Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I read the news today, oh boy

The other day I received a complimentary copy of a new local newspaper. It was Edition 1 of "The Middlesex Times" nicely tied off from the summer rain in a clear plastic bag and waiting there on my doorstep. Cool, I said to myself —I like to do crossword puzzles. But first there was the matter of the news stories, sizing up the whole of this new rag, maybe the publication even had an opinion page. It would be interesting to see if there was a new and distinct perspective in the offing —on current events, local, regional, national.

The top story, page 1 was an article on the announcement of a candidate for state rep in our area. Now, I'll admit this is a candidate I've already taken something of a dim view of —that's my bias. He ran for U.S. Congress recently, too, and I found him to be something of an empty sloganeer, someone who was big on selling disdain for the incumbent of the office he wanted, not so big on offering much coherent in the way of policy he would put into effect himself. He's struck me as something in the order of a Sarah Palin, but maybe without her level of intellectual rigor. But, like I said, that's my bias and news is news, so running with the headline about this candidate declaring his candidacy was fine.

I scanned the article though and found it was remarkably lacking in what a grouch like me might call journalistic integrity. It was the puff the candidate's campaign likely supplied. Hey, I said to myself, in a forgiving frame of mind, this sort of thing happens with small papers. They hunger for stories and sometimes pass stuff like this on as content without any real editorial scrutiny. Then I looked to the next story down, occupying the rest of the front page. That, too, was a story on this candidate and his agenda.

I opened to the center spread of the paper. This looked more like it. There was a "Letters to the Editor" section and a "Report from Beacon Hill" —oddly enough both were entirely focused upon the wrongs of the incumbent state rep that the candidate so prominently covered on page 1 was trying to unseat. There were a couple more stories on the opposite page, more of the same.

Just as I had hoped there was an editorial to be found there, too. But you had to be careful to notice it. Because if you just gave it a quick scan it didn't come off as an editorial at all, it looked for all the world like none other than U.S. Senator Scott Brown was endorsing this candidate. With a big headline reading that this candidate "Deserves Our Vote" and a picture of the candidate standing with Scott Brown, both of them grinning wide, the story reads very much as an endorsement concluding "we strongly believe" this candidate will be "the same type of leader for us at the State House." It's just that it is not signed by Scott Brown. He's not even quoted. The "we" who so strongly believe —these were the editors of this new paper. This was their editorial voice.

I turned to the last page of this new publication and found a full page spread of "People on the Street" supporting you'll never guess who for State Representative. And, maybe not surprisingly, on the bottom of the page was what was plainly an advertisement calling to elect this same candidate.

Alas, there was no crossword puzzle.

Nowhere on this publication is it stated that this material is campaign literature paid for by the candidate's election committee. Maybe it's not. Maybe there's some clever conceit here that allows for the slight of hand and it's all well and fine to pretend to be the local news, to blur and fog the line between journalism and vanity press. Maybe I shouldn't be bothered by this. I'm sure some of the philosophers among us will opine that the difference between this concoction —just some vaguely deceptive direct mail marketing— and the bought and sold media access of major campaigns is only a matter of degree and subtlety. Heck, maybe Scott Brown will eventually come around and endorse this candidate. Should we fault the dreamer (and "the editors" of the The Middlesex Times) for dreaming it first?

Who's to say?

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