DEAR READER: Responding to allegations about 'usual suspects'

Friday, January 29, 2010 | 4:09 p.m. CST; updated 10:23 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dear Reader,

Mike Martin isn’t bashful about bashing the Columbia Missourian.


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Usually the criticism comes in comments on  His ire over this newspaper bubbles over into other places as well.

Last week, the home site for anti-Missourian-isms could be found on the Columbia Business Times’ blog.

Jacob Barker wrote a piece about the City Council’s discussion of whether to put a city charter change question on the April ballot. There are several; this one would have given the council more authority over the city manager’s hiring and firing decisions.

Martin, who operates his own site, Columbia Heart Beat, generally approved of the article.

But he took issue with a phrase of Barker's: “the usual suspects of city activists.”

Fair enough. I don’t find “usual suspects” to be particularly onerous, but I get his point that the phrase tends to be seen as dismissive.

Martin, in fact, notes he is one of those activists.

“As Mr. Barker is a former Missourian reporter, I’m sorry the Missourian continues to push this derisive and unfortunate stereotype. I see it applied with smug surety all too often in both local newspapers.”

So I did a search for “usual suspects” in the Missourian archives. I found nine “hits” dating to May 2007.

It would seem to prove Martin’s point.

Until you look further.

Of the nine, two “usual suspects” were television listings.

One was in a story about crime, and two more were with the comments from readers.

One “usual suspect” referred to possible causes of pulmonary embolism in young people.

Three were political:

  • George Kennedy wasn’t happy with the lack of attendance at a city visioning event. Sure, he said in his column, the “usual suspects” were there – folks like then superintendent Jim Ritter and Hizzoner Darwin Hindman.
  • Another columnist, J. Karl Miller, described voter fraud allegations. His row of “usual suspects” included ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
  • And finally, a news story: a local task force is being formed, and a source says invitations will be sent to “'the usual suspects': neighborhood activists and development community representatives.”

So what am I to make of Martin’s claim?

If I thought the term was egregious (I don’t), and if I accepted all blame for anything written by former Missourian reporters or journalism school students (I don’t), then I would still draw this conclusion:

Martin’s myth is busted, to borrow from the popular cable show.

He really gets worked up toward the end of his comments on the Business Times blog:

“If the Missourian’s senior editorial staff would get out more (go to more meetings, actually press the flesh instead of pontificating from on high) they’d see how fallacious and irresponsible is this negative stereotype of citizen activists."

Let’s see: a broad statement generalizing a whole group of people in a pejorative way?

It seems I’ve heard a complaint about that before.


A usual suspect

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Carlos Sanchez January 29, 2010 | 7:14 p.m.

Mr Warhover watch out for those going rouge bloggers burning the Missourian in effigy in your front yard. Mr Martin does have a nice informative blog though when he is not misquoting his sources on purpose.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 29, 2010 | 7:33 p.m.

lol, I can't wait to see the comments.

(Report Comment)
Jennifer Gerling January 29, 2010 | 8:55 p.m.

What is this guy's deal? Doesn't he have something better to do other than criticize a student newspaper? His dislike for the Missourian is obvious, so any comment he makes is biased. Newsflash: the Missourian doesn't teach people to be stereotypical; life does.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 29, 2010 | 8:57 p.m.

Jesus Christ.
This is the most difficult article I have ever tried to read.
In fact, I haven't been able to get past:
("Usually the criticism comes in comments on
I keep getting this title page, then I click on Allan Sharrock's comment, I start reading Tom Warhover's article over again. I get to:
("Usually the criticism comes in comments on"), I click on and then I have to start all over again; and on and on it goes. And, I'm stuck in this vicious loop.
(Kinda reminds me of this guy who went by the name of Verbal Kint.)

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 29, 2010 | 9:00 p.m.

It's a mistake to search archives for the precise term "usual suspects" since variations on it are so often used.

Here's a Missourian article, for instance, that I found demeaning. I thought it should have been straight reportage, but the young reporter -- who clearly knew little about John Clark beyond the cursory -- wrote this, among other things:

"You might include him in the group of citizens labeled 'civically obsessed.'"

Reporters at both papers have shared concerns and frustrations with me about feeling insufficiently prepared and backgrounded for assignments they receive.

They want to know who this John Clark guy is who's running for mayor. "My editor's never met him," they tell me. "And I just came here from Texas."

Editors such as Mr. Warhover should take the time to meet and speak with the candidates their reporters will be covering or shadowing before those reporters use such sweeping stereotypes as "civically obsessed" or "usual suspects."

Locally, our editors represent the institutional memory of the community, to be passed down to the many reporters who come and go in our midst.

With so many young reporters in and out of here, there's an extra onus on their editors to get out, meet the folks, go to meetings and candidate events, and spend some real quality time getting to know the people their papers are writing about.

It's at the core of "hyper-localism," one of journalism's many new buzzwords.

But instead, too often a stereotype or simple generalization is faster and easier to report or opine about, and the interviewee feels like he or she is talking to a reporter who's been thrown in by his or her editor and told to sink or swim.

(Report Comment)
Ali Tharmar January 29, 2010 | 9:11 p.m.

(Report Comment)
Vox Fox May 8, 2009 | 7:55 a.m.

I'm really disappointed in the Missourian's coverage of this. This happened on Monday and you all are just now printing this? This was big news.

Vox Fox -- Don't you have anything better to do than criticize a student newspaper?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 30, 2010 | 10:31 a.m.

Ali I don't think Vox was criticizing the Missourian. Vox was criticizing Mike Martin.

(Report Comment)
Ali Tharmar January 30, 2010 | 10:37 a.m.

Allan - Vox criticized the Missourian on May 8 -- that's an old comment from their profile. Seems like hypocrisy to then criticize somebody else for doing the same thing.

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford January 30, 2010 | 8:28 p.m.


To suggest that I've never met John Clark is simply ridiculous. My memory's a bit fuzzy, but I believe I first met him in his living room when he was helping Aasim Inshirah run for mayor in 1992. In the 18 years since, he and I have had myriad conversations, on the streets, in my office, at candidate forums.

Have I met every person who's ever run for City Council? No. I'll accept as good advice that perhaps I should do so, but you'll not find me looking over my reporters' shoulders as they do their work at campaign events.

Missourian reporters for years have been doing excellent work covering City Council elections. Mr. Clark, in fact, was quite complimentary about Annie Hauser's coverage of his last campaign. He found nothing demeaning about it.

I can accept criticism, but I won't tolerate fabrication.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 31, 2010 | 10:01 a.m.


I don't recall mentioning your name, so please don't jump to conclusions. When I ran for school board over the course of 6 months, I met no editors at the Missourian and only Hank at the Trib, so I don't think it's common for editors to spend any time with candidates or at various political events. Candidates could and probably should invite themselves, but given that they're running for unpaid, volunteer positions, they probably won't think to do so. I didn't.

I have no idea how much time editors at either paper spend with elected officials.

Another oft-used media stereotype is "gadfly." You can search around in the Missourian archives and you'll see it applied to several people who are world's apart from one another.

"Gadfly" sounds like a noisome irritant you try to brush away or stick to fly paper.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp was actually quite hurt when "gadfly" was applied to her in a Missourian story, on the heels of being applied to Paul Albert (I don't recall the context).

She's a smart, bright, dedicated, intelligent person who tries to do what's right -- and tries to get the media to do what's right, too. And her style is nothing like Albert's was.

This issue of stereotyping community activists has been addressed at least twice before.

Opposition group fights those who too quickly label them
by Tony Messenger

In Columbia, slapping critics with The Scarlet Label
by Mike Martin

(Report Comment)
Jennifer Gerling January 31, 2010 | 10:23 a.m.

I was being sarcastic. It's Jeopardy.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover January 31, 2010 | 11:45 a.m.

@Ray Shapiro: You're right; the link should have taken you to a specific comment or story rather than back to the home page. Or, probably better, I should have left a hyperlink out entirely there.

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford January 31, 2010 | 12:11 p.m.

You don't have to mention me by name, Mike. I am the only member of the "senior editorial staff at the Missourian" who has steered coverage of City Council elections over the past six years (this being the seventh). And you're absolutely right: You have no idea how much time I spend with elected officials, or candidates. That's why your comments in the Business Times are so puzzling.

You'll get no argument from me about the value of Traci Wilson-Kleekamp's contribution to this community. I have nothing but respect for her. It is true that George Kennedy called her a "community gadfly" in an April 16, 2009, column. George wrote about the public records that Traci requested and that you and she published regarding the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of City Manager Bill Watkins and Tribune publisher Hank Waters as they tried to secure -- through eminent domain -- property for a new historical society museum.

If you read the entire column, I think you'll recognize that George is praising the work that you and Traci did. I'm sorry the gadfly reference bothered her. Stereotyping is never a good thing, in journalism or anywhere else.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 31, 2010 | 2:16 p.m.

Ahh -- then I understand why Traci felt bad, especially after all that work.

George -- whom she (and I) respect and admire greatly -- also called Paul Albert a gadfly, and in another article called Eddie Adelstein "a congenital pot stirrer" who had "made an unfortunate comparison between himself and the late City Council gadfly Paul Albert."

But Traci was mostly bothered by several either implied or stated promises from Missourian reporters/editors that you would pick up the History Museum/Eminent domain story she had broken open.

She apparently turned over tons of documents she'd received to you all, and spent a lot of time with a reporter, never to hear from anyone again. I ended up running with the story as it became increasingly obvious the Missourian and the Trib would not.

At the Missourian, only George and another columnist wrote about the situation, and only in op-ed form.

But I am glad to hear you "value Traci Wilson-Kleekamp's contribution to this community," and "have nothing but respect for her."

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 31, 2010 | 4:02 p.m.

@Mr. Warhover:
No biggie.
Just my sorry attempt to be a congenial gladfy.

(Report Comment)

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