Sunday, August 10, 2008

News Story With a "Rider" Adds Up to a Lot of Bull

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a rider to a bill. It's an unrelated provision tacked onto an existing piece of proposed legislation. By bundling it with a popular bill, it gives unpopular pieces of legislation a better chance to pass.

I think Wendy McCaw's News-Press just might have introduced the concept of a rider to a news story.

Sunday's paper carried a story, written by associate editor Scott Steepleton, that opened up with this lead:

At the same time the union representing newsroom employees at the Santa Barbara News-Press has ratcheted up its economic assault on the paper, urging businesses to stop advertising over what it calls bad faith bargaining on the part of parent company Ampersand Publishing LLC, the paper finds itself the target of another attack intended to bleed its coffers, this time involving fraudulent checks.

Given the fact that the story ran under the headline, "News-Press target of check scam," one would assume that there was a connection between the bad checks and the Teamsters.

There's not.

The article went on to describe a fake check scam in which, evidently, checks purporting to be written on a News-Press account were used to purchase items offered on craigslist. It involved a buyer using a forged check in an amount exceeding the sale price to pay for the item and asking the purchaser to wire the excess back to the buyer. After they would do so, they would find out that the buyer's check was no good. And by the way, none of the attempts to pass the phony checks occurred in Santa Barbara.

The article then went on to state:

While all of this was going on, businesses around Santa Barbara at the beginning of July were being visited by representatives of the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, urging them to stop advertising with the paper and urging customers to stop spending their money at those businesses.

They may as well have said something like, "this all occurred during the annual two week Semana Nautica Sports festival taking place at different venues around town." After all, that had about as much to do with the check fraud scam as anything the Teamsters were doing at the time.

In response to my request for a comment, Union attorney Ira Gottlieb had this to say"

This is unethical journalism by Mr. Steepleton, presumably approved by his superiors. Though his article offers no facts concerning the union's involvement in anything unlawful or improper, he nevertheless invites the reader to join him and SBNP management in their netherworld of anti-union charges which invariably collapse amidst a lack of any facts, or in this instance, reason to mention the union in an article about an alleged scam.

Injecting the paper's labor dispute into this story about an unrelated check scam is totally gratuitous, unless the News-Press is hoping for guilt by association.

And considering the fact that, according to the article, the News-Press actually didn't lose any money from the check scam, I have to ask myself whether this story is really newsworthy?

I'm sure that you, like me, get plenty of spam e-mail from Nigeria carrying subject lines like, "You've just one the Royal Sweepstakes!" or "Business Proposal, Mutual Trust." I don't record those occurrences in my blog, why should the News-Press write it up in the paper?

I think the News-Press ought to do what you and I do, get over it.

But then again, Wendy McCaw isn't about to pass up an opportunity to try to play the victim in order to get sympathy from her readers, or to bash the Teamsters Union.