Does Dan McClelland’s Tupper Lake Free Press cross the line?

This morning NCPR aired my interview with Dan McClelland, the sometimes controversial editor of the Tupper Lake Free Press.

McClelland is an unabashed economic-development booster, who has spared no ink in pushing for support of the Adirondack Club and Resort.

The veteran publisher — he’s owned the paper since the 1970s — told me that he thinks he’s generally fair, but he acknowledged that advocacy is his main purpose.

“I’ve never considered myself first a journalist,” McClelland said.  “I consider myself a community promoter, a community leader.  I’ve tried to do things that I thought in my humble opinion would be the best for Tupper Lake.  I’m not reluctant to editorialize on what I believe in and I think my record speaks for itself.  I’ve championed good things.”

Some critics, such as environmental advocate David Gibson, think McClelland crosses the line, denying his readers key information.  This from an essay he wrote in the Adirondack Almanack.

Dan McClelland unabashedly and uncritically shouts loudly for the ACR, shouts down anybody with concerns, and not just on the editorial pages. Would that the Free Press more broadly represent the community it serves and be reasonably impartial, knowing how many in town may badly want the ski area redeveloped, but who may be skeptical about ACR claims.

Jessica Collier took up the debate last week in her blog in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Much has been made over the years about media bias in reporting on the ACR. We’ve regularly seen people try to discredit reports of potential issues with the project, as well as potential benefits of the project, with, “Oh, he’s just an ACR cheerleader,” or, “Oh, he’s just a tree-hugger.”

To sample some of McClelland’s coverage, in particular, you can go here to his blog (scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the Adirondack Club and Resort sections).

So what do you think?  Can a newspaper still fulfill its function as watchdog and objective observer while also pushing hard for a project like the Big Tupper resort?

Is Tupper Lake at a point where it needs cheerleaders more than watchdogs?  And what do you think of the journalistic treatment and coverage of the ACR issue overall, including here at NCPR?

This is sensitive terrain, so as always, please keep it civil.  No name calling, no ad hominen stuff.

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57 Comments on “Does Dan McClelland’s Tupper Lake Free Press cross the line?”

  1. anonymous says:

    I have never read more biased ‘journalism’ in my life than in the Free Press.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    I always take news media editorials with a grain of salt. I put them in the same file as “Letters to the Editor.” They are opinion pieces and everyone has a right to have an opinion.

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  3. Dennis Mike says:

    What Pete Klein said . . . .

    Anyone who would view the Free Press as actual reporting is simply wrongheaded. It’s like reading stuff on the Internet — you can’t believe everything you read and the responsibility to fact check is up to the reader. Pete hit the nail on the head — editorials are exactly like letters to the editor.

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  4. Gary says:

    ALL media is biased! Dan might be just a little more so than others. Look what happened to Dan Rathers. If you want to do yourself a big favor enroll in a media literacy course if possible. You will come away with a new perspective of the media. I guarantee you will see things in a whole new light. I feel so strongly about this I’d love to see it become a required course in our shool systems. The earlier the better. It’s our job to be critical of the media.

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  5. Gary says:

    Just think about it, bias starts when just deciding what is news and what is not news. Then it is difficult when reporting a story not to let your own personal views be displayed in various ways; body language, remarks, flucuations in voice tone….. As a society we played way to much trust in the people reporting our news.

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  6. Alan says:

    Sounds to me that the publisher is not attempting to be “a newspaper which fulfills a function as watchdog and objective observer.” Can’t there be both objective and subjective publications?

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  7. If he wants to turn his paper into an unabashed propaganda rag, I have no problem with that. Readers can judge its credibility on their own. I do appreciate the fact that at least he labels his propaganda as commentary and editorial precisely.

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  8. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    As Brian points out in his post, Dan McClelland has been a long time Tupper Lake booster and that’s great. He hasn’t hesitated to express his thoughts on issues in Tupper Lake – some I agreed with, some I did not. That the publisher of the local paper is a supporter of economic development for his/her community is fine and I think totally appropriate. To editorialize on those issues is also fine. I have read many a paper that had editorials I strongly disagreed with yet found that paper’s reporting to be well balanced and essentially unbiased. I admit that I do not read the Free Press very often but I did pick one up recently and read a front page headline (I don’t remember the specifics) that was clearly editorial while pretending to be “news”. That paper lost all credibility with me. I can not take seriously its so called reporting any more. Keep it on the editorial page… or don’t pretend to be a newspaper.

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  9. Paul says:

    “And what do you think of the journalistic treatment and coverage of the ACR issue overall, including here at NCPR?”

    The reporting has been good. Is it biased? Probably only in the sense that bad news is news.

    In looking over the stories on the developers specifically I don’t see any information that really defines what success they have had in the past. In the “profile” of the developer story you covered what he plans to do for ACR and you reminded us of his indictment but you gave no profile of the developers past experience at RE development. You have had several stores on the developers unpaid tax issues as well.

    I can only assume from this profile and these stories that this developer has no positive experience in this line of business. That is certainly the clear impression that I get from this part of the coverage.

    Brian, is that correct? Certainly if the developer was successful at real estate development you would not have left that out of the story?

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  10. Bret4207 says:

    I don’t believe there is anything like an “unbiased” press when it comes to stories of any importance. It will vary to a degree, but whether it’s the TLFP, Adk Enterprise, Post Star, WSJ, Huffington Post, CNN, Fox or BBC there will be a slant to every story. It seems to me when we see in those reports “bias” that we find maddening that it’s simply a reflection of our own opinion on the matter at hand. As long as the actual facts aren’t skewed or “facts” produced out of thin air then the line between reporting and editorializing tend to blur in most sources.

    If Dan was firmly against the development and used the same bully pulpit, would you complain?

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  11. Solidago says:

    Writers should be more honest with themselves and their readers and stop pretending that they are “objective observers” always painting a fair picture with the facts, especially when it comes to controversial local topics that affect their communities and friends. It is impossible to present a truly fair and unbiased picture of controversial topics – writers have to make judgment calls on what information is presented – and what isn’t – and they’ll invariably tip the scales towards whichever side they favor, whether they’re conscious of it or not. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about this at all – it’s just human nature – but writers and readers should always keep in mind that the coverage of controversial topics is inherently biased.

    Good coverage is filled with facts, but they’re only the facts that the reporter chose to present. Trouble occurs when the advocate-journalists are only on one side, but fortunately with most issues there are advocate-journalists on both sides, providing facts from which those not firmly seated in either choir can form an opinion.

    I appreciate Dan McClelland acknowledging and stating his bias, and I wish more would do the same.

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  12. rockydog says:

    I just hope people to rely on the Free Press for “news” about the development.

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  13. Paul says:

    “Good coverage is filled with facts, but they’re only the facts that the reporter chose to present.”

    Very true. That is part of my point above. In the “profile” piece on the ACR developer there seemed to be a lack of facts related to any success that the man had in real estate development. I therefore think that the reader might easily make the assumption that there is a lack of such facts. There may or may not be. I don’t see how an accurate profile would omit these if they existed. If they are intentionally left out then it is overly biased in my opinion. If you fail to ask the questions and get the facts it is also poor journalism and biased reporting.

    But I agree, I read all these stories knowing that there may be bias there.

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  14. Alan has it right, I think. Dan is saying he’s a cheerleader for things he thinks are good for the community of Tupper Lake. As the owner of the paper, he has the right to define it by his standards of excellence, one of them being “cheerleader for things he thinks are good for the community.” Brian M. sets up the standard — “watchdog and objective observer” — then asks if Dan meets it. But Brian M. doesn’t get to establish the standard for Dan’s paper, Dan does.

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  15. Paul says:

    This is an interesting topic. I think that subjective journalism has had an important impact on American history.

    I don’t think it is a stretch to say that subjective news coverage of things like world war two in the forties helped us win that war. The coverage was designed to rally the troops not only overseas but at home as well. Some of the the facts pertaining to things like POW abuse or targeting civilians was left out of the paper.

    I think now we ask for press coverage to do a different thing. With it being less biased it also means that it is going to be much more difficult to achieve some objectives. Will it make it impossible to win something like a war. I expect that could be the case. The facts left out in past wars are now all front page news.

    I don’t think we have definitively won a war since the end of world war two. Has press coverage had anything to do with it?

    Can Foxman build the ACR without press support? Maybe not.

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  16. Pete Klein says:

    Is the day partly cloudy or partly clear?
    Stating the weather condition either way would be factual. To say, “Tomorrow will be a nice day. It will be warm and sunny,” could be viewed as stating an opinion. Since I don’t like warm and sunny, in my opinion it would not be a nice day.
    See the problem? If you don’t like the facts, you could argue the reporter is being biased. But the real problem could be you. Maybe you just don’t like the facts.
    This is why we need an educated and intelligent population for democracy to work. If it’s all about sound bites and taking sides, we are doomed.
    Paul, If we haven’t won a war since WWII and the fault is placed at the feet of the news media, I would argue the true fault is with the general public which looks to be lead by someone else’s opinion.
    People need to learn to think on their own. If not, there is always someone willing to lead them.
    Take everything with a grain of salt. This includes the news media, the opinions of experts and the religion of your choice.

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  17. mary says:

    I don’t feel like I am at home anymore in tupper lake after 34 years of vacationing and owning a second home. People like Dan really don’t like my type. I wanted to retire to tupper lake, but the town really hates outsiders.

    They have a newspaper that puts full page photos of peoples houses — showing their landscaping and whether they are for or against the ACR by the number of trees they have on their property.

    Who wants to live in this town when they all hate each other because of this project?

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  18. Mike says:

    Dan M “thinks he is generally fair”??? Give me a break. He hit rock bottom for me when he allowed a full page “paid advertisement” showing a picture of 3 homes on a local lake. Two homes owned by locals and the other one by Tom Lawson, the so called developer of the ACR. I,m not quite sure what the point of the ad was but it certainly was tasteless and immature at best. I sure hope Dan got paid for the ad as I suspect the person who took it out appears to be having a bit of difficulty paying for property taxes as well as federal income taxes.

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  19. Paul says:

    “Paul, If we haven’t won a war since WWII and the fault is placed at the feet of the news media, I would argue the true fault is with the general public which looks to be lead by someone else’s opinion.”

    Well said. No it isn’t the medias fault by any means. But I think that press coverage plays a big part.

    Overly biased coverage is known as propaganda. I would argue that propaganda is maybe necessary to get folks to do (or accept) some things. Is it right? No, probably not. Is it necessary to achieve some goals. Maybe.

    This is a philosophical tangent, proceed with the real discussion.

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  20. oa says:

    So, Paul and Pete, lying is good, and what the government is supposed to do?

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  21. Dan is free to publish the style of newspaper he wishes, and everyone else is free to like it and to buy it as they choose. This debate is silly. Brian M. has promoted a standard that is only a preference. Lots of papers have biased coverage. Read the NY Post’s coverage of Pres. Obama, in commentary and news stories. Read the local coverage of many small local papers, which is often biased in favor of the status quo, the party in power, the local institutions, the popular people in the community, the local sports teams, and so on. Dan has every right to assign the stories he wants covered, and to have them written the way he desires. Some papers attempt to conform to a loose standard of objectivity that is always subject to multiple exceptions. If you prefer that style, fine. But, again, you don’t get to tell Dan or any other publisher what to do. You get to choose whether to buy the paper or not.

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  22. Paul says:

    oa, I didn’t say anything about lying. You could write a pretty glowing story about the ACR and the developers and not tell a single lie. Just like you could write a pretty good story about how the project may alter the environment and again not tell a lie.

    I was just saying that propaganda is and was out there for some of these other events. Just because it exists does not mean that me or anyone else supports it.

    Just like I don’t trust the propaganda put out there by green groups that don’t support natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale in this part of the state I don’t trust the propaganda produced by the gas companies. For the most part neither side is lying they just are telling their side of the story it is our job as informed citizens to sort it all out.

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  23. Paul says:

    Brian, in your blog title you reference the “line”. Define for us what the line is? Can’t answer the question without that information. You are a journalist inform us where the line is in your field of work?

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  24. Pete Klein says:

    oa,
    Lying is not okay. Who said anything about lying?
    I would add to what Will says above. A free press is free to print what it wants. They should not lie or intentionally print anything that is false.This is true for everyone, not just the media.

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  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think the question may be less “is the publisher a community booster” but more “is the publisher boosting a particular project mostly to increase his own income through advertising sales?”

    One is kind of quaint and sweet the other is kind of sleazy and distasteful.

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  26. dave says:

    Of course individuals have the right to publish whatever they want. And of course they can set their own standards for whatever it is they are publishing.

    But a journalist that does not make, and I wouldn’t consider someone like that to be a provider of news… or a member of the press.

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  27. Jack says:

    The ownership of any newpaper, by definition of the latter term, comes with great responsibility. People are free to espouse the theory of “if you own the home, you can decorate it as you wish” but Will must recognize the folly of claiming that a newspaper publisher is free to torture the facts in order to have them admit to his own way of thinking.

    The public have a right to know……(wait on it)…….THE TRUTH about a topic. That is why judges swear witnesses to tell the truth, the WHOLE TRUTH and NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.

    Is is that newspaper publishers and editors should be immune from this manifest duty of reporting the news? No, the public has the right to know. Problem is, not many readers know in reading a piece in the Free Press where the facts end and more “facts” arise (pun intended) expanding on the basic story with pure opinion/propaganda.

    Does a publisher have the right to also try to silence constructive criticism or a differing viewpoint with finger-wagging and shaming anyone who would dare to contridict the positions taken by the publisher? That is shameful in its own right.!

    Readers want to trust their sources in the news. Gullible readers in Tupper Lake have been treated to over seven years of Mr. McC’s diatribe about the ACR, most of it disproven in only about three weeks of hearings before the Adirondack Park Agency. But the die has been cast in their minds and cannot be changed now. Seven years of half-truth and they will tenaciously maintain that unshakable support for the thing to their graves and when the project fails costing them millions of dollars to bail it out with their own tax bills, they will blame the NIMBY’s who opposed it.

    As Dan would have them do.

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  28. Bill says:

    Mr. McClellan clearly does not claim to be a journalist in the strict sense of the term, but primarily a community promoter from his perspective. Understood….let the reader be aware…..

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  29. newt says:

    Fortunately, Tupper is not a one-newspaper town. The Daily Enterprise, which is certainly pro-development editorially, but more so “pro-news”,( the one bias that reporters and editors should have). The P-R, and, of course, NCPR, also have a “pro-news” bias. Which is smart, because you will generally attract the broadest reader/viewer/listener base when that base believes they will get something close to the truth, not propaganda, and that is what most, though not all, readers wants from media news.

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  30. Solidago says:

    Present different sets of completely truthful, unspun facts, and you end up with different versions of the truth. Reporters necessarily have to create the truth they want their readers to come away with, and sometimes this version of the truth is much different than what would be derived if all facts were at hand, and not just what the reporter chose to present.

    The gullible ones are those who think truth is black-and-white, and that they can always turn to the Free Press, North Country Public Radio, the Post Star, the WSJ or NYT for it. Every reporter creates their own version of the truth, crafted from the facts that they chose to present to their audience, and those that they chose not to present.

    And when it comes to controversial local topics that might affect the reporter, her family, friends or community, you can almost be assured that they are pushing their preferred version of the truth.

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  31. RationalandLogical says:

    Oh and like NPR is not biased….please!

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  32. cement says:

    To drill down a bit further, the stance of the TLFP illustrates the dire straits faced by the community.

    Personally, I don’t feel they will get the APA permit. I would bet there have been numerous discussions outside the official venue of the adjudicatory hearing.

    That notwithstanding, Dan must feel that if this project doesn’t fly, what is TL to do? Have you gone through there lately? This is a dying community, surrounded by aesthetic beauty with bonafide assets in its water, ski hill and golf course, and Dan probably feels this is their (last?) chance at rejuvenation/survival.

    I don’t blame Dan. He feels strongly about his community and this is his way of enunciating that.

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  33. newt says:

    Media’s being “pro-news” rather than right-left biased is usually a good thing, but not always. . Recent example: A. Wiener kerfuffle. The supposedly-liberal media went crazy over the collapse of a very liberal pols reputation because it had all the ingredients that make the media go crazy, expecially sex. It got an unbelievable 25 minit
    ues of coverage on Friday’s On Point, when it deserved, maybe, three.

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  34. Paul says:

    “Personally, I don’t feel they will get the APA permit. I would bet there have been numerous discussions outside the official venue of the adjudicatory hearing.”

    I think they will get a permit. The question is will the conditions of the permit be acceptable to the developer.

    If they are not I suspect that a very long protracted (and very expensive) legal battle will ensue.

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  35. Paul says:

    Jack, the press isn’t a court of law. Newspapers have gone the way of the buggy whip. Anyone with a laptop or even and smart-phone can have a “newspaper”. These days it is reader beware.

    “Gullible readers in Tupper Lake have been treated to over seven years of Mr. McC’s diatribe about the ACR, most of it disproven in only about three weeks of hearings before the Adirondack Park Agency.”

    Jack, can you give us a few examples?

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  36. Pete Klein says:

    newt makes a good point. There is an old saying for print news and other news media. “Blood leads.” To that might be added: “Sex leads.”
    Why? Because the public (maybe not you and certainly not me) likes to dig into other people’s trash.
    I really don’t have an opinion on the TLFP because I don’t read it.
    One of the things I have noticed in many of the posts here is a lack of understanding of what goes into a story and what is left out.
    Question. Would you rather just read the minutes? Very boring!
    Ask yourself this. If you go to a meeting and someone asks you what took place, what will you say? You will probably start with “Nothing” or recount in your own words what YOU THINK was most important to you.
    Reporter do much the same thing, with an eye to what they think their readers might be most interested in hearing/reading.
    You might disagree but that is human nature.
    Since I don’t live in Tupper Lake and hardly ever go there, I don’t care. Since I don’t live in Mr. Wiener’s district, I don’t care. Nor am I interested in 90% of the news. Probably what interests me, doesn’t interest most people. That too is human nature.
    It is often said that the public has a right to know. Yes but. Yes but the public has an obligation to look at many sources and not just expect one source to provide everything. No one source of news should ever be expected to provide everything. In practical terms, no one source has the time and the money to provide everything.
    The NY Times likes to say, “All the news that’s fit to print.” The truth is, “All the news we can afford to print.”
    All news media are limited by the money they can raise through advertising or donations in the case of NCPR. That is the real fact of news.

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  37. Solidago says:

    Great points Pete, particularly on human nature. When it comes to digesting a lot of facts on issues that we care about, I think we are primed to pay attention to the facts that support our view, and ignore those that don’t.

    Sure, a reporter can aspire to be unbiased when covering a controversial topic that might affect him, his family, his friends or community, but I think impartiality is an impossible standard in situations like that. You inevitably end up with coverage that presents a set of facts weighted heavily towards the reporter’s viewpoint, while neglecting important facts that challenge it.

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  38. cement says:

    From Paul:

    “I think they will get a permit. The question is will the conditions of the permit be acceptable to the developer.

    If they are not I suspect that a very long protracted (and very expensive) legal battle will ensue.”

    Reply:

    A permit with conditions, if that occurs, serves 2 purposes:

    1) it makes the environmental interests feel that they are approving the project as long as you can jump through these added hoops. They are not saying “no” directly.

    2) it’s just a transparent ploy to get the developer to spend themselves into extinction.

    A permit with conditions will make the ACR walk away.

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  39. oa says:

    Paul said: “Just like I don’t trust the propaganda put out there by green groups that don’t support natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale in this part of the state…”
    Paul, I don’t trust your assertion that the Marcellus shale is in this part of the state. Unless you live south of the NCPR listening area…
    Click here for Marcellus shale map:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcellus_Shale_USGS.png

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  40. Jack,
    I prefer reporters who pursue the truth, and newspapers that do. That is my goal in my work as a reporter and editor. But that is my preference, and the ethic of the places where I’ve worked. But there is no obligation to run a newspaper in any particular way, no duty and certainly no law, any more than there is an obligation to serve healthy food in a restaurant. I prefer restaurants that serve healthy food, but sometimes I eat the unhealthy stuff, and millions of people prefer the unhealthy stuff. A publisher can run his or her own newspaper as he or she chooses and people can choose to trust it, believe it and buy it. Any talk of obligation is fantasy.

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  41. Brian Mann says:

    I think this is a great conversation. Just a couple of thoughts to add.

    1. People have asked if I had a particular line in mind that Dan might have crossed. The answer is no. Journalism is an art, not a science. As Will points out there is a wide variety of legitimate approaches.

    2. That said, I do think that an important response to journalism is criticism and discussion. Newspapers are (still) pretty powerful entities and especially when they take a strong position on an issue, they open themselves to legitimate discussion and even criticism.

    3. I think striving for objective journalism is a worthy effort, even with the Platonic ideal is unreachable. And I think more journalism comes closer to the ideal than people give it credit for.

    4. Finally, I think trying to tell honest, accurate, skeptical stories is perfectly compatible with being a cheerleader for a community. Sometimes I am criticized for being “too negative” about particular issues.

    But if I help people to make informed decisions (or investments) that’s not a negative at all…

    –Brian, NCPR

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  42. TheOneFreeMan says:

    Will,

    Have you worked with any publishers who literally print abject lies? How about ones who use their papers to suppress the flow of information on issues they stand to profit personally from? Or “publishers” who launch personal attacks on private citizens?

    Does the Free Press count as a newspaper when it cannot be trusted to print the truth? Is Dan McClelland a genuine journalist by any standard?

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  43. Paul says:

    “A permit with conditions will make the ACR walk away.”

    Cement that is the only kind of permit (with the exception of a general permit which has conditions anyway) that the agency grants. It depends what the conditions are.

    “Paul, I don’t trust your assertion that the Marcellus shale is in this part of the state”

    oa, trust me it is right underneath where I am sitting. It isn’t south of the “listening area”. I listen to NCPR down here often.

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  44. Paul says:

    “I wanted to retire to tupper lake, but the town really hates outsiders. ” Mary, how come they love Foxman?

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  45. John Warren says:

    Here is the kind of news our local newspaper is offering – how to cook spaghetti:

    <a href="http://poststar.com/videos/#vmix_media_id=95384451“>http://poststar.com/videos/#vmix_media_id=95384451

    In depth, professional journalism (and filmmaking).

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  46. Pete Klein says:

    John,
    You bring up a good point. Many local papers have more of what I call “fluff” than real news. They are the local version of People magazine.
    Many of these papers are “free” and have even more adds than even the fluff.

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  47. Brian Mann says:

    Oh, come on you curmudgeons.

    Yes, the Post Star has cooking tips (their suggestion for how to peel garlic was actually pretty good…) but this is one of the most crunchy, eat-your-vegetables newspapers around.

    The front page of the P-S’s website this morning reads pretty darn wonky, in fact. (I don’t see the hard copy version, so I can’t judge that…)

    And anyway, why shouldn’t a newspaper have cooking tips or love advice or whatever? Curmudgeons, I name thee…

    –Brian, NCPR

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  48. Yes, The Post-Star does have articles on cooking and food, and runs a series of video cooking tips, which is popular. We also have comics, garage sale ads, stories on junior varsity softball teams, photos of five generations of families, bingo announcements and DWI arrests. Like every local paper, we are especially proud of the breadth of our coverage of the community and its interests. Please do keep pointing it out.

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  49. rockydog says:

    John if you are so perfect why don’t you work for an established news outlet instead of running a crappy blog?

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  50. Paul says:

    The Almanack is an excellent blog. I disagree with probably half the opinions that are expressed there, but the content is good and some is very informative.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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