Keeping a balance (as best we can)

Sunday, October 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:00 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Dear Reader:

Stay in my line of work for any length of time and you’ll pick up several sayings – some of them true. Newspaper people can meet deadlines but are always late to a party. A job perk is getting a pretty good obit when you die.

And this one: Newspapers do a lousy job when reporting about themselves.

I’ve found the line generally to be true. It’s hard to be a disinterested observer when you’re a participant. Try standing on the sideline and playing on the football field at the same time.

In an earlier letter, I told you that the newspaper was asking for proposals to outsource its printing. That request also asked for ideas on forming a regional network for advertising.

That same weekend, I took future decisions out of my hands.

I asked an experienced editor and a talented reporter — both outside the Missourian newsroom — to take over. If more stories were needed, so be it. If there weren’t, that would be OK, too.

Charles Davis is an MU School of Journalism professor who teaches principles of journalism and media law among other things. He’s also the executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. I got to know Charles as an editor when he volunteered to help the Missourian’s coverage after 9/11. He’s first-rate.

Jennifer Price is a J-school senior. Last year, as a Missourian reporter, she covered the death of MU football player Aaron O’Neal. One story she co-wrote won a first-place award for investigative reporting at last month’s Missouri Press Association contest.

Both clearly have ties to the Missourian through the School of Journalism. Neither actively works for the newspaper. I think the distance is enough.

Here’s one way the situation has played out.

On Thursday, my crosstown rival published a piece about the printing and sales proposal process. I thought the reporting was sloppy and several key conclusions were just plain wrong. I considered assigning a reporter to chase the Tribune’s story. But it wasn’t my call. It wouldn’t have been the right call, either. The better place for rebuttal is in columns, like this one, and editorial pages, where the Missourian publisher today offers his assessment.

Jennifer interviewed me, but suggested she wasn’t looking for a quick daily story. If a story later materializes, I’ll see it when you do. Stay tuned.

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