So I thought I would add my bit to today’s Town Talk editorial opinion piece by Cynthia Jardon:

Now, I don’t find it odd that Ms. Jardon reads CenLamar. We do, after all, read the TT, opposing blogs, agreeing blogs, local, national, and international publications, and all sorts of other online sources. It’s how you know what’s going on and how you learn what others are thinking — whether you agree with them or not.

I personally think that CenLamar, particularly under Lamar’s guidance, has been quite careful not to criticize The Town Talk (in general) and, in particular, Cynthia Jardon (personally) too heavily because she and the paper’s staff do have to answer to the corporate giant that owns The Town Talk. I know he’s personally encouraged me not to be too hard on her in the past.

However, today, The Town Talk did two interesting things. First, they attempted to defend their right-leaning position by pointing out that only the “Our View” section is the Paper’s Editorial and thus the opinion of record. Yet that “Our View,” often authored by Jardon, has, for the past several years, been almost universally conservative and right-leaning in its slant. In addition to “Our View,” the paper often includes editorials by Mr. Carty — the TT’s Editor in Chief. Now I must ask, when the Editor of the paper uses a page of copy to express his personal views, is that not also an editorial or official opinion of the paper?

Adding to this, the paper selects syndicated columnists to provide opinionated input, as well as opinions from other regions. These are almost always very conservative. And, rarely do they focus on local issues.

Now is there anything wrong with presenting conservative opinions or opinion pieces that some readers may find too far right-leaning for their liking? No. Not at all.

However, the standard for Op/Ed sections for most of the modern journalistic era has been that opinions and editorials are presented as opposing pairs. A view for an issue is generally mated with an opposing view against that issue, leaving the reader to use their own brain to determine the best of the two.

The Town Talk did this at one time, sometimes they even included opposing editorials from among their own staff — fiery debates from informed journalists with the integrity to present both sides of an issue.

Prior to The Town Talk‘s purchase by Gannett, the paper was also officially politically independent. Of course these days, The Town Talk very ardently selects their candidate of choice, slants its reporting toward that candidate, and eventually (long after it becomes obvious) endorses that candidate. Their track record of late has been amazing: Bobby Jindal for his “ethics,” Mike Slocum for his “track record,” and John McCain. Here we are 6 months after the election, and they are still politicking for McCain by disparaging much of Obama presents as bad for the people of CenLa (with no opposing view).

A second thing that has increasingly annoyed me in recent years has been Ms. Jardon’s selection of “Your View” letters for print.  One would hope that The Town Talk receives far more letters from readers than they have room to print.  But the fact that they have given near syndication to the extremist views of ultra-rightwing contributors such as Ruth Barden and Francis Elliot makes the reader wonder what opinions The Town Talk is truly interested in; what is the difference between being a serial (published) letter writer and a columnist?  Along with this, they have printed article after article with certain views, but only a fraction opposing those views.  Some would surely argue that our community is simply that much more conservative than the rest of the country on these issues, but our demographics and reader responses on The Town Talk‘s own forums tell us otherwise.  During the recent presidential election, The Town Talk even chose to publish numerous “Your View” pieces from contributors in completely different parts of the country.  I find it hard to believe that people in small towns in Iowa and North Carolina just happen to be such avid readers of  The Town Talk that they felt the need to express their political views in a Central Louisiana paper.  What’s even more amazing is that every single one of these “views” were always very conservative in nature.  This sort of pattern is alarming.

Interestingly, Ms. Jardon failed to defend The Town Talk‘s integrity or neutrality in her piece. Instead, she used her most valuable weekly printed real estate — her Sunday column, to personally attack Lamar and this blog and blogging in general. Perhaps the tone of Lamar’s three paragraphs about the TT being shut out of the awards was a bit snarky. But for the opinion editor of the local paper of record to use her most important weekly column to discuss and disparage this blog is an incredible response.

First, Ms. Jardon fails to recognize the pride that a community (this blog’s writers included) have for their local newspaper. Choosing not to even enter award’s competitions robs the community of a major piece of local pride.

The Town Talk did another thing today. Enmeshed in Ms. Jardon’s semi-personal, semi-attacks of Lamar, the paper of record for Central Louisiana gave official recognition to what many would consider the blog of record for our region.

It leaves me to ask, if blogs are the minor player, the amateur non-journalists that the newspaper industry argues they are, then why did a major regional publication owned and controlled by one of the nation’s biggest media companies spend their editorial resources of the week telling everyone in Cenla about one?

So thank you Town Talk for recognizing the competition…

10 thoughts

  1. Just for the record, I did not consult with Drew about this piece. I did not ask him to post anything in defense of this blog or of me.

    Contrary to Ms. Jardon’s central thesis, this blog has consistently differentiated between the Our View editorials, letters, and guest columns, and I have always appreciated the difference; I challenge her to prove otherwise, instead of just daisy-chaining out-of-context quotations. I may have used the word “editorial” in describing certain commentary on the paper, particularly when it’s written by an editor of the newspaper, but I’ve always understood the “official” Our Views– and what they represent (endorsing Tea Parties, slamming DC representation, etc.). However, considering the placement of Ms. Jardon’s column today, front and center, other readers may not make the distinction between what one editor writes and what the paper “officially” endorses, based merely on the tagline.

    Regarding the Louisiana Press Association awards, I DO think it’s embarrassing for the paper to have been excluded, perhaps even more embarrassing now that we know they didn’t even try. But in my post about the awards, I clearly questioned whether or not they had actually entered the competition, which Ms. Jardon failed to acknowledge.

    But here’s what really gets me: This blog is not about promoting my job with the Mayor. A couple of years ago, when I was working in property management with my mother, I wrote a lot about a guy who was running for Mayor who I had only just met. He won, he hired me, and he didn’t ask me to shut down my blog. He’s never directed me on what to post. He’s not a regular reader and has never contributed.

    Incidentally, I read a post by Mr. Aymond regarding this. Mr. Aymond has a right to rant all he wants to about me and my blog being a mouthpiece for the Mayor. The truth is this: Since he was elected, I have never blogged or published anything concerning internal policy or political decisions at the City.

    Mr. Aymond had requested an interview with the Mayor for his blog a few months ago, and I was assigned to issue an e-mail response to him and those he included in his request. I did not post anything about Mr. Aymond or his request, and again, the response to his request was delivered via e-mail. There is no conspiracy against him, particularly on this blog, which links to him and sends him daily traffic. (I happen to disagree with him on a number of fundamental issues, but I can disagree without being disagreeable, though I suppose I also have my line).

    Either way, the point is this: Drew, Sharon, and I all write for ourselves. This is free commentary, folks, and as they say, you get what you pay for. This is a hobby of mine, a way of connecting with people in and outside of our community. It is not a “propaganda arm,” and it is not an extension of my job.

    So… when Ms. Jardon decided to reference only one name in connection with my website- the Mayor’s name and not mine, I thought it was particularly disingenuous, especially from a newspaper that sent me a cease and desist letter for not referencing them in a photo credit.

  2. Lamar,

    RE: The Town Talk

    Clarence Page maketh not a Town Talk “fair,””balanced,” or “independent.”

    That said, I found Jardon’s attempt to turn you and your blog into a whipping post pathetic. She couldn’t even muster the cojones to mention or address you directly. Her integrity as a journalist/opinion writer translates into weak innuendo — a nod, a wink, and a little self-congratulatory narcissism. Distilling her piece down to one sentence this is what I could discern: “See how clever I am showing that mean, ill-informed, little blog-head what writing an opinion is really all about.” Like I wrote before, pathetic, if not also a bit petty.

  3. Lamar,

    Please don’t take this as a criticism…but given the huge laundry list of issues, problems, challenges, opportunities, etc that we are facing, she chose to devote her Sunday Editorial to you. You must have much more influence than than you give yourself credit for, or they are completely out of touch. Either way, they lose!

  4. Darren, thank you for your comments. I have been overwhelmed by the number of Facebook messages, Twitters, and text messages concerning Ms. Jardon’s piece, sent in from people from all walks of life.

    The truth is: Yes, we do have many more pressing issues, and it’s really a shame the paper would elect to dedicate so much print space in order to coyly attack me and, by extension, people who contribute to this website.

    That said, despite my retorts, I have the utmost respect for Ms. Jardon; I always have. I hope that we can engage in a conversation with one another without disparaging one another personally or professionally.

    Others may disagree, but that is how I feel. I know Ms. Jardon to be a true champion for her community; we simply disagree with one another on national issues and on the balance of opinions as presented on her section of the paper.

    Sure, I thought it was somewhat of a cheap shot to take aim at the Mayor for things I have said, particularly in a column that, above all, attempted to underline our INDIVIDUAL right to freedom of speech. It’s as if the paper wants to move an opinion piece into the news section, thereby artificially manufacturing a news story– not about the real issues at hand but about my blog.

    They should be bigger than this, as you imply. I am only challenging them because I revere the institution– and all that it means for our community.

    Once upon a time, I actually wrote a weekly column for the paper, as a Youth Council columnist, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Let me also say this: Town Talk, I would gladly pay for online content from your newspaper. I understand the cost of developing news content, and frankly, I don’t think it’s completely fair to the good people who work the paper to be forced to give away their product for free.

    Still, remember, as Frank Rich said, “Opinions are cheap.”

  5. The Town Talk charging for access to their online content? Sorry, Lamar, but the newspapers need to realize that folks now have many, many places to go for their news online, most of which are FREE. Charging for online access will only serve to push even more people away from the Town Talk, and in search of blogs like this one that do some reporting on local issues. Hell, charging for online access will likely persuade some enterprising young muckraker to start up a news blog focused on the CenLA region, directly competing with the Town Talk.

    1. Ryan, I agree with Bret on this issue. Developing and reporting the news costs money, and for better or worse, the vast majority of blogs heavily rely on newspapers for their content.

      Newspapers only have two options: They can continue to deliver their content online for free, while charging their print readership for the same content, and continue failing. OR they can wake up to the fact that their readership is PRIMARILY online and begin charging for online content as well.

      The music industry woke up to this already, and though it may have not been popular at the time, I, for one, don’t have a problem paying for an album or a song. Sure, a few years ago, it was awesome to download whatever you wanted from Napster, but I also understand why it was important for the music industry to push for clearly defining the legal methods for online delivery of their product.

      The solution isn’t as easy as a young, enterprising blogger simply replacing the newspaper; there’s not enough money in online ads to create sustainable, localized, and professional blog “news” sites, particularly in small to mid-sized markets like Alexandria.

      The newspaper industry should band together and develop a suitable and affordable online delivery system, with the flexibility of allowing bloggers their right to reference their product (though they should not relinquish basic “fair use” standards; too many blogs are just regurgitations and/or aggregations of the paper’s daily content).

      With all due respect, I also believe the future of news is online; it’s in the cards. But instead of viewing the newspaper industry as a dinosaur that will surely become extinct, we should view it as an industry with enormous profit margins and considerable resources that has yet to fully recognize or understand the explosive potential of the Internet in engaging consumers and has been, at the same time, undermined by a corporatist profit model that, instead of embracing the blogosphere, seems to despise it.

      My DNC pal Athenae from First Draft is spot on when she writes:

      If there was no Internet, if Craigslist disappeared tomorrow, if nobody ever blogged again, the greed, shortsightedness and selfishness that looks at a 40 percent profit margin and cries poverty – as was the case at some Gannett newspaper properties this year – would still smother newspaper journalism eventually.

      The Town Talk can make a ton of money; by most standards, a 20% return is tremendous. Apparently, that is what they made a year ago (according to GannettBlog). But when you’re expected to make 30% or 40% returns, you’re forced to cut costs… and usually, the first people to get pink slips work in the newsroom. Without the resources to develop news stories, a paper loses credibility. This is doubly hurt when a paper takes divisively partisan editorial positions without balanced counter-criticism.

      Basically, the industry needs to completely rethink its priorities and reorganize its corporate structure, perhaps opening up massive amounts of preferred stock to local investors in order to ensure sustained viability, independent of the success of a single corporate behemoth (I don’t know necessarily how this would work, but increased local ownership seems important).

      Somehow, someone will read this and call me a socialist.

  6. Drew —

    There is a major difference between a “column” and an “editorial.” Like you said, you’re a non-journalist fringe blogger, so I wouldn’t expect you to know the difference. Paul Carty’s columns are his opinion — not the official stance of the paper. Sure, a lot of times those would be one and the same. Not always though. I’ve written both columns and editorials, and the approach for each is totally different. It’s much easier for me to write my opinion. It’s a totally different beast to think beyond my own opinions and encompass the paper’s stance.

    Ryan —

    If papers would charge for online content, and everyone decided it wasn’t worth the investment, where do you think all of the bloggers and online “news” sources would get their information? Newspapers giving away their product for free has been one of the worst decisions of all time.

    Lamar —

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog off and on through the years. I regret I didn’t have the opportunity to meet you while I was in Cenla. My only suggestion to you: Just like you said many readers don’t know the difference between the “Our View” and a column, many people won’t distinguish between who is writing what at a site that has your name on it. This is CenLamar.com — no matter who’s actually writing.

    1. Bret,

      Thanks for taking the time to insult us and attempt to completely twist the point of this post into yet another attack on grassroots journalism. Exactly where in my original post have I claimed to be a “non-journalist” or a “fringe blogger”?

      In your supposedly vast experience in writing editorials, opinions, and various other ramblings that apparently give you the required clout to question the journalistic integrity of this site and its contributors, have you often made it a practice to completely fabricate quotes from your targets?

      Just for your records I do in fact consider myself a journalist as much as I consider any citizen willing to research a topic, weigh the facts, and present his findings to his peers and others in an objective way with the hope of spreading knowledge, raising awareness, and encouraging dialog.

      Many in the traditional media establishment fear the new landscape of journalism in which trained (yes I actually am trained in journalism (gasp)) and untrained grassroots journalists take the reigns into their own hands and fill gaps in news coverage, investigation, and discussion that have been for years ignored by newspapers and television. If newspapers and print journalists were more worried about journalism than profit chasing, they would not now be forced to chase after readership which they are constantly losing to forms such ad this blog.

      I fear that in your rush to disparage this blog and to insult its writers that you have entirely failed to grasp or respond to the actual point of this entire debate: newspapers have failed their readers. Journalists gave forsaken the very ideals that once led them to pursue their occupation as reporters, and in particular, the Town Talk had failed Cenla.

      We do not wish for the Town Talk to fail. In fact we long for the return of our area’s once great paper, one with a independent voice which investigated the wrongs, touted the good, and objectively debated the changing dynamics if our community.

      Times haves changed. The fact that I am writing this comment on my phone – something unimaginable. Few years ago is testament to that. The journalistic community must embrace it’s evolving world and change with it. Attacks upon those who lead the change (such as your comment) are both immature and unsettling, as they signal that change from the establishment may come too late if at all.

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