Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dear Editor...

I was copied on this email from blogger David Bruce Smith to the Herald's Patricia Andrews, the Herald's Assistant Managing Editor for Broward. The Herald's executive editor and ombudsman were also copied:

I've kept this in Draft form for three months, since the April meeting that marked the final Broward County CRC meeting, thinking that maybe I'd eventually see some tangible improvement in the Herald's local news coverage. Nope!
Sunday April 13, 2008

Dear Ms. Andrews:

Having followed the Broward County Charter Review Commission issue pretty closely since they began their work, I find myself needing to ask you a simple question, and it's one that, frankly, I could've posed at almost any time within the past year, given what's been written and how it's been written about the CRC in The Herald.

Ms. Andrews, as AME for Broward, is there a specific stylistic or editorial reason that NONE of the Herald's local stories involving the actual casting of votes by elected officials (or their proxies) -and on this important subject in particular- ever have an actual tally box or something approximating one, so that Herald readers can ACTUALLY know who voted for or against the item that's being written about?

Over and over and over again your paper goes with the voting obfuscation, regardless of subject, topic or location in the community, whether city council or county commission. It's like you're keeping that info close to the vest and can't reveal it except to certain selected folks who pay for some premium service called Herald PLUS. As if the NY Times didn't show what a bad choice that was.

Is it felt at Herald HQ that including that sort of factual nugget would make the Herald seem, well, too much like a weekly newspaper in a small parochial town that none of your current reporters or editors would ever want to work at (again)? Is that it?

Is it verboten to have a helpful tally sheet at the end of a Herald story in the same curious way that the newspaper seems to go out of its way NOT to ever mention a website URL within a story, especially in comparison with the frequency and ease with which other newspapers of the same size (and larger) do so everyday, without any compunction at all?

(Though it's not your area, per se, as a questionable practice that does readers absolutely no good, it's not dis-similar to the very weird way the Herald has for months refused to give proper photo credits under photos that appear on their so-called People page. There are usually six to eight photos or trade-marked items on that page, yet the only one that consistently gets a credit is a photo taken by a Herald staff phographer. Hmmm... that's a bit more than just a curious coincidence.

So am I to understand that simply running the phrase "Wire Reports" at the very top of the page is now sufficient credit for the professional photographers who took the shots? Though she's clearly very talented, for all her many amazing abilities, I know with certainty that Sports Illustrated cover model Marisa Miller didn't take that photo of herself in a bikini, that was featured a few days ago.

Do you know who did snap the photo? Yeah, neither do I, Ms. Andrews. I guess that's really sort of the point, isn't it, and puts us in the same boat.

And honestly, what about the Herald sports section dogged refusal for months to consistently list weekend NY Yankee radio broadcasts in its On Air chart? Perhaps because the radio station that airs them has a relationship with the Sun-Sentinel?

Couldn't say for sure, but its omission only draws more attention to the nature of the people who supposedly run that section of the newspaper, and make it seem like so much child-like pettiness. No one I've met yet in South Florida is at all impressed by that bit of faux cleverness.)

These sorts of curious editorial and reporting patterns and habits are one of the most distinctive aspects of the Miami Herald in the year 2008, and trust me, I don't mean that as a compliment, either.

Is it that you and the Herald's management are semi-comfortable keeping readers in the dark, or space concerns, and if the latter, why don't you at least have some context on the Herald awful joke of a website, where physical space isn't supposed to be an issue? But you don't.

What am I to think when your newspaper seems to be so obtuse about not capturing any of the inherent drama of the story Wednesday night, and can't even bring itself to publicly reveal the identities of which CRC members were on which side of each vote?

I don't want quotes from one or two or three members, but NOT KNOW the actual votes cast by the CRC members on the issues you're writing about. Why is that so difficult?

I was at the CRC hearing Wednesday, from beginning to end, and, as it happens, I'm someone who's been very supportive of the proposal for a county-wide elected mayor in Broward County, and a MTA to make transportation more efficient and responsive to residents and riders. For many reasons, not the least of which is simply common sense.

Not that either of your TWO reporters mentioned it in their dispatch, but the best reason for the mayor proposal was actually uttered by a very frustrated member of the CRC late in the proceedings, perhaps in one of those moments when you only think of something in perfect clarity when you are either truly angry or exhausted.

To paraphrase what CRC member Michael Buckner said, everyone on the CRC goes home to a city in Broward where the mayor is actually elected. "Why can't that be the case for the county for all Broward County citizens, too?" Exactly! It has the virtue of being simple, honest and to the point.

It sure would've been nice to actally see that comment of his somewhere in your newspaper!

Even if I weren't in favor of the elected mayoral proposal or the MTA, even if I was against them -like the ONE citizen who showed up to urge the defeat of the elected mayor proposal- I'd still like to read in a Herald story about a vote that determined whether or not I'd ever be able to vote on the proposal, WHO was AGAINST my having that vote.

What's the reasonable explanation I'm missing here, Ms. Andrews?

And honestly, if you're going to have two reporters at County Hall for the meeting, is it too much to ask that they write in a way that doesn't read as if they were watching the proceedings on closed-circuit TV, for all the lack of detail they gave us of the mood of the room?

I'm a thoroughly modern person, Ms. Andrews, but I'm old-fashioned in that I like context and nuance, and being able to have information that helps me make sense of things, or as Wednesday clearly demonstrated, in trying to understand the inexplicable. I got nothing from your paper on that score.

With two Herald reporters assigned to the story, how did it never occur to them to consider the role of a CRC member's profession or political position -or which sitting Commisioner selected them- in the final vote breakdown? Yeah, that kind of context often proves helpful.

Was it just coincidence that the only two city mayors on the CRC, the Chair, Lori Mosely of Miramar and Debbie Eisenger of Cooper City, both voted against the elected mayor proposal? Could that be in part because of a reasonable fear of loss of influence in their part of the County? That'd only be human, I suppose.

But then your story never even gets close to explaining why there's been so many ups and downs over the months that led to the vote that took place Wednesday.

Point of fact, your story never even mentions the chair, Mayor Lori Moseley.

It also NEVER mentions that prior to the public start of the meeting at 1 p.m., the CRC members had already voted to prevent public input on additional topics, even though that was on the agenda, as evidenced by the documents that the staff passed out to everyone when they showed up and signed in.

Wow, that's both kind of curious and important, don't you think?

Why the secrecy?

Even worse, in all the hours and hours that preceded the actual final arguments for and against the elected mayoral proposal, with an uncertain vote time, Mayor Moseley and all of the other members of the CRC, as well as their staff, NEVER bothered to do the right thing and publicly announce this decision to the citizens in the chambers, or those watching on Cable TV. Or, for that matter, to the few reporters who were there.

They kept that information to themselves.

As it happens, there actually WAS a woman who waited the entire day to speak on that specific agenda item, and surely, she would've appreciated knowing hours earlier that she would be denied a chance to get in her two cents.

Like everyone else in the audience, we wondered why that decision was made and what the vote breakdown on it was.

The Herald's story never mentions ANY of that, Ms. Andrews.

It's like it never happened.

If I'd known at the time that your TWO reporters weren't going to even mention it, maybe at the time, I'd have banged a bit on the glass window in the media room in the back of the chambers and reminded your reporters to write about THAT, too. But coulda. woulda, shoulda.

Like so many hundreds of Miami Herald stories over the not-so-recent past, Ms. Andrews, the actual presentation of the local news actually raises more troubling questions than it ever seeks to answer.

David Bruce Smith,
Hallandale Beach, FL


Heimlich-Martinez said...

Good luck with that letter, but I wouldn't exactly hold my breath.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if the Broward edition also carried the disease or tear-jerking medical problem of the day stories granting them more space and importance than what's happening in politics/government/business/economy etc in your community.