On the front page of this week’s Morrison County Record is an article about the Rec’s redesign of its website.  Well, this fish just had to swim on over for a look-see.  I have to say, it definitely is more attractive than the old design.  The organization of the current main articles seems more logical, too.  I like the changing banner photo and the running slide show on the home page.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the menu bar at the top of the page will be the same one you see at the bottom of the page (the standard for most websites).  The menu bars are different, so if you aren’t seeing a link you expect to see, check the bottom menu.

The Rec has entered the blogosphere, offering two blogs by staff members.  The blogs, including Ranting Is All the Rave by Matt Perkins and Chatter That Matters from Tina Snell (so far), can be found under the Viewpoints menu.  I wonder if the Record will be able to stomach the sometimes caustic comments that are thrown around the blogosphere.  (And, yes, a comment can be caustic, but not libelous, so we’ll have to see whether the folks at the Rec can handle profanity, or if they’ll sanitize things for the most sensitive of readers.)

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the Rec’s search feature.  It’s always been difficult to use because you have to have the dates right and not every article published in the printed Rec shows up online.

According to Tom West, the Rec’s General Manager, the newspaper’s website has seen a growth in readership of over 45% in the past 6 months.  While the folks at the Rec may not want to hear this, at least a smidge of that readership has come from Fish Wrap.  For all the times we have linked to articles in the Rec and gotten a hover-over warning for our “malicious behavior,” our WordPress blog stats show that our readers have clicked those links and gone over to the Record’s website to view articles.  That’s both the beauty and the poison of the internet.  It’s all wide open and sometimes negative news can be good for the stats.

Sharing the pond,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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I’m sad to see Joyce Moran leave the Morrison County Record, sad and maybe a little dismayed. For the short time I worked at the Record Joyce was one of my supervising editors and I appreciated the qualities she brought to the Record. While my other editor was busy sanitizing everything I wrote to make local officials look good sponging out direct quotes from public meeting that he didn’t want the public to read, it was Joyce who ultimately went to bat to retain the integrity of stories that were published. 

With Joyce Moran gone maybe Tom West can just turn the paper over to the GOP make a few minor changes in their lit pieces and add his name to it …errr, or did he already do that?

Silly,

Olive Rockfish

It started with a GOP-slanted article attacking Representative Al Doty’s support of the gas tax.  The article appeared in the View Point section of the Morrison County Record, but had no author attributed to it.  The Record’s policy states that it won’t accept unidentified opinion pieces.  From there, we got an explanation and an apology from the paper’s editor and general manager Tom West.  Turns out he had edited a press release submitted by the county Republicans.*

This week, in the Morrison County Record, we get Al Doty’s take on the situation with his letter to the editor.  We’ll let his letter speak for itself.

The water’s getting clearer,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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*P.S.  I’ve only linked to Al Doty’s letter here, rather than to the other stories, which are linked in this post on Fish Wrap.  There’s a reason for that.

When you hover over stories we have linked to that appeared in the Morrison County Record, the SnapShots window comes up with a little message.  It says, “Accessed Denied – We are sorry to inform you that your IP address has been blocked from this site due to possible malicious behavior.  Your IP address has been tracked visiting one or more websites and requesting content too frequently.  The number of . . . . ”  That’s where the message cuts off.

I can’t explain why the message is popping up, except that there must be some sort of blogging rule I missed about linking back to a news source too frequently and making commentary on it.  You’ll have to determine whether my commentary has indeed been malicious.  If you disagree with my views, you’ll probably think I’ve been malicious.  If you agree, you’ll likely not label me in that way.  Interesting how there are subtle ways to squelch free speech.

Even though the message is popping up, you should still be able to link through to the stories.

A couple of weeks ago, an article appeared in the Morrison County Record that had a decidedly Republican slant in the Viewpoint pages, but had no author attributed to it. I questioned that aspect of the article, as did Marge Young in last week’s Record. Well, Tom West, editor and general manager of the Record, has decided to come clean in his column in this week’s paper.

He explains that the article original came from Perry Nouis of the Morrison County Republicans and that he doctored it to show more of the DFL’s point of view. He was trying to achieve “balance,” but his attempt fell flat. Readers knew there was something not quite right about the article and called him on it. At least West had the guts and gumption to explain what had happened and to apologize for it.

Steady as he goes,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Her personal life took her away from the common daily routines she was accustom to, moving is always a big undertaking she thought as she wrapped stemware in the Wreckord. But just as she began crumpling sections of news print to pad her Spode Christmas China she noticed Tom West’s column, headlining himself in third person…again.

The headline read, False alarm makes him face up to his mortality. “Oh, for heaven sakes,” she said wiping her hands on her apron. As she skimmed the page she felt sorry to learn of Tom’s recent health scare and relieved to know that Tom’s heart was alright. All the same she wondered, is headlining ones self in 3rd person really necessary?  Did his headline have to include the proverbial he?  Wasn’t a headline that said, Facing up to Mortality, less schmaltzy?

As she placed the page under the dog food dish she wondered if other columnists headline themselves in third person and she set off to investigate. 

Lounging in Slippers on Friday,

Brooke Trout

Part 1: Tom West’s 3rd person reference

Part 2: Tom West in 3rd person, The Sequel

When the Morrison County Record decided to assemble an ECM Editorial Board I was kind of excited. I thought that the local paper was finally considering folding in a broader perspective. As a former news correspondent for the Record, I was keenly aware of what segments of my news stories were blotted clean so the reading public only knew what the editors wanted them to know and nothing more.

In one instance I included a blurb in a council meeting report where an elected official refused to read and review the town’s new zoning ordinances. The city clerk pushed the ordinances to each council person only to have the one member push the pile right back and say, I ain’t reading that. The clerk pushed the papers back and the council person returned the gesture more than twice. Since it happened during a public meeting I included the mini tug-o-war in my report. In the end the city clerk prevailed but the council person made it clear that he was only bringing the documents home he would not read them. In my story on the meeting I handled the skirmish with humor saying that the council person brought the ordinances home like an ill favored homework assignment.

My point wasn’t to embarrass the man; it was to offer the public an accurate snapshot of what took place during the meeting.  What’s more, I think anyone who knew the man would have assumed that he wouldn’t read a stack of ordinances. He was the sort of person who made no bones about what he would and wouldn’t do, my guess is that his “tell it like it is” qualities were what got him elected to public office in the first place. Naturally, all references of the incident were blotted by the papers assistant editor, even though he later transferred to a different ECM office, his actions spoke volumes.

The final straw was when I submitted a story on a local school district that went into Statutory Operating Debt (SOD). After writing a seamless and fluid story about the Department of Education’s (DOE) visit to the local school board meeting to discuss the implications of their SOD, I was mortified to find my story on the Records website completely altered. While I made a point of including the strengths that the DOE noted, I also highlighted the weaknesses that were identified during the meeting. For the most part the DOE’s financial officer couched his critique in sarcastic humor but on very specific issues he delivered very harsh, pointed criticism regarding the districts superintendent and school boards fiscal decision making. The story that posted on MC Records website had been wiped clean of negative reference. By pulling the negatives out of the story the financial officer from the DOE was made to sound like a cheerleader who rolled into town to say wow, you guys got a raw deal, bummer that this happened to you.  

I was furious because anyone who attended the meeting and read the story would know that it was kissed up and factually incorrect., worse yet my name was on it. On this occasion I called the assistant editor and said you can’t print that because it is incorrect.  The 2 assistant editors spent what seemed like several hours negotiating with the former editor in chief; eventually my original story was reassembled.

What astonished me was the amount of debate that ensued over the content; it was almost a framing session that encompassed…how do we want to make them look. To Assistant Editor Joyce Moran’s credit, she really went to bat for presenting news as opposed to framing the news to control public perception. Since the publication of that story it has appeared to me that Moran seems the most willing to add a quote to her news stories even if content doesn’t flatter the owner.

In the end the majority of what I originally wrote was put back into the story but stray words from the previous version were missed in the editing process and the final printed version that showed up in the paper was a messy and stilted rendition of the work I originally submitted. This was a tremendous disappointment because it was the biggest story I ever covered for the Record. I still cannot figure out why they didn’t just paste the original document back in. The disjointed flow of the story and stray words compromised the appearance of credibility and I had to wonder if maybe that was the point. It was the last time I wrote anything for the Record.

As I exited the Record, Tom West entered and the editorial board was formed in quick succession. I hoped that some of the issues I had with content censoring would become a thing of the past. With the institution of an editorial board I held great hope that a broader dialog could be adopted to offer the readership a broader context for the issues that touch everyday life.

Now that the editorial board has been in place for sometime, I confess that I’ve developed a Pavlovian gag reflex to their contributions. Instead of broadening the dialog the editorial board acts as the second defense line in the bid to sway public opinion and advance the agenda’s of those who are already being insulated by the paper. If our public schools look bad, Joe Nathan or the editorial board churns out a story blaming federal funding or pointing the finger at poor families for low test scores. What a sham. For that matter, what a shame and a sham. 

Here is last weeks contribution from ECM Editioral Board, as well as my commentary regarding that pile of horse hockey.

With Gills Gasping for Fresh Air,

Olive Rockfish

Link to Part One: Tom West’s 3rd Person Reference

Tom West in 3rd Person, The Sequel:

By morning it was sufficiently clear to her that she was making little progress towards house breaking her new companion. She frowned at the mess, then began collecting the soiled papers from the floor of the puppy’s kennel.  As she began covering the kennel floor with a fresh layer of newspaper, her solemn expression dissolved to a look of shock and bewilderment. She gasped, standing erect as she clutched a single page from the Wreckard.

The proof was now before her. Indeed, it was not an isolated incident as she had hoped; a second incident of the same pathological behavior was now before her. A second incident establishing a pattern of behavior…a history, there would be no denying it now. The headline read, “He is now officially a Morrison County resident.”

She could have forgiven Tom for one temporary lapse in judgment, but to pen consecutive stories headlining himself in 3rd person…casting the appearance of being noteworthy enough to be written about, the proverbial he. It was worse then pathological she sniffled, it was bad form.

Flapping in Slipper on Sunday,

Brooke Trout