Thursday, November 15, 2007

N&O's new exec's "love-hate"

Since Releigh News & Observer executive editor for news Melanie Sill's left to fill the same position at the Sacramento Bee, I've been asked dozens of times whether I think her successor, John Drescher, will be any better.

In an attempt to answer the questions, I've done the following: reviewed Drescher's background; reread his blog postings and reader comments at the Editors’' Blog; talked with journalists who know him; and observed him myself at public events.

So how do I think he'll compare to Sill?

At best, he’ll be about the same; quite possibly, he could be worse.

Keep this in mind: Drescher’s worked under Sill for years. He moved up in large part because he was a "company man." He's expected to continue Sill's three main initiatives of the past five years: tabloidization; leftist news orientation; and expanding the N&O's online presence.

During the next few months I'll look at different issues and give you my take on how I see Drescher stacking up against Sill.

Today let’s look at how Drescher stacks up against Sill on questions of anonymity.

I rate both MSM journalists as having a love-hate attitude toward anonymity: they love it when they can use it, they hate it when others do.

What follows includes some of a post from March of this year that makes obvious what I’m saying.

If you’re a friend of Drescher and I have any facts wrong, please let me know.

What fairminded readers can conclude from the facts is so obvious I'll just “let the facts speak for themselves.”

In March Drescher, then managing editor, was angry because many readers commenting at the N&O’s Editors’ Blog weren’t identifying themselves. (they must, however, provide a valid email address in order to comment) Drescher criticized those readers (whom he called “bloggers,” the better to obscure the fact his criticism was really directed at N&O readers).

You can read Drescher’s post here.

Among other things Drescher said was this:

If you are going to offer an opinion, you ought to say who you are, where you live and whether you have a professional or personal connection to the issue at hand.
I left the following comment on the thread.

After you've read it, I'll provide samples of readers' reactions to Drescher's post.

Dear Editor Drescher:

Why are you telling readers you’re concerned about bloggers’ anonymity?

Last Apr. 2 the N&O had no trouble publishing anonymously the notorious "Vigilante" poster which targeted only white male Duke students who played on the university’s lacrosse team.

You published the poster on your highest circulation day, a Sunday. You made it large (two-columns wide, 7 inches long) and placed it on the most prominent part of the page (top of the page, in the 4th and 5th columns of a six column page).

The N&O’s “Vigilante poster photo was large enough so that anyone with a little tech skill could further enlarge it and still have very good resolution for face identification of the 43 white Duke students targeted by the hateful people who produced the poster you took, published and distributed to what you say are your half-million Sunday readers.

All of that was done anonymously.

The N&O has never disclosed who produced the” Vigilante” poster.

You’ve also kept anonymous the names of the N&O editors who decided to publish the “Vigilante” poster even after Duke had expressed concerns that doing so would endanger the lacrosse players.

Who were those editors? You know you know who they are.

Some journalists tell me you, Managing Editor Drescher, were one of those who “gave the go” for publishing the poster photo?

Is that true?

And what’s the source of your problem with people who comment at the Editors Blog anonymously?

None of those anonymous commenters (who are also N&O readers) has done anything near as terrible as your publication of the “Vigilante” poster.

You had no problem publishing anonymously on March 25 above the fold on page one with five column-wide headlines what many at the N&O had to know was Crystal Mangum’s false witness.

You had no problem anonymously withholding from the rest of media and trusting N&O readers the critical information that, during the interview, Mangum had ID’ed Roberts and made statements about her which Editor Linda Williams admits were so significant she thinks the N&O would have been libelous to publish them.

You had no problem reporting the anonymous interviews you granted Mangum’s family members and friends so they could defame the students.

Given all of that, wouldn’t it be more honest, Editor Drescher, to admit you use anonymity often to sell the N&O and make your living?

And what do you say to this question other journalists have prompted me to ask you: when you find out who your anonymous reader/commenter/blogger critics are, won’t you treat them even worse than you treated 46 innocent white male Duke students?

Please stop attacking your critics and answer their questions. Mine, too.


John in Carolina

There were a total of 41 comments in response to Drescher’s post. Many of them, like mine, asked him direct questions. He never answered any of them.

Near the end of the thread one commenter, Jim Curry, called Drescher for his bogus claim that the readers commenting were really bloggers. Curry told Drescher:
I'm as much a "blogger" as the Duke false accuser is an innocent hard-working, full-time student, "exotic dancer." That is to say, I do not "blog."

To use that word to describe me is to distort the truth. I'm beginning to wonder if the N&O staff is aware that words carry meanings, and are vehicles by which knowledge is to be conveyed to the listener/reader. As such, words should be chosen with a certain level of care. Are you aware, N&O, that words have meanings?
It would have been very easy for Dreascher to say,
“Sorry I called you a blogger when you’re not one. I hope my apology helps convince you we do take words seriously at the N&O.”
That’s not so hard, is it? But it was too much for Drescher who said nothing.

Also near the end of the thread, AMac made this comment:
Wow, John Drescher, you made a clear and strong point in this entry ("Identify Yourself"). In response, you've been called to account for editorial actions of the N&O that speak directly to the matter you raise.

One of the thoughtful commenters is pseudonymous (John in Carolina). Another signed his name (Jim Curry).

Whose points are you going respond to? Only Curry's, since he signed? Or J-in-C's as well, since what he says goes to the heart of the N&O's journalistic practices in the crucial early days of the Duke Rape Case?

Or--since the conversation isn't going your way, will you just move on to something else?

By the way, am I anonymous? If I am, does that negate the content of my comment? You have my email--if you want to discuss the issue further, by letter or phone call, just write back. I'll respond.
So with all the above facts before you, you can judge for yourself how editor Drescher feels about anonymity and “bringing the news to readers.”


Stephen said...

Go Johnny GO!!Drescher and the N & O? Pathetic -- at best. When they are vacating the building due to severe reader decline and lost ad revenues, he will be the first to wonder, probably out loud, "where did we go wrong"?

Anonymous said...

Good comments, Stephen.

Further, as 'they are vacating the building' and wondering 'where did we go wrong?', N&O staff needs to remember they should perhaps have 1)heeded all those anonymous comments from those 'bloggers' (N&O readers) and
2)ID'd all those anonymous sources that the N&O claims not to use.