Kiss No Butts Rumors that their newspaper might be for sale usually strike fear into the hearts of journalists. At the Fort Worth Business Press, however, some of the troops figure a new owner couldn’t make it any worse.
And while the sale is only a rumor, the ethical problems at the Biz Press, as described by several former workers, are all too real. The journalists told Static about pressure from advertisers and bosses to write advertorials disguised as news articles. In radio, this is called payola. (Of course, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has been known to stray into this territory. Don’t even think it’s a coincidence that the Startlegram printed oodles of gushing articles about the Gaylord Texan Resort before and after it opened in 2004. Nor does the Weekly claim to be purer than your average bar of Ivory: This paper limits its restaurant list to only the eateries that get relatively good reviews, lets advertisers sponsor the annual music awards, and the publisher winces a lot. No pay for play, though.)
The semblance of scruples that the Biz Press had in years past seems to have faded since publisher Rich Connor and an investment group bought the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) newspaper last year. With Connor mostly out of the picture here, insiders say, day-to-day operations have been handled by his wife, Deborah, who happens to head the ad sales department. Not good. Butt-kissing is a good thing if your name happens to be Marc Anthony, but for a newspaper, not so much. If Connor were to sell the BizP, one former staffer said, the paper and the city might both benefit. “Fort Worth needs a good business journal,” the source said – preferably one that kicks rather than kisses butts. Journalism 202: Tell the Bad Stuff The rag you’re reading is a severely local newspaper. In the slim spaces left between the ads, Static’s editors seldom have space or money to delve into issues that extend beyond the Trinity or, at most, the Red River.
Seldom – but not never. The travesty in Iraq, the horrendous effects of U.S. companies and policies in South America, prisoners “disappeared” by our government, DynCorp workers taking part in the sex trade in Bosnia – the Weekly has served up slices of all those. Maybe you wonder why a paper whose entire editorial staff could fit in a walk-in closet (desks included) would cover those stories. The answer’s the same as it is at every other underfunded newspaper in the world: If you don’t read it here, you might not find out.
The horrors that pile up when journalists don’t tell – or people don’t hear – enough about what’s going on in the world are innumerable. Despite that fact, a group called Doctors Without Borders, perhaps some of the most courageous aid workers in the world, counted the horrors – until they’d listed the 10 most under-reported humanitarian stories of 2006. “Three African conflicts, two of which I was unaware,” wrote Static’s friend who passed along the report. “Two totally preventable pandemics – tuberculosis and malnutrition. Words fail me.”
The list is online at www.doctorswithoutborders.org. It’ll break your heart.