Gazette reporters have been working to debunk – or at least to respond to – professor Steve Bloom’s Atlantic article that hickified most of Iowa.
Todd Dorman, a columnist, has been responding with opinion on where Bloom went wrong in his generalities, while reporter Patrick Hogan was early to respond with questions of accuracy:
I’m a reporter at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and your description of the front page on Easter piqued my curiosity. I’m a newcomer to this state as of last summer and originally a native of the New York suburbs, so I really don’t know much about my company’s history besides what I’ve been told.
So, I went down to the archives and checked the newspaper microfilm for 1991. It had a stand-alone centerpiece package with the headline “Preparing for Easter” and a photo of a local Church along with a caption describing worship services. After that, I checked 1990, which had a centerpiece photo of some lillies along with an attributed excerpt from the Bible. Going a year forward to 1992, I see again, a centerpiece package on Easter preparations along with a freelance lifestyle column on the left rail of an man’s reflections on his wife’s death. I did not see in the three year range the headline “HE HAS RISEN,” but if you provide a more specific year, I would be happy to check and report back.
I didn’t go sifting through microfilm because I’m concerned with historical accuracy (although that is important). I’m more worried that the newspaper you describe as part of an article communicating to the rest of the world a picture of the “real” Iowa, is one that is 20 years old. I’m not interested or capable in defending editorial decisions of the early 90s, as I was in first grade at the time on the other side of the country. But I do not feel your dated characterization of The Gazette is an unfair one, especially if the context is the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.
I don’t have much to say about your other observations. I have not been here long enough, and most of my reporting has been in the urban areas of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. I will say that I have difficulty imagining the circumstances where Iowa City would appear completely empty, but, again, I cannot comment on the state of Iowa City in the early 90s.
Earlier today, I talked with Gazette editor, Lyle Muller about how reporters have been responding. I was especially surprised to see Hogan respond on the Atlantic web site, thinking that his traditional role as a reporter would keep him out of the story, that reporters were more comfortable reporting the news than being part of it.
But Muller said Hogan stayed within his role as a reporter by writing “factual information about his observances” and giving his personal opinion on what Bloom wrote. Hogan was not commenting about his newspaper’s position on the piece, just his own, Muller said. “He was trying to get at the essence of what a journalist would do – get to the truth.”
(I also have been in touch with the editor of the Bloom piece to see what thoughts she had on public concerns about accuracy, especially with the headline of “HE HAS RISEN.” She said she would look into these concerns. You can read that post here.)
Muller also said that Hogan is a reporter who is taking advantage of the access to the public and to other journalists through online comments. In the past, responses such as Hogan’s might have occurred in phone conversations between reporters, but, Muller said, reporters do not operate in a vacuum or in their own sphere, but work outside of their own circles, with the public.
Still, this newspaper is going above and beyond to reach the “truth.” A Gazette librarian has been pulling front pages of the paper between 1986 to 1996 to look for the HE HAS RISEN headline that Bloom wrote about in his article:
When my family and I first moved to Iowa, our first Easter morning I read the second-largest newspaper in the state (the Cedar Rapids Gazette) with this headline splashed across Page One: HE HAS RISEN. The headline broke all the rules I was trying to teach my young journalism students: the event was neither breaking nor could it be corroborated by two independent sources. The editors obviously thought that everyone knew who He was, and cared.
Muller said the use of that headline was a “fallacious” representation of the paper from 20 years ago and that making a comparison to what the paper – and maybe the community – was then with what it is now is not helpful or accurate.
But, Muller said, he doesn’t think the Atlantic or Bloom cared much about minutia, whether things were quite accurate or not. Both were looking for “something edgy” that may “have some truth in it.” I agree and have written something similar.
Indeed, Muller said, Bloom’s article had “tons of truth” such as elderly and dying towns … but the points “(get) lost in the incredible sarcasm.”
Still, the way reporters have been responding to the reporting is especially interesting. Gazette reporter Scott Dochterman posted the headline and others from past decades today, and it doesn’t seem the story is ending soon.