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Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's not OUR fault!!! Quick, blame that guy over there!

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Media accountability.

Name of Paper Withheld does not take criticism well. Shocking, I know. Here's the complete text of a city-council brief from yesterday's paper.

Parking meter letter angers councillor

During member remarks, councillor Mark Heyck said he was

dismayed by a letter that ran in the June 15 issue of Name of Paper Withheld.

In the letter, Name of Town Withheld-er Patrick Kane described his anger

at the state of parking enforcement in the city.

While Heyck said he appreciated concerns about broken

parking meters, he took issue with the how the letter “singles
out and belittles the parking officer.”

Rather than targeting the writer, Heyck took aim at Name of Paper Withheld,

criticizing its decision to run the letter.

“(Name of Paper Withheld) owes the official an apology and they owe

the city an apology,” he said.

“I’m not holding my breath.”

Ah, yes. Those muckrakers, always stirring the pot! City council's annoyed: way to go! Raises all round...wait, that's not quite right. The typesetter probably got a free pen and a grunt of approval from his editor.

I don't usually agree with Councillor Heyck, but I had the same reaction when I read that letter to the editor. It detailed one resident's frustration with city staff for enforcing local bylaws -- somehow, he had racked up $200 in parking fines. In particular, he was quite rude to one employee, who he described in enough detail that anyone who lives here would know who he meant.

Now, I don't know about Name of Paper Withheld, but most media outlets receive tons of calls and letters from people on the far side of crazy. The media's job is to sift through them and determine which are actually in the public interest and which are just weirdos with a grudge.

This is not censorship. It's called editing. It means that Name of Paper Withheld is responsible for the things it prints. And it's completely fair for a public official to criticise the paper for its editorial decision to run a letter that was clearly written only to embarrass a woman who is unlucky enough to work for the city.

Heck, I'll do it right now: A newspaper is not a public bulletin board where anyone can publish any type of garbage to get back at regular folks who are just doing their jobs. Newspapers are called to a higher purpose. They publish information about important local issues and provide a forum for discussing those issues. The main difference between a newspaper's letters page and a message board on the Internet is that a newspaper is supposed to screen the letters and decide which ones are in the public interest.

To sum up:

  1. Jerk writes letter to newspaper to embarrass a person who was just doing her job.
  2. Newspaper gets all excited -- whoo hoo! Someone cares about us enough to write letters! -- and prints the jerk's letter. Because it doesn't really matter if a city employee gets hurt.
  3. Reader criticises newspaper's decision.
  4. Newspaper gets its back up and responds: "Hey, WE didn't say it, we just published it, therefore we have no responsibility here". Because hurting a newspaper hurts us ALL.


Cin said...

Um, Meg, I don't know about that letter, but I do know about that employee, and she is NOT just doing her job. She harasses people. Period.

She once tried to ticket me when I had a minute left in the meter and was loading three kids into the minivan.

Another time she tapped on my window and pointed at the meter while I was trying to nurse a frantically hungry baby.

She once ticketed me at a broken meter during a snowstorm after I called in the broken meter.

She's on a power trip. Parking lady must be stopped.