Integrity of Gazette-Journal
News-Editing Compromised

by Del Tartikoff
copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

  A few weeks back Electric Nevada reported that the Gannett newspaper chain, owner of Reno's Gazette-Journal, has been revealed to have special politically-correct guidelines which skew news coverage in its papers all across the country.

Now EN has penetrated the veil of secrecy surrounding Gannett's local operation, revealing systemic indifference to the integrity of the Gazette-Journal's news-editing processes, where important stories are often not covered at all, or -- if they make it into the paper at all -- do so only after undergoing 'Gannettization,' a process of conversion into fog-like generic stories intended to offend no one -- except, perhaps, people who want to know what actually happened.
A source very familiar with Reno Gazette-Journal news policies in recent years says changes effected by Gannett beginning in 1990 shifted the paper's internal dynamics toward keeping news stories out of the paper.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "the last real newsman who was in charge of the Gazette-Journal was Charlie Waters.
"[Waters, in the late '80's,] exercised his responsibility from the point of view of a true newsman. With libel and other questions, his attitude was, to try to get the stories into the paper. But after him . . . came a key shift, where the attitude became 'What can I do to keep this story out of the paper?"
"That," said the source, using a nickname sometimes applied by Gazette-Journal staffers inside the Kuenzli-street building, "was the shift to the Gannettoids."
When on staff, the source said, the paper, under Executive Editor Ward Bushee, followed the Gannett 'mainstreaming' guidelines slavishly, both in hiring and news coverage. During that period, the source said, only one white male reporter was hired by the Reno paper, whereas "all the rest were female.
"They especially like female ethnics. Getting a black or Hispanic woman makes them very happy, since those would fit into two diversity categories."
But what was most disturbing was news coverage, said the source.
"They would pass out lists of minority sources, by subject, and you were required to consult the list" when writing your news stories
"It could be quite difficult," in that "you couldn't use any discretion," the source said. If a reporter's story lacked the required number of minority quotations, "the desk would send the story back."
Even if reporters, after a good-faith effort, explained to desk editors that they couldn't actually find anyone on the list qualified to speak on the story's particular topic, "they would just say, 'Well... see what you can do,'" and return the stories anyway.
The desk editors also felt compelled by local management's subservience to Gannett, the source said, to try to force local news stories into artificial, one-size-fits-all pigeonholes favored by Gannett headquarters in Virginia.
The categories -- supposedly to make all local papers closer to their communities -- had been derived from Gannett-sponsored focus-group interviews. People had been selected for the focus-groups, not on a random basis, but so as to insure they belonged to 'diverse' racial and other minorities. Gannett then distributed the focus group research and asked for the reactions of editors at the 93 papers.
"Low and behold," said the source, "the reports that came back all agreed with Reston's priorities."
With 'consensus' thus achieved chain-wide, Gannett distributed to all its papers a new framework for community news reporting. It was called "News 2000," and arrived in the form of packets filled with charts,
"It came out and the priorities were ranked hierarchically," said our source. "It was a one-size-fits-all approach."
In the Gazette-Journal newsroom, the source said, soon "subjects were made to fit into this framework." There was an attitude that "if it doesn't fit into the Gannett chart, it was a real problem for the editors."
How bad the situation got, the source said, was apparent from the way editors began applying 'kickers.' ['Kickers' are the small headlines that ride above other, larger headlines. -- ed.]
"The kickers were all from the News 2000 categories, and you had a situation
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where the editors were revising the stories to fit the kickers."
The source said that seemed ethically wrong and something which could distort any effort at honest reporting.
One major subject the Gazette-Journal had difficulty fitting into the Gannett list of approved categories was the Gulf War.
"War wasn't on the list," says the source. "It didn't fit the news priorities at all."
Yet, said the source, because Gannett's approach is to try "to impose these artificial standards on a world that's actually in flux," coverage of the Gulf War "had to be manipulated."
At the same time, the Gannett 'mainstreaming' personnel policies were adding extra stress to the Reno newsroom. A new and quickly-unpopular Hispanic city editor had been hired under Gannett diversity doctrines and had enthusiastically adopted the Gannett corporate mindset -- going around telling newsmen to clean up their desks so as not to offend visiting Gannett brass. Reporters began talking about how it seemed like working for an insurance company.
There was "just terrible morale in the newsroom" at the time, the source said. Editors were trying to force the news into Gannett's categories, the new city editor was going around nagging at people, and "reporters were trying to report their stories by quoting the approved list of sources, many of whom were there not because of any qualification, but solely because they were of the approved minority."
The root of the problems at the "Gannett-Journal" -- as the source in a slip of the tongue called the paper -- is, said the source, a corporate mentality which is actually out of sync with the real nature of journalism.
That Gannett mentality is "top-down," centralized and hierarchical, he said, obsessed with numbers and manipulation and "trying to impose these artificial standards on a world that's actually in flux."
While real journalists see news as "what happens," the source said, the Gannett mentality is "we've got a chart here that shows us what is going to happen today,"
The source noted that when news events involve Gannett, "always the stories have lines about 'Gannett refused to comment.' Their attitude is, 'Keep your mouth shut, and it'll go away.' That's why you never see [Executive Editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal] Ward Bushee quoted."
In contrast, the source said, "Charlie Waters once said he didn't think a newspaperman should ever say 'no comment,' since we, as journalists, are always encouraging everyone else to speak."
Bushee, on the other hand, was described as "the original organization man" and "a profoundly disturbing person.
"He comes across very earnestly, almost boyish, and that what makes him so insidious, because he's 100-percent a corporation man, and not a newsman.
"If he was up front and said, "We're going to do A, B, and C, and you're going to have to come to terms with it or leave... that would be one thing.
"But he tries instead to put up a good PR front, and so it's insidious, that corporate mentality."
The national corporation, the source said, has a high proportion of people who never put down roots in a community but "go around the country, from paper to paper, working their way up the Gannett chain."
While there are a number of male old-timers who've spent years and years with the chain and stay where they are, "with the rest, there is a high turnover.
"They are sent here by Gannett, work here a while, then are sent on to some other paper in the chain."
This source says the Gazette-Journal top executives are in a fundamentally bad-faith relationship with the Reno-Sparks community, because "they never did a story" in their own newspaper on the 'mainstreaming' or 'diversity' filter they were imposing on local news coverage.
"They were never up front with the readers, telling them what they are doing," the source argues. "If anyone should be straight with the readers, it should be the editors at the paper."

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