Saturday, March 29, 2003

The CA And The War

Just a few observations about the Commercial Appeal and their coverage of the Iraqi War.

First, from the beginning of heavy bombing, the paper went to enormous, but very short, headlines, like: BOMBS FALL, IT'S WAR, NOT SO FAST. I have no clue what these were supposed to convey, but they were so odd looking as to make you pause. Maybe they were intended to convey some kind of World War II-era flavor, or to lend an "it's really big news" look, but they failed. After a week of this, the CA stopped and went back to more normal headlines.

Second, is the shift in reporting and stories. War coverage now owns the front pages. Many more stories about the war fill the rest of the A section, and spill into the Metro and Appeal sections, too. But the paper hasn't increased page count, nor have they dropped most of the national and international coverage they seem to think they must prominently feature.

No, what's been cut back is local reporting. Stories of City, County and State shenanigans are getting short, light, shrift.

Third, prior to the start of hostilities, the CA was regularly running stories about local families negatively affected by the war, and numerous editorials and guest columns opposing a war. They even ran a long feature covering a roundtable consisting of some panelists with family members in Iraq and some of the usual anti-war voices. But since the war started, all of this has disappeared, to be replaced by pages of reader letters. I imagine this way, the paper can convey the appearance of great strife in the City over the war without having to actually do the dirty work themselves.

It's sad to see the CA go this way. Life goes on here in Memphis, and a lot of things are happening. Their desire to be the "paper of record" is severely tilting their story selection and relegating the important stuff, the local stuff, to oblivion. It's a bad move on their part, as they have to run a lot of stories to get the whole picture, one that most folks are getting from television or the Internet. Yes, papers can provide the context and depth of reporting that media don't. But the CA shouldn't be shoving aside their real duty for this.

War coverage should be a separate section, in addition to the rest of the paper. Take a hit on costs until the war reaches a point where coverage can be blended back into the regular page count. That would be fair to locals who still have lives to live, and need the local news first.

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