Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Does the Ledger have an anti-Plainfield agenda?

Chart adapted from that posted by reporter
Luke Nozicka with the
Ledger story.

Does the Ledger have an anti-Plainfield agenda? Or is it just a victim of its own media management decisions?

A story ran on Sunday titled "Spike in homicides leaves NJ city reeling" (see article here). It details an effort by an Elizabeth activist, Salaam Ismiail, in conjunction with Councilors Gloria Taylor and Diane Toliver to form a grassroots anti-violence "coalition". (I put "coalition" in quotes because that suggests a group of organizations; the story does not detail any.)

The story is quite factual -- except for the omission of the fact that an arrest has been made in the killing of Willie Lee Major on West 4th Street, as reported by the Ledger itself here -- a major omission that might have changed the storyline.

What is bothersome is the quotes the reporter uses to characterize the situation. Councilor Gloria Taylor is quote as saying, "We're in a state of lawlessness."

Mr. Ismiail is quoted as saying he has asked for the city's police presence to be "beefed up", and further that "these shootings and murders are overwhelming" the city.

Police Director Riley's statement that "[the police] are working hard to combat all of these issues" was not given equal play or standing as the last word on the subject. And, on top of it all, the Ledger evidently never reached out to Mayor Adrian Mapp for his take on the issues.

Perhaps some of the problem is with the way "news" is approached these days.

Back in the day, the newspapers assigned "beat" reporters and Plainfield had one each from the Courier and the Ledger. The advantage was that these reporters got to know the community, its issues, and its players quite well through frequent interactions. They knew when someone was "telling it like it is" and when someone was blowing smoke.

Nowadays, the situation is much different. There are no longer beat reporters in the old sense. Instead, reporters are given enormous territories (like a whole county assigned to one person) into which they helicopter here and there to do a story when assigned by an editor who is even more unattached to the circumstances on the ground.

No one has in-depth knowledge of the facts on the ground or the context of local political situations. (In fact, separate Ledger reporters have filed Plainfield stories within the past two weeks.)

Is the situation in Plainfield serious? Yes. Is it being taken seriously? I think so, but you wouldn't know from this story.

It Plainfield in a state of lawlessness, as Gloria Taylor asserts? Or being overwhelmed as Mr. Ismiail holds? Nothing in the story supports those allegations, though they are left unchallenged.

To return to my original question: Does the Ledger have an "anti-Plainfield agenda"?

Perhaps not, but the effect of degraded journalistic practices is felt by readers who are looking for serious reportage.

As one of my favorite old American sayings goes, "It does not matter if the jug hits the rock or the rock hits the jug; it's the jug that suffers."

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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