Sunday, January 30, 2011

Struggling against Powers That Be

Duxbury (Mass.) Clipper editor-in-chief Justin Graeber wrote the following editorial for his weekly on Dec. 29, pertaining to an unusual-yet-not-unheard-of case of a small-newspaper journalist (Jessica L. Lloyd-Rogers, right) being squeezed out of doing the work:

At the Clipper we belong to a couple of professional newspaper societies, such as the New England Newspaper and Press Association, the group that gives out the Better Newspaper Awards each year.

We also belong to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, and this group often sends out “hotline” questions via e-mail. It's always informative and interesting to see how other weekly editors around the country and around the world are tackling some of the same questions we are. For example, there was recently a free-wheeling and wide-ranging debate about charging for obits. (Just in case you were wondering, not going to happen at the Clipper while I'm alive.) But a couple months ago we got a very serious series of e-mails from an editor in Oregon. She was dealing with some serious pushback from officials as she tried to shine the light on a government that was used to doing their business in the dark.

The editor, Jessica L. Lloyd-Rogers of the Coast Lake News in Lakeside, Oregon, was an experienced freelancer who started the paper with her husband. It's got a very local focus on a town with a population under 1,500. Problem was, the city council didn't appreciate that tight focus.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating the level of the corruption in Lakeside or the threats Lloyd-Rogers and her husband faced, here are just some examples, outlined in the latest ISWNE newsletter.

• The chairman of the fire board is the live-in girlfriend of the fire chief.

• Two of the board members on the Water District Board are spouses of city council members.

• The city administrator doesn't meet even the minimum of the written job description, and gave herself a raise by pencilling it in after the 2008-09 budget was passed.

That's not even everything. They've also faced threats, including being libeled repeatedly by a blog backed by city officials unhappy with the paper. (Lloyd-Rogers said stories about a porn star with a similar name are being spread as if it's her.) They even got evicted from their office.

“I sometimes feel like an unarmed marshal sent into an Old West town run by bandits,” she wrote in the ISWNE newsletter.

The point here is that the over-the-top political incest described by Lloyd-Rogers isn't unique or even all that surprising. It's what happens in a community that is not aggressively covered by a local newspaper (there is apparently a daily that covers Lakeside, but they must be facing budget cuts or something.) This is what happens when no one's looking. People double dip. They cut favors for buddies or family members. They give themselves raises when they think no one's looking. That's why someone has to be looking. Think any other things Lloyd-Rogers described could happen in Duxbury? Not with the Clipper and other good local media on the case.

For Lloyd-Rogers' complaints in her own words, check out her story on page 1 of ISWNE's December newsletter --