Poor journalism in clinic coverage

Thursday August 30, 2012

I want a better newspaper. I want a higher level of reporting that is not so easily manipulated by three city councilors who show up in the Berkshire Eagle newsroom with claims that are complete nonsense. I want editorials that are inspiring and which wisely guide a community. The late Roger Linscott, the Eagle's legendary editorial writer, won a Pulitzer prize for his extraordinary work. By comparison, the recent editorial on the Spectrum lawsuit actually implies that because Spectrum failed to check a box on its building permit application, its case against the city was in jeopardy. Seriously? Are we supposed to believe that federal discrimination laws evaporate because an applicant failed to check a box?

We need editorial writers and reporters who can think beyond what three mischief-makers are feeding them. When Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay called last week to say he was writing a story about how Mayor Bianchi "misled" Councilors Clairmont, Krol and Lothrop, I invited him to come over. There is absolutely no evidence that the mayor tried to mislead anyone. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Here's an interesting piece of information: There are only nine lines in the city solicitor's budget; it's very easy to follow. One of the budget line items -- and the only one that is in bold -- looks exactly like this: **new** Legal Settlements -- . . $100,000. Does this appear to be the work of a mayor who is trying to mislead people? But there's more.

When Dick Lindsay came over to the mayor's office, I replayed for him the actual video of that section of the public hearing in which the city solicitor's budget was discussed -- particularly the $100,000 appropriation that was clearly marked as litigation settlement. During that portion of the discussion, Councilor Lothrop noted that the council could go into executive session to discuss it further "but I don't recommend it," he said. I replayed that portion of the video three times for Lindsay. I'm stunned that a city councilor who chose not to avail himself of more information would later complain to the Berkshire Eagle that he was misled. In fact, I told the mayor that this story was so full of baloney that no editor at the Eagle would allow it to advance. Instead, Tim Farkas, executive editor of the Berkshire Eagle, shared a byline with Lindsay.

I know it's a new world, and newspapers are floundering. Yet, many of us still believe profoundly in the important role that newspapers play in a community. There can never be a substitute for fairness, integrity and honesty. I work in Mayor Dan Bianchi's administration, but I was a reporter for this newspaper for 18 years and I still consider it my life's work. I spent several years covering City Hall and did my very best, every single day. I never wrote a story that I knew to be factually incorrect. I never left important facts out of a story. My editors would not have allowed such behavior. I never lost sight of the fact that I was writing about decent human beings who essentially lived in a small community. There was nothing special about me. We all met high standards or we did not work there for long.

But that was then, and this is now. I work for a mayor who routinely puts in 12 hour days; who works throughout the weekend; who accommodates every visitor he possibly can; who is a complete gentleman and who is working diligently for the benefit of this city. I am sure there will be critical articles about his tenure as mayor, and I have no problem with hard-hitting news. What I am asking for is the very basics in journalism: that the articles be true and fair.



The writer is director of administrative services, city of Pittsfield. The Eagle stands by its story and editorial.


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