Monday, June 30, 2008

Did a Reporter Kill a Newspaper?

An article in the Arizona Republic, picked up by Romenesko, suggests that the work of a single "muckraking reporter" named "John Biancini" led to the death -- yup, the death -- of a weekly newspaper called the Winslow Mail.

This report intrigued me because I can sympathize a bit with "Biancini," as I started out in a small town bureau of a newspaper and can understand the urge to be "muckraking" even when some readers just want happy-talk news. (The dumber readers, usually, because the bad news can affect their health and their property values.)

So I went to Google, using the "Winslow Mail" and "Biancini" as key words, and discovered a couple of things.

First, the reporter's name is Bianchini not "Biancini." (That's why I put his name in quotes.)

Second, I couldn't find any "muckraking." Maybe it's out there, but here is what I found in my Google search:

An article on drug-sniffing dogs visiting a school.

A bridge burned by an arsonist.

Something about a river's watershed.

Winslow's mayor is running for something.

State attorney general reaches out to Winslow.

The Republic article quotes someone as saying that he wrote only "bad stuff" which the Republic reporter could see, if he bothered to check, was just plain wrong.

I then ran the reporter's name (his real name) in the Winslow paper's internal search engine, and I got much the same output: routine small town news. Oh, no, sorry, I noticed this horrific bit of "acerbic" journalism: on how Winslow is in need of a business leadership to improve the local economy.


And then there is this article that, I guess, doesn't read like a press release from the city government. Judging from the editor's note on top, apparently it resulted in some action. Which is what journalism is all about.

What strikes me is this: why was the Republic reporter, working for a paper which has a glorious history of investigative reporting itself, so quick to assume the worst about another journalist?

Seems to me that if there is any shoddy journalism here, it is the Republic story and, as best as I can tell, not the work of this Bianchini fellow.

There's an old saying that goes something to the effect that communities get the newspapers that they deserve. Winslow has no newspaper, and according to the poorly researched article in the Republic is now relying largely on the bush telegraph for local news.

If indeed the paper died because Bianchini "alienated readers and advertisers" (and I have no idea if that, or anything in the article, is true) then Winslow deserves to have no newspaper at all. In fact, it's those kind of attitudes that turned thriving western communities into ghost towns, with tumbleweeds blowing down the street.

UPDATE: John Bianchini responds to the above in the comments section of this blog. I'm taking the liberty of printing it in full below:

Help! I've fallen in Winslow and can't get up.

I found this blog's comments while googling the AZ Republic story about how I allegedly destroyed a community institution - the newspaper. I guess when being paraded into the street and beated before a statewide audience, it is natural to wonder what the crowd is thinking.

Wagner's article failed to mention some things I told him such as:

1.I bought a house in Winslow when I started the job two years before it closed.

2.I did so knowing Winslow was poor, but truly believed in its potential,

3.and advocated constantly for the community to seriously look at economic development, arts, improving relations with our neighboring Native American communities, increasing local agriculture, respecting water resources, and to clean up the town thrid world appeal.

My experience in Winslow was a real lesson in democracy and journalism.

John Bianchini
Amen to that, brother.

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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