What Ralph Got Wrong About The Philadelphia Inquirer: Comforting the Comfortable; Afflicting the Afflicted

Posted: December 8, 2013 in Contemporary Commentary

(Note: Both Ralph and the folks at Big Trial have posted some comments on my posts that should be of interest to you here. Having said that Ralph has some things right, let’s take a look at where I think he is going wrong.)

Has Ralph Cipriano, ace blogger for Big Trials Net, made some points in his coverage. Sure. Undeniably. Sounds like Katz needs to stay out of the newsroom. If not already in place, sounds like some firm policy needs to be made on stories where Katz interests are involved. Anyone with a close personal relationship with Katz should not be working stories involving him. 
But to my mind most of the blogs seems as if Ralph has drilled some capillaries and then shouted, “Blood!!!!”
The suggestion of possible conflicts (capillaries) is quite different than showing real conflicts (arteries.)
The mention of Katz and editors’ love lives has grown tiresome and salacious and so far from what I can see reveals only that Philadelphia may be a little like France.
Get me rewrite!
And that the editor involved is pretty universally respected as a good news person. 
This Page 6 type of treatment works. Once. Not every day.
Moreover, the idea that an editor or reporter would have helped recruit Marimow or some other editor may be a scandal to Ralph, but it’s actually rewarded at most corporations with cash. I’ve helped hire my boss before. It’s called recruiting. It only sounds weird in a context where it is hyped to sound weird. In the rest of the world, it is rewarded with bonuses. If you can convince a friend or former colleague of merit to join your company and the company desires it, that adds value — not scandal.  “The Editor Who Hired Her Own Boss” is a catchy headline.  Little more. 
And then there are more serious areas where questions are raised, the names of reporters darkened, but no answers are given. Were the stories that did not mention Katz suppressed in some way? Were the editors intimidated? That is what is implied.  But we really don’t know. The questions are not answered. The reporters  are named and left twisting in the wind, with the implication that they either feared reprisals from Katz or that Katz had mention of Katz outright killed. Which is it? Capillaries or arteries? Report it out. Maybe it is an artery. My guess is it’s another capillary. (But, there is no doubt that if an owner is involved, a story should note that and disclose the connection.)
As to the obit, as I’ve said before, as reported, owner sponsored obits are wrong. But honestly I cannot count all the funeral directors over the years who told me they knew my boss, the owner of the paper, the wife of the owner, the brother of my editor. It’s standard funeral director blather that you either ignore or finesse. This just seems like a routine problem of reporter-funeral director warfare that is over-produced into a mini-scandal.  This one just makes me chuckle remembering all the cons I’ve heard from funeral directors. Call me back when Katz orders a favorable obituary about a war criminal. 
The truly bothersome approach here is that Ralph’s coverage seems to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted — the reverse of the old canard.   In a clear drama, where there is a clear victim, he swaps out the story line and blames the victim.
Let’s be clear.  The act of commission here was not Marimow-Katz imposing a political jihad on the readers of The Inquirer.
The aggression against good news standards was on the Norcross side with the firing of Marimow pretty clearly connected to Lexie Norcross’s sloppy efforts to run free political opinion pieces and tweet her approval of Norcross-backed pols. Yet Ralph portrays Norcross as the victim and Katz as an aggressor.

I’m not sure if Ralph is being played here or not, but this is completely out of the Roger Ailes school of political framing and “stealing the story.”  I’ve done public relations work and at its worse, you find a willing reporter and then slime your opponent with leak after leak, so that the narrative is rewritten.  Norcross is familiar with those tactics.  The amount of stuff leaked about Marimow, including his private HR file, sure sounds like a political hit.  I think Ralph is wise to that but it’s something for every journalist to think about.  Am I being used by my leakers?

Given all the context, it seems to me that Ralph’s coverage is as if the Washington Post, upon hearing about Watergate, did an exhaustive investigation of why the Democratic Party National Headquarters had such lousy security that their offices got broken into. 
It’s not that this wasn’t a story.
It just wasn’t the big story.
The big story is how badly Norcross is messing up the business of the web and the news integrity of Philly.com– and how criticism of that led to the firing of an editor who is among the best in the business. 
I’d love to see some of that on Big Trial just to balance it out.  I greatly enjoy Ralph’s drive and his passion.  I’d love to see him bring the heat to Norcross. I know he’s in absolutely no one’s pocket, so I assume that heat will be coming soon.

Read more at http://www.bigtrial.net/2013/12/more-meddling-in-inky-newsroom.html#FSmpWTZeYCbjDF6C.99

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