What's going on at the Miami Herald? More than a year after the last one fled, the Herald still lacks an Ombudsman -and shows no sign of getting one- to represent readers deep concerns about bias, misrepresentation and flackery on behalf of South Florida's powerful & privileged at the Herald. And that's just one of many unresolved problems there...
Those of you who come to this blog regularly will recall that back in December and January, I sent a very thorough letter to the top management of the Miami Herald -Publisher David Landsberg, Executive Editor Aminda Marques and Managing Editor Rick Hirsch among others- and some folks at parent company McClatchy Company regarding longstanding problems that I'd been aware of and had observed both in the newspaper and on their website.
Problems that, from my perspective, at least, they seemed to be expending precious little time, energy and resources on resolving any time in the near-future, judging by the physical product they continue to churn out and what you continue to see on their crummy static website.
Clearly, that doesn't speak well of what's going on down at One Herald Plaza, but then that's not breaking news, either.
After sending those emails, I later re-purposed them and posted those comments here on December 21, 2011.
For another consistently lousy year of journalism at the Miami Herald, esp. covering Broward County, more lumps of coal in the Christmas stocking of One Herald Plaza -Part 1
Part 2 of More lumps of coal in the Christmas stocking of One Herald Plaza for another consistently lousy year of journalism at the Miami Herald, esp. covering Broward County
I heard via email from several other concerned media watchers in South Florida -some of them with names you'd instantly recognize- who also don't like the look of things at the Herald -or the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, either, for that matter.
People who, like me, feel that that given its enormous resources, even with a smaller staff, the Herald is not only short-changing the community in its geographical area, but has actually abdicated many of its basic reporting coverage responsibilities in critical ways, and yet can't even point to better and more nuanced reportorial coverage of the places it will actually deign to cover.
While many people who wrote agreed with me just about 100%, others admitted that they hadn't personally noticed certain things I brought up to Herald management, but that once I mentioned it and they'd had some time to think about it, they found themselves largely agreeing with me that in a competitive marketplace, there was no logical reason for failing to resolve some of these longstanding problems that Herald readers have with the newspaper.
That was especially the case with the Herald's atrocious coverage of Broward County people, places and government, both local and county, where almost every night of the week, you can go to the Herald's Broward homepage, and yet consistently find that less than 40% of the listed stories have anything to do with Broward County.
Who deliberately runs a newspaper like that?
In any case, besides some small initial response that first week after they were sent, which came just before the holidays, six months later, nobody from the Herald's management has since followed-up with me or gone public in the newspaper about what and when the Herald is going to do something to prevent the slippery-slope from becoming "the new normal."
A good first step, though long overdue, would actually be hiring an Ombudsman, one who actually lives in South Florida and who not only has a weekly column, but is also equipped with a daily blog.
Someone to better represent readers with deep concerns about the Herald's reporting and editorial bias, misrepresentation of facts, consistent curious choice to leave some key facts out of certain stories, and the perennial concern about Herald flackery on behalf of South Florida's business interests and the personally powerful & privileged -like the newspaper's love affair with M-D Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho, of whom seldom is heard a discouraging word.
But it's been more than a year now since Edward Schumacher-Matos left for NPR and the Council for Foreign Relations, and nothing is happening, even though that's actually something fairly easy to fix on that laundry list of unresolved problems there...
When are we going to see some tangible signs of positive change at the Herald?
And have you seen how weak their offerings are on their YouTube Channel? http://www.youtube.com/user/MiamiHerald/
Without naming names, I know for a fact that there are twenty-something female bloggers in Scandinavia who are so popular that they produce more original video content and get more eyeballs seeing their original content on their YouTube Channel than the Herald gets for their's. (And they do it themselves, too.)
In fact, I know one such blogger in particular who has produced a number of videos within the past six months, most of which have been seen more times than ALL the Herald's videos for the past nine months combined.
You'd think that by now, the folks locally at the Herald and in Sacramento for McClatchy, would have the good sense to be embarrassed at having all the resources they have, in a large market like this with so many interesting, bizarre and controversial things going on, yet posting such feeble content.
But, apparently, they're not.
Looking back on 4 years of critiquing The Herald
By Edward Schumacher-Matos
May 1, 2011
Nearly four years ago, I wrote my first column as ombudsman. This is my last. I leave having learned a lot about you, the readers. I leave having failed you, too, in one promise.
I learned foremost that you care — about your community and your newspaper. You write a daily avalanche of e-mails to me and others at The Miami Herald or post comments online, often with passion, over issues in South Florida and the state.
When you don’t like how your point of view was treated in an article, you often threaten to cancel your subscription. Few of you actually do, at least for reasons of coverage. If anything, your reaction shows that you are reading the newspaper. And while most of my columns have been critical of something The Herald has done, you and I share this secret: For every article we disagree with, there are many, many more that we like. No other local news outlet keeps us as well informed.
I also learned your hottest buttons: Cuba, Israel, immigration, taxes, gay rights. And, of course, party politics. Your antennas are acute for any indication that The Herald might be tilting pro-Republican or Democrat.
But whatever your political inclination, the stories you like the most are investigations that ferret out local corruption. As The Herald has redefined itself through smaller staffs, shrinking paper size, and online expansion, you have overwhelmingly implored that it continue investing in the investigations that it does so well. After that, you most like local stories, though the Caribbean Basin and Middle East are local for you, too. You are sophisticated and cosmopolitan.
Few places in the country are so interesting. I am leaving to take up a new post as ombudsman of National Public Radio. I look forward to the political sensitivity of that role as NPR and the media nationally wrestle with how to finance responsible journalism and serve communities. But I will be sad to leave you.
So, how did I let you down? I announced in the beginning that in passing judgment on The Herald’s coverage — on whether it was one-sided, for example, or unfair or incomplete — I would tell you my position on the issue being covered in the original article. It was a revolutionary idea. Here is what I wrote in my first column:
“I’ll tell you upfront, and I’ll tell you my biases, for in the end what I write will necessarily be my own reasoned judgment. But I promise you it will be as fair as I can make it, never cynical, but sometimes irreverent. I strongly believe in good professional journalism, but I don’t think it’s Holy. You are welcome to agree, disagree or demand to kill the ump.”
That first column had to do with the coverage of the Gomez brothers, two young Colombians who were popular students but unauthorized immigrants detained for deportation. Their saga and the proposed Dream Act that might legalize them remains ongoing. Once a Colombian illegal immigrant myself, I wrote that I was sympathetic toward legalizing the unauthorized immigrants in the country.
Still, I criticized The Herald’s coverage for being slanted in favor of the boys. It largely overlooked legitimate questions held by many readers about the fairness of the Dream Act and legalizing the brothers.
But if I lived up to my promise in that first column, I found as the months went by that to state my position on the issues distracted from my critique of the coverage. I became the issue, instead of the reporting and editing by The Herald. As a mechanical matter, it also made the columns too long, especially if I wanted to explain the nuances of my views.
I didn’t make a conscious decision to stop the practice, but my promise somehow just slipped away.
I still wonder if there is a way to revive the idea, not just for ombudsmen, but for reporters.
We know that journalists are human and have opinions and political preferences. There also is no such thing as pure objectivity. We all see through the lens of our upbringing.
Most reporters stretch mightily to set aside their biases and follow basic journalistic rules. Editors further scrub stories for objectivity and fairness.
But we as a society are now in a cynical “post modern” age in which we have been taught to “deconstruct” articles in search of the writer’s supposed underlying intent. Trust in the news media is low. Would transparency about a reporter’s personal views help recover trust then? Is there a practical way to make it work? Or would it be a distraction from the news itself?
I don’t have the answers but would appreciate knowing your parting thoughts. As the news media fragments into many slivers of opinion, we risk fragmenting as a society and a nation. We need to have at least a common base of facts.
Thank you for the privilege of having been allowed into your homes and your considerations these past four years.