self-awareness) of news organizations to engage in healthy, in-the-moment critiques of why they do what they do, or why they were wrong to do what they did. 'Mea culpa' is not a popular phrase for newsfolks, apparently.

From the bits and pieces accumulated on the Johnson story -- from the initial TD reports, to conversations here, to Style's coverage -- there has been plenty of material begging for followup, attention and examination. In a perfect world, or my perfect world, the TD would be doing two things right now: explaining why the Johnson story was (or is still) relevant, and examining the fallout from the original story as transparently as possible.

While Greg makes some interesting points about how newspapers should function and whether this was the type of story that should make headlines, I think a new question is: Now that this has made the headlines, does the Times-Dispatch have a responsibility to change or improve the way they are covering it, or having done the damage do they walk away from the story entirely?

I believe reporters should clean up after themselves.


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