Archive for Thursday, February 9, 2006

Whose bottom line are they watching?

February 9, 2006

I've been reading with bemusement news articles and editorials from the newspaper up north these past couple of weeks.

On Jan. 26, the Leavenworth County Commission voted 2-1 to award publication of the county's legal advertising to The Tonganoxie Mirror, a sister publication of The Current. The vote returned publication of the public notices to The Mirror after a one-year period in which the Leavenworth Times had the contract. Last year, in fact, was the first time the Times had won the bid since at least 1995.

But boy, oh boy, has the Times cried foul since that Jan. 26 meeting, and the crying hasn't been limited to the paper's editorial pages.

Since losing the bid, the Times has noted in news stories and editorials that The Mirror was owned by The World Company, "with headquarters and presses in Lawrence" - as if Lawrence was some far-off place where assorted ne'er-do-wells, thugs and terrorists lurk in every corner.

Times' stories about the commission since the vote have carried this or some similar line: "The new official newspaper did not have anyone covering the commission meeting."

After one commission meeting I attended as a staff member representing The World Company papers, the Times' story said (misplaced comma and misspelled word included as published), "A representative from the Tonganoxie Mirror, was not present at the meeting. However, a representative from another newspaper owned by the Mirror's parent company in Lawrencce did attend part of the meeting."

A subsequent editorial about the Times' loss of the county's public notices castigated Clyde Graeber and Dean Oroke, the two commissioners who voted to return the public notices to The Mirror, as everything from anti-development pols to barons of backroom dealings.

Then, it was back onto the high horse. The Times, the paper vowed, would continue to hold commissioners accountable for their actions.

Thank heavens for the free press, especially the brand that publishes in the First City.

But let's look at how the free press operates, or at least is supposed to operate.

First and foremost, it's supposed to be truthful.

But the Times wasn't honest when it reported on Jan. 27 that The Mirror didn't have anyone covering the Jan. 26 commission meeting. That would be news to Caroline Trowbridge, The Mirror's publisher and editor, who attended the meeting.

Nor was the Times honest in its reporting when it neglected to note the officials who spoke Jan. 26 in favor of returning the public notices to The Mirror. For instance:

¢ Planning and zoning director Chris Dunn said communication with the Times was poor when it was publishing the public notices. His department had difficulty getting proofs of publication. He'd had to call the Times several times. "I know there's frustration," he told commissioners.

¢ County Treasurer Janice Young told commissioners the county's most recent quarterly report had not been proofed by the Times staff. She, too, had problems receiving proofs of publications from the Times. She did say the county brought in $55,000 more last year in delinquent taxes. But the county also had 316 more delinquent parcels to start with than the previous year. As Graeber pointed out with Young in agreement, there was no way to link the increased collections with publication in the Times.

The Times has been less than honest in glossing over the fact its bid was 51 percent higher than The Mirror's. The Times never has noted the actual bids: $3.05 per column inch from The Mirror vs. $4.60 per column inch from the Times.

And the Times' biggest boondoggle of them all: That the county commissioners "will now send Leavenworth County tax dollars to a business in Douglas County."

It's true, The World Company is headquartered in Lawrence. The Mirror, The Current, The Basehor Sentinel are all printed in Lawrence. But they're also newspapers that put the Leavenworth County communities they serve first.

What the Leavenworth Times doesn't want you to realize is it's owned by Liberty Group Publishing, a conglomerate headquartered in Northbrook, Ill. The Times isn't sinking its profits into a better newspaper. It's not buying new printing presses, hiring additional staff members or designing cutting-edge Web sites to better its ability to deliver the news. No, any profits it reaps are heading off to suburban Chicago and points beyond.

Congratulations, not brickbats, should go out to commissioners Graeber and Oroke. They've got their eye on the county's bottom line. The same can't be said for the Times, which is acting like a bully that just lost his cut of the lunch money.

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