Monday, November 12, 2007

How Newspapers Manufacture News

Last week a fellow named Walt Eilers gathered up some friends, perched himself on the west side of the square, and announced that he wanted to be Mayor of Fayetteville. He went through some talking points and offered a list of innocuous goals, essentially saying he was for more of the same. That exercise in political platitudes was covered quite well by the reporters there that day.

Dug Begley of The Morning News added a bit of tension to the story by asking Mr. Eilers about the possibility that incumbent Mayor Dan Coody might run for reelection. Eilers said he didn't think Coody would run. "But if Dan runs, then there's two of us," he replied but then added, "If Lioneld [Jordan] runs, then there's three." Interesting answer to a question that wasn't asked.

Adam Wallworth of the Northwest Arkansas Times waited until the second paragraph before adding a quote from Alderman Lioneld Jordan about his interest in running for mayor. He followed that with comments from Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, who has also let it be known that he would like the job.

Then, yesterday Greg Harton's weekly opionion column touched on the developing race for mayor. Eilers is the only announced candidate, but Harton gave as much or more attention to the coy Mayor Coody and Republican businessman Koenig's plans to announce soon. Then came this: "Last week’s most surprising development for some was the move by Alderman Lioneld Jordan to toss his hat into the mayoral ring. That’s going to make the race very, very interesting. Jordan, who works for the University of Arkansas’ Facilities Management, has served Ward 4 for nearly seven years and serves in the ceremonial post of vice mayor. State law allows anyone holding an elective office to include the title of that office on the ballot, so Jordan might get a minor boost from his experience even as people cast the ballot."

Did Jordan really do that hat tossing thing, or did he just answer a reporter's question? Maybe it doesn't matter. Harton still says "
it will be a great year for a community discussion about what’s important to Fayetteville, what needs to be done to protect Fayetteville’s future and what voters want changed, if anything. And the best place in Fayetteville to watch it all unfold will be your local newspaper."

The local newspapers will even help that unfolding along if necessary, because readership is important to advertisers and advertising revenues are at the heart of the contemporary First Amendment. Just kidding. Actually it is the questioning that makes it interesting and news, and the editorial speculation by the corporate media is almost as entertaining as the blogs. Can you imagine reading reprints of politicians' press releases?

Reading between the "unfolding" lines in the local newspapers, as Harton said, the real news is that Vice Mayor and Alderman Lioneld Jordan might be a candidate. He has more experience and understanding of city government than Eilers and Koenig combined, and his candidacy would make it "very, very interesting." It is a possibility that is already making the local blogs.

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