A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The tenth anniversary of the Jourtinel

Milwaukee used to be a two newspaper town, the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Milwaukee Journal. Of course, they were owned by the same company, Journal Communications, Inc., so the two papers were often hard to distinguish from one another, except that the Sentinel came out in the morning, and the Journal in the afternoon. In 1995, Journal Communications decided to end the pretense that the two were autonomous entities and merged them into one paper-- the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or Jourtinel for short.

Happy anniversary Jourtinel!

Here's my anniversary present to you-- I will be doing occassional, random surveys of your coverage to see if the liberal bias is as bad at the Jourtinel as I suspect it to be. For the sake of simplicity, I will mostly be looking at the Sunday editorial section, known as Crossroads, with the occassional highlighting of particularly bad, or particularly balanced, examples elsewhere in the paper. As we look at Crossroads, bear in mind that last fall O. Ricardo Pimentel, the Editorial Page Editor, formed an advisory board from members of the public who volunteered for the position. The intent of the advisory board was to help ensure that the editorial coverage was even-handed and representative.

Okay, so first up, last Sunday's Crossroads section, which contained twelve articles and ten letters to the editor. The twelve articles are as follows:

Front page:
  • "We owe it to our families to talk now about what we would want," Ellen Goodman
  • "Laws must be obeyed, but legal system must be consistent," Cal Thomas
  • "Serendipity often determines if death is natural," Anne Applebaum
  • "Brookfields' battle latest in municipal mayhem," John Gurda

    Page 2:
  • "100 dead trout and a modest proposal," Melissa Scanlan

  • Page 3:
  • "Bush's covert PR effort doesn't differ all that much from FDR's," Mordacai Lee
  • "The Bush administration spins, and journalists slack off," Kansas City Star Editorial Board
  • "Syria's bad-guy role can spoil U.S. script in Mideast drama," Senior diplomatic correspondent of USA Today

    Page 4:
  • "A federal jury confirms: This game is still rigged," Gregory Stanford
  • "Social Security reform about more than repair," Patrick McIlheran
  • The editorial board's recommendation to vote for Elizabeth Burmaster for Superintendent of Public Schools, to vote for the Racine school referendum, and to vote against the Waukesha school referendum.

    Page 5:
  • "Enact a cap on damage awards," Sally Pipes
  • "How about capping medical errors?" Michael Saks

    Page 5 also had the Letters to the Editor, which broke down this way:
  • On Terri Schiavo, four letters ripped Bush and/or Congress, one ripped Jesse Jackson, and one was in favor of the attempts to circumvent the judiciary.
  • The other four were on scattered topics, with one ripping Bush's energy programs, one arguing that papers aren't liberal just because 70% of all journalists consider themselves to be liberal, one arguing that the proposed $1 tax on cigarettes in Wisconsin is a terrible idea, and one trying to make some sort of point on cloning and failing miserably.

    The score then?

    The Jourtinel did a good job on the Schiavo case, presenting a liberal (Goodman), conservative (Thomas) and neutral (Applebaum) viewpoint. The counterpoint on medical malpractice (Pipes and Saks) was also balanced. Stanford's (liberal) bashing and condescension toward a recent ruling against former Milwaukee police chief Arthur Jones was balanced by McIlheran's (conservative) thoughtful piece on Social Security. The Gurda piece on Brookfield, and the non-point pollution pieces are fairly neutral, though I'd say skewed slightly left, with no counter-argument presented.

    Which leaves the Page 3 pieces, two of which are critical of Bush and his policies, and one of which is fairly neutral, but has a negative headline, and the letters which are heavily skewed to the left. Add on to that the board's endorsement of Burmaster-- a wholly owned subsidiary of the WEAC (the teacher's union)-- and their support of the referendum in Racine (thankfully shot down despite the Jourtinel).

    Not to worry, Troy, I won't generalize from this one example. I think I'll do this every week, actually. Should be interesting. The total by my accounting (which I will grant you is biased by my own impressions and predispositions):

    Conservative articles: 3
    Liberal articles: 6 (Including the Burmaster endorsement)
    Neutral/balanced articles: 4

    Separate category for the letters:

    Conservative: 1
    Liberal: 6
    Neutral: 3

    I am using Conservative/Liberal/Neutral as catch all categories. A Conservative article could be pro-administration, pro-conservative viewpoint, anti-Democrat, or anti-liberal viewpoint. Liberal articles are anti-administration, pro-liberal viewpoint, anti-Republican or pro-Democrat. Neutral articles are, well neutral-- possibly because they deal with issues separate from politics, or because they attempt to present a balanced picture of the situation.

    Clear as mud? Good.
  • Comments:
    All seen through the deeply colored lenses of your favorite glasses?

    The very act of observing something, changes it, right? I would submit that you cannot truly see bias, because you see it only from your point of view.
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