Northern Valley Beacon

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Monday, October 24, 2005


Press Review: At the mercy of incompetence

I know there are a lot of really bad newspapers out there. By bad, I don't mean that their political orientation does not coincide with mine. I mean that the reporting is bad, the writing is bad, the editing is bad. They are simply incompetent.

I regret that I live in a region where the major newspaper sucks so bad that that it makes that particular verb a complement. And there are no alternative electronic news operations that can provide a little coverage to motivate the miserable rag to try harder--which seemed to be the case when radio and television did report on local and regional affairs every day.

In its mission statement for its parent company, Knight Ridder, the Aberdeen American News says its goal is to be the dominant source of news in the region. Well, it has managed the "dominant" part. It has real problems with the "source of news" part.

Example of how badly the American News is edited:

The number two story on the front page of Saturday's edition had the headline "Opportunity squandered." The story was a report on the South Dakota Board of Regents Opportunity scholarship program after its first year of operation. The sub-head explained, "State scholarship program losing students quickly."

The scholarship is set up to provide about 1,000 students who qualify with ACT scores and high school grades $5,000 over four years. During the first year, 841 students received the scholarship. Twenty-seven percent of them, 227, did not qualify for the second year. Forty left school, 73 failed to complete the minimum of 15 credit hours a semester; and 114 failed to maintain the 3.0 grade point average (B) for the year. For 2005, the Regents expected to have 1,029 students on the scholarship, but had only 849. The number returning from the first year is 614.

The story is written from the standpoint that the scholarship program is bombing.

On Sunday, the American News ran the same story but with an upbeat perspective. However, this time it was buried on page 5 of the B section. The headline says, "Regents pleased with scholarship program." The subhead states, "Over 800 incoming freshman qualified for state-funded monies." The story goes on to state that 95 percent of last year's recipients stayed in South Dakota colleges. That sort of coincides with the previous day's story which quotes a Regent as saying that even if the students lost their scholarship, they are staying in school.

But note that the first story is written on the premise that the numbers are bad. The second story is written on the premise that they are good. No comparative data with other such programs is offered so that anyone seems to know whether the numbers are good or bad. The two stories do not emphasize merely the news. They emphasize the spin that their writers put on them. And that is not news writing. It is propaganda writing.

But such kind of reporting and writing is the daily stuff that the 16,000 people who read the American News each day are given as news. Fox news claims that they report and the viewers decide. The American News doesn't report. It decides.

What is troubling is that Knight Ridder has some very good newspapers in its chain. Why its executives allow such inferior performance on a daily basis is puzzling. Maybe they can't stand to read the damned thing, and hope that the readership is not educated or literate enough to complain.

The failures of the Aberdeen American News are staggering. Like you, I cannot understand why the parent company tolerates them. They have vice presidents who have responsibility for overseeing the news operations, and unless, as you suggest, the problem is so obvious that it embarrasses them, they certainly must be aware of them.
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