Thursday, August 16, 2007

An open letter to the Dallas Morning News

Since they won't print my letters over at Dallas' Only Daily newspaper, I will publish this one myself on my brand spanking new blog. (So a grand total of about 3 people will see it.)

Newspapers, while an industry in massive transition, are a public trust. My hometown newspaper has lost my trust on an issue of major importance to our city, the Trinity River Corridor project. The editorial board has its place, and it is clearly in favor of putting a high speed tollway inside the levees. Fine. Even though this is the stated position of the publisher and this is never disclosed in the paper, one should expect opinion on the editorial page.

Over on the news pages, where we should be getting unbiased coverage, we have been subjected to slanted stories and headlines for months now regarding the Trinity project. There was clearly a big push to derail the signature gathering process organized by Angela Hunt and the folks at TrinityVote. And I expect there will be months more of slanted stories and headlines as we head to the November vote. This past Sunday, for example, the headline above the fold was refuting one the primary arguments of the anti-toll road crowd, that this toll road is a "bait and switch" tactic and that the voters believed they were voting for a park with lakes and sailboats; not a high speed tollroad inside the levees. Although there is a good argument to be made that a "bait and switch" occurred, the news devoted the most prominent space to arguing the other side. Is that objective journalism or what? It clearly appears that the news pages of the DMN are cheerleading for the pro-toll road group. I don't have the time or energy to assemble the body of evidence against the DMN right here, but I will try to point out misinformation of stories as they happen in future posts, to the extent that I can stomach it.

I do have to give the DMN props, however, as there was a balanced story just this morning on the council decision to place the measure on the November ballot. I wonder if the news coverage will grow more balanced as the intelligent and informed readers of the News have seen right through the bias. Several people apparently phoned and e-mailed KERA's Think asking why the Dallas Morning News reporter seemed to be taking the pro-toll road position while claiming journalistic balance versus Jim Schutze's (Dallas Observer) admittedly biased anti-toll road position.

My modest proposal
The Dallas Morning News, as a public trust to the people of Dallas, should employ an ombudsman for readers, such as the New York Times does with the Public Editor. This independent voice would have total editorial control over a weekly or twice monthly column to respond to readers' concerns and point out inconsistencies or lack of journalistic integrity in the news pages. The ombudsman would be a veteran journalist, respected in the field, and report his/her own opinions in this space. Maybe it would be a one- or two-year contract so new perspectives could be heard. We'll work out the details to ensure independence.

While the Morning News has lost my trust on this issue, it is still a valuable resource to the people of Dallas and the citizens of Texas. I give the Austin Bureau kudos for their excellent reporting during this years' legislative session. I will continue to receive and rely on the newspaper, but some trust needs to be restored.

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