Monday, May 12, 2008

Press Release reporting

I chuckled when Governor Benigno R. Fitial's press release on the signing of PL 110-229 (S.2739), the CNMI immigration bill, was published as an opinion piece in the Saipan Tribune. The end of an era indeed.

I first ran across the 'letter to the Editor' when I stopped by Unheard No More. I couldn't resist commenting that “I don't get it. Who is the press statement aimed at? The issues are settled and he's still arguing against the legislation." *

Oh. Question answered; it was for local consumption. The 'run against Washington' thing.

Please release me

You see, I'd expected to see it run, word-for-word, as a news story. That's the pattern with the Saipan Tribune. The Marianas Variety and the Pacific Daily News did do what you'd expect: they quoted from it extensively and added background.

I understand what the Tribune is doing. First, of course, is the need for fewer reporters. That's even more important now that profits aren't padded with pages of imaginary job announcements. (It's interesting, and a little scary, to see how few real job offers are being advertised now that openings for guest workers aren't included.)

I don't even mind for Public Service Announcements and that sort of thing—though it's boring to see identical stories in both local papers (and, yes, I'm aware of the Pacific Times. They make the old Commonwealth Examiner look like the pre-Gannett Detroit Free Press.

Persons of (self) interest

On the other hand... persons or organizations they agree with are often allowed to use the news-hole as a soapbox. Reporting, done properly, is supposed to temper exaggerations and add information the writer doesn't necessarily want included. You know, all of that noble Fourth Estate stuff.

The Tribune is part of Tan Holdings, of course. There's nothing wrong with that and it's well-known locally so there's some built-in skepticism. Still, the practice troubles me, particularly because the Tribune dominates in Saipan and CNMI stories on the internet. “Outside' readers are missing that datum. Do a search and you'll see what I mean.

Some stories in the Variety just never show up in the Tribune, but I don't really think reporters are told what to write.

Read between the deadlines

It doesn't have to be that overt. Any employee knows who writes their check. That would easily explain the few biased stories I've read with a by-line. It's easier, and easier on reporters' credibility, to just run press releases.

It's personal preference, of course, but I think Assistant Editor Mark Rabago is the best reporter working on Saipan right now. I've ragged on malaprops in Agnes Donato stories a few times, but she's improved tremendously. It's not about the reporters to me.

The spice of life

But that's a system I don't trust, which is why I hope the Variety survives our current troubles. It's a different voice, valuable even when I disagree with some antediluvian views. And have no doubt, the Tribune is meant to destroy the Variety. That's competition, but Willie Tan once told me he was going to start his own newspaper to “put (Publisher Abed) Younis out of business.”

The conversation was about poker machines, and a Variety story that claimed the limited number of machines allowed then were allocated to government officials or their families. I was teasing a current and a former Department head about the piece.

Internet buzz?

That's all swimming around in my head when I read the Tribune. I usually buy both papers so I can read the ads. On the internet the Tribune is a good source, plus the Variety is unwillingly and hesitantly entering the internet age. Links, sometimes stories, disappear and the server is easily overwhelmed. They don't seem to 'ping' the aggregators when they publish.

Bad planning, in my view. Very few small communities have 2 ½ newspapers. Big-city U.S. papers are cutting staff and shutting down. Cutting-edge companies are looking for internet revenue to make up for falling sales, one has even quit publishing on paper.

I mentioned this to Variety Editor Zaldy Dandan and he said they were published for a local audience, adding that some of the Tribune's bells-and-whistles were too expensive. I hope he's right.

*I agree with some of his arguments, just shake my head at others. But they're moot, so there's no sense in wasting our time on that is there?


Jeff said...

"the Tribune dominates in Saipan"

I don't buy into that at all. The Variety has been around a lot longer and isn't hamstrung by the Tan affiliation. The Tribune looks prettier, though the Variety has improved the look a touch of late in both print and online. Both have screw ups from time to time that annoy me, but the Variety is more aggressive and critical. The Tribune has far more columnists, but not one of them are as knowledgeable about the issues as Z, or cut to the chase as he does. In fact, I'm amazed that so many can say so little about the real issues on the island. The Tribune's editorial presence isn't worth a warm bucket of spit in my opinion. A lot of their ads are just from other Tan Holdings as well. And I'm amazed to see Ron Hodges putting money into Tan's pockets with his daily ads.

KAP said...

dominates... on the internet Just a fact. The Variety seldom pops up in my searches.

With no audited figures it's hard to tell which sells more copies and there's a lot more passaround than you'd see in most places.

and... the Tribune plays at not having an editorial presence: jest columnists and 0p-ed thenk yew. Of course, my point is that it's just hidden in the news.

Hodges, well that's bidness.

Jeff said...

The MV shows up in Google News now. It didn't for a while. The Tribune doesn't dominate here, and frankly no one away from here much gives a damn about this whole region.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

It is best to read both, and I buy them rather than rely on the truncated on-line versions. You miss a lot on-line.

I've noticed that the Variety is getting smaller while the Tribune is getting bigger (number of consistent pages published wise)over the last couple of years.

Ad income is vital, and to say that Trib ads are just Tan companies is inaccurate. There are lots of ads in there from many sources. I have noticed a diminution of ads in the Variety. I have no idea whether that is circulation driven.

It seems to me that the Variety will still be here in the CNMI offering another view, not because they are becoming more successful here, the opposite is true generally, but because they have a Micronesia wide presence and a Micronesia wide focus.

Hey, they started 33 years ago on a mimeograph's probably still there somewhere in a storeroom.

Question to ferret out the newbies: Who can describe the smell of a mimeograph? What color does it print? (:-))