Sunday, September 23, 2007

First, Find a Truly Independent Jurist

[Media] Let's get one thing straight. We love Salt Lake City's McCarthey family. We really do. The longtime former owners of The Salt Lake Tribune are looking better all the time since William Dean "Dinky" Singleton took over the paper with his Media News corporate robots (all the glassy-eyed top editors, recruited elsewhere from Dean’s chain, consistently refer to the Tribune as "the product" – even in casual conversation. To them, it might as well be a revised line of microwave popcorn or a new brand of pantyhose. Need any more evidence of automaton management?)

So we were especially happy to get a news release this week announcing an essay contest in conjunction with the annual McCarthey Family Lecture Series: In Praise of an Independent Press. Last year, the McCartheys brought in former UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas to extol the virtues of speaking (and writing) our minds; this year, the Oct. 20 headliner is blogging diva and one of John Saltas’ favorite Greeks, Arianna Huffington. Should be a great speech.

The 400-word essay contest, according to the news release, must be an original response to the topic “What Independent Journalism Means to Me.”

We did find it a tad bit ironic that the judge’s panel for the contest is made up exclusively of current and former mainstream, daily newspaper journalists. Nary a one has written for an altie paper. Not a political blogger among them, either (cripes—what would Arianna say?). The panel is: Vern Anderson, editorial page editor of the Tribune; Lois Collins, staff writer and editorial page columnist for the Deseret Morning News; Lex Hemphill, retired sports writer for the Trib; and Nancy Melich, retired arts writer for the Trib. Hemphill and Melich are now actively engaged in community, artistic and progressive causes.

Mary Kay Lazarus, a spokeswoman for the lecture series, responded to my query about “where are the indie journalists on the judge’s panel?” with a courteous e-mail:

“We did not define 'independent' as 'alternative' but rather as reporting in terms of integrity, courage, and talent - attributes shared by those (including certainly yourself) in both mainstream and alternative press. Arianna (like Helen Thomas, our first annual speaker and Anderson Cooper, our next), is certainly mainstream now but remains one of the most independent representatives of reporting we have.The only print advertising we did - as an FYI -was in City Weekly and we shall do so again this time because of the wonderfully independent spirit, mission and readership of your publication.”

But I think she misunderstood. It isn’t the speakers whose independence I challenged. It’s the judges of the essay contest. Wouldn’t at least one indie blogger be welcomed on the panel? It’s supposed to be a big tent, after all. (Holly Mullen)

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