A couple of weeks ago, a website specializing in covering government, feted the upheaval at Amarillo’s City Hall. The so-called reporter didn’t do any original reporting. He used all secondary sources, including the local propaganda sheet also known as the Amarillo Globe-News.
Of course, in doing so, he perpetuated the local propaganda favoring the Wallace Bajjali-inspire downtown plan, but he also overlooked the entire back story, a legitimate shift in power and direction at Amarillo City Hall. I wrote him the following email:
I just read your piece about Amarillo’s dysfunctional city government. Because I am serving as a consultant to ABC7Amarillo/KVII, I cannot comment publicly on what you wrote. But privately I can tell you it is highly biased. The sources for your story are from the local media bought and paid for by the elite in this community. They and their interests lost the last election. They can’t believe that they are facing a revolution here. The Amarillo Globe-News in particular, and its TV ally Newschannel10, are in the thick of the current propaganda war, with the publisher of the Globe-News so mired in journalistic conflicts of interest that he and his paper have little cred left among the masses.
You can’t overlook this side of the story. The three councilors the Globe-News is now undercutting won the election with fairly strong numbers although, of course, we’re now debating what all those votes mean. But, here is what they mean from my eight years of solid reporting on the now-City Council: The public got tired of the previous councils ignoring them, treating those coming to the council with open disdain and disrespect and then good the old boys working with the councilors to cut self-serving deals behind the scenes.
If you look at my blog at the URL on my signature card, you’ll see there is another side to the story.
Already your piece is making the rounds on Facebook. One of our local lawyers just posted this comment with your story: “A really great piece of "journalism" here (sarcasm). If you write about the "turmoil" or "dysfunction" in our City Hall and don't mention Boondoggle Ballpark, you are not telling the story. For extra points you might also mention turmoil at the Water Department, problems with Animal Control, and the fiasco with hiring a traffic manager to reach way back, all of which PRECEDED the new administration.”
As a journalist, I rarely call for a retraction over a correction; but in this case, I come close. Even with a retraction, un-ring the bell. I suggest a prominent correction.
Well, this fellow responded:
My apologies for my delay in response. I've been off the past few days and am only running at quarter speed because due to some stomach issues, so I'm slowly chipping away at my inbox. But I'm going to take some time later today to take a closer look at this.
If there were any main takeaways from my piece, they were not supposed to be about detailing the complicated background of what led up to the mess the city is, it was to demonstrate this: The relatively rapid succession of departures of top city leadership (city attorney, deputy city manager, public works director, IT director and city manager) is something that's very difficult for a local government to rebuild from. The fact that the mayor told a local newspaper that the city was getting "no applicants" and recognized the current turmoil creates an environment that career-track local government professionals want to steer clear of is a position that no city government wants to find itself is. The origins of the conflict are not as relevant. What's more important: How does Amarillo stand back up and fill the vacancies?
Of the handful of emails I've received on this, they've been roughly split between, paraphrasing, "thanks for pointing out the trouble in my community" to the flipside: "you can't be trusted because you linked to the Globe-News and Newschannel 10." People are more than welcome (and have been) posting comments pointing out their distrust of those local news sources. If the Globe-Mail and Newschannel 10 officially retracted anything in their reporting that I linked to, I will make adjustments on my end.
Michael E. Grass
Executive Editor, State & Local | RouteFifty.com
Government Executive Media Group | Atlantic Media
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I couldn’t restrain myself today. My response?
Your original story and your response to me reflect superficiality on several levels, at least in my view is investigative journalist. Your piece was short-order journalism, if it was journalism at all. I am not going to back off of my criticism.
I am going to refer you to article from four days ago and that pitiful rag known as the Amarillo Globe-News which SGR CEO Ron Holifield is quoted as saying, “I hate to see that coverage but everybody is aware what is going on. With city management, it’s a very small club.”
That should give you some pause. Because, if everybody is aware of what’s going on, they are also aware of how bogus and superficial your post was.