Friends across the river report that the only time they hear any news about New Albany, it's bad news. The Courier-Journal fails miserably in covering the Southern Indiana arts scene, so event announcements, civic club activities, and other items that would and could be important for folks separated from us by the river go unreported.
IU Southeast gets short shrift. Businesses large and small are treated as insignificant if they are located in Southern Indiana, especially if the matter is important to the region. Such news only makes it into the Indiana "section" of the Indiana editions of the C-J.
I put "section" in quotes because the typical 8 pages include maybe 2 pages of local news and some slapped-together Indiana wire copy on a third page.
And yet, every Southern Indiana subscriber is guaranteed to know about every development if it's happening in a Kentucky zip code.
Indiana Weekly is inserted on Wednesdays (and distributed separately, according to rumor), so every event competes for coverage on one single day, whether it's timely or not.
That's why I and others are so ardently hoping for a renascent Tribune and Evening News to fill the void. As an advertiser, it is in my vested interest that The Tribune, in particular, become an essential read for anyone on this side of the river. Their goal, as I read it, is to make that so, and then if you have a particular need to find out something specifically about Kentucky because you work there or still have family there, you can make the C-J your "second" paper.
The problem is exacerbated by the neglect that the editors of the Louisville paper show toward the New Albany/Floyd County beat. Clearly, the only way government beat writer Ben Zion Hershberg can get good placement in the paper is to sensationalize his coverage of local government.
I don't blame Ben. It is the neglect shown by his superiors that constitutes my beef with the Gannett company. His editors don't worry about whether his stories are accurate. Their only view of New Albany is Ben's. The idea that what Hershberg reports bears little resemblance to reality has probably never crossed their minds.
They reward Ben because his snarky attack style is fun to read. It doesn't matter to the C-J executives that it paints a picture that is misleading. It doesn't matter to the C-J that it is slanted to reflect the views of Ben's anonymous and not-so-anonymous informants. Ben's stories present "a view askew," a view that is tainted by the reporter's sloppiness with quotations and his allegiance to crackpots who can always be counted on to launch baseless accusations.
It's good copy and his editors don't have a clue whether it's true or untrue. When Ben's stories make the front pages, his editors recognize them as similar to great investigative stories they've heard about in journalism school. They never question whether they are true.
So Ben does what any ambitious reporter will do. He shades his story to make piddly mistakes into crimes of great magnitude. He then goes out to find someone, anyone, who will give him a quote to support his slant on the story. Remember the "lady at a bus stop" who Ben asked about the issues facing New Albany's sanitation operations? No context, no analysis, just a supporting pull quote. From there, Ben proceeded to paint the reconstruction of the sanitation department as something that many (Ben's words) in the community oppose.
He did much the same during the years of struggle to make the Scribner Place redevelopment project a reality.
I speak not from a partisan or Partisan perch. I speak from experience. As I tried to find out how and why things work or don't work in this town, I relied on the local newspapers, including the Courier-Journal. My bad.
One trip to a New Albany City Council meeting, which in 2005 have been marked by contentiousness, vilification, slander, and near-criminal neglect by the Gang of Four, and certainly an abdication of representative responsibility, is all it will take for you to discover that the Courier-Journal and Ben Zion Hershberg are not serving you with the truth.
I have observed closely. I've asked questions. I've reported on what actually happens in this city, and increasingly in Floyd County as a whole. What I've observed bears no resemblance to what Ben reports. Don't believe me? Join me Thursday and see how a city council meeting goes. Then read Hershberg's report the next day.
That's how Ben gets rewarded. He won't stop now.
Volunteer Hoosier calls on the C-J to reassign Hershberg to another beat and to put a reporter with integrity in place in Floyd County. Today's overblown non-story is typical Hershberg. Using the "hook" of a returned audit of the New Albany Township Trustee's operations, he paints a picture for readers throughout the region. KY readers again hear only bad news.
The slant, snark, and words from Ben mimic award-winning journalism. But a careful reading reveals that Mr. Tom Cannon has done nothing of substance wrong. An audit is a report by technicians on just how far off the perfect mark an operation is hitting. From my reading, there is no story.
A driveway was built alongside the township fire hall, a condition requested by planning authorities. A building was built without using an engineer or architect. A travel expense reimbursement was rejected. No, Tom Cannon's operations aren't perfect, but they are far from the dereliction of duty implied in Ben Hershberg's coverage.
Complaints by political opponents have been referred to a government attorney in neighboring Clark County. In Ben's telling, Cannon is "under investigation by a special prosecutor."
It would pretty simple to rewrite Ben's lead to reflect the truth with another slant. It happens all the time.
ITEM: "Long-time political opponents of New Albany Township Trustee Tom Cannon are citing a recent report from state auditors as evidence that Cannon is mismanaging the trustee's office.
Although the audit highlights minor problems with recordkeeping and questions some expenditures, observers note that the personal animosity of the Township Advisory Board has led that body to make a routine financial report into a cudgel to use against Cannon just one year before the next election."
That story is equally valid. It, too, would make the front page, and would be a great launching point to discuss how the vitriol from the advisory board makes their contribution to township affairs little more than political posturing.
But the C-J gets Ben's slant, buys it as gospel, and reinforces the belief that New Albany is Yokelville, USA, filled with corrupt politicians, shady dealings, and an electorate powerless to change things.
Hey, Ben's chosen his side. It's time for the C-J to send a reporter who doesn't take sides. VH won't be linking to C-J stories until then. Our friends at NA Confidential may feel comfortable peddling Ben's trash as "news." From this keyboard, I won't be bothering.
Although Ben's stories provide a limited view into the minds of his sponsors and informants, they do not provide news fit to reprint, much less news to which I would refer you.
---------------------------------------Take the Challenge
October 20, 2005
Third Floor Assembly Room
City County Building
The Common Council of the City of New Albany meets at 7:30 p.m. They will often hold public hearings 15 minutes prior to their scheduled meetings.
Come to the meeting. Take your own notes. Read the faces, hear the words, and measure the mood. Then read the newspaper coverage the next day.
Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Other upcoming City Council meetings:
November 7th and 17th
December 5th and 15th
The jockeying for selection of a new president of the council should be fascinating. I'm hearing that a deal has already been cut to oust current president Jeff Gahan of the city's 6th District. My question is "Why?" And who's making the deal? And in exchange for what?