We take some heat for pointing out shortcomings in our daily newspaper, with critics often saying we're just beating on the competition. But there's more to our concerns about the JT than poking a stick at our chief rivals.
In many ways, The Journal Times plays as important role in local issues as any politician or company. They're the primary source of information in Racine. Their stories determine what people think about issues, and often influence how policy plays out. They're a big-time local player, and they should be held accountable as such.
That said, two baffling stories jump out of Saturday's paper. The first is the JT's lead story on the front page, under a six-column headline: "Wheaton: Patients can aid billing." The story attempts to shift the blame for Wheaton's billing problems from the health care system and on to patients. Essentially, if you go to the hospital and they screw up your bill, it's your fault because you didn't provide appropriate information or you tried to call customer service on a Monday, or over the noon hour. Seriously.
Information in the story may help some patients. Writing your account information on your payment or providing current insurance information are good tips when dealing with Wheaton. But when did the JT become a public relations arm of a corporate health care provider?
Journal Times reporters, it's not your job to help corporate flacks pass off fundamental flaws in their billing system as the public's mistake. Wheaton may be paying the newspaper for advertising, but they're not paying anywhere near enough to get a front-page, lead story deflecting responsibility for years of billing incompetence onto the public.
Please see this point. At its best, a newspaper's job is to investigate and reveal short-comings of the powerful in our community, and hold them accountable for their actions. "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable," as Finley Peter Dunne put it a century ago. It doesn't matter if they spend money on advertising or they promptly return your phone calls. You have to dig deep, investigate, ask questions and uncover what's really going. You represent the interests of your readers, because without readers, you have no advertising, and worse, you have no purpose.
For the past few years, some in the JT newsroom have been content to sit back and wait for others to dig up scoops and then pass them off as their own. This won't continue to work. If a little website with two people working out of their homes can routinely scoop a multi-million dollar operation with over 150 years of history in the community, it's time for the institution to take stock of their actions or risk collapse.
Today's Wheaton story is embarrassing. It's PR journalism at its worst, reading like a three-fold pamphlet you can pick up in All Saints' lobby. The reporter shouldn't have written it, the editors should never have approved it and the page designer should never have placed it at the top of the front page. It's a systemic failure of a newsroom that values quantity over quality and surface over depth. Just because you slap a "Watching Wheaton" logo on your stories doesn't mean your eyes are open. Perhaps a better title would be "Obeying Wheaton."
The second story in the paper that shouldn't escape comment is the lead on the Local page, "Bookseller may skip industrial park." This story originated Friday on WRJN-AM 1400's Sound Off program when Mayor John Dickert announced that Treasures Media may not build an 80,000 square-foot distribution center in Racine's Southside Industrial Park. We heard WRJN reporter Tom Karkow report the story and did a quick re-write, crediting WRJN and linking to their report.
The JT story in today's paper makes no mention of WRJN, which broke the story, and makes it look like the reporter discovered this information and broke the news himself. This may seem like quibbling, but it's another example of the JT's arrogant refusal to acknowledge any other local media. We're used to the JT taking our stories without credit, but it's surprising to see them do the same to WRJN. It's dishonest and dishonorable work. JT management should put a stop to it.
Update: Unbelievable. The JT has apparently worked a deal with Mayor John Dickert to publish a monthly puff piece from his office.