Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I apologize

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:52 PM |  

By my own choice, I did not write a column this week. The fact that my space was given to a Paul Klugman column is more than enough reason to apologize, but I owe those of you who look for my column and visit this site, which hasn’t been updated in a while, more of an apology than that.

My excuse is that my kids were in town this week, but a more honest reason is that I just had a piss-poor week, and I let the frustration and anger get the better of me. It took a letter from a column reader, commenting on the intellectually vapid Pioneer Press editorial today supporting a state-wide smoking ban, that kind of put things in perspective. My column is important.

The piss-poor week started when the Pioneer Press turned down an OP-ED piece I’d encouraged Doug Williams, Bogus Gold, to put together. It was an insightful piece that used the Maxfield controversy to (among other points) illustrate how readers’ interactions with newspapers are being influenced by blogs and bloggers. The paper turned it down because it was too “inside baseball” and “self-congratulatory.” Perhaps, but it was a piece that would have opened perceptive readers’ eyes (and maybe even an editor or two at the Pioneer Press) to a new direction in the way newspaper readers get the news.

It’s frustrating because I know the work Doug put in on the piece; I feel guilty that I couldn’t push it through; it’s maddening that the Pioneer Press keeps running up to the edge on becoming a really visionary opinion page, but refuses to jump.

A second case in point is another rejected OP-ED piece I championed. This a piece on why liberals should support school choice by Elizabeth Mische, executive director of the Partnership for Choice in Education. Liz comes out of a Democrat/Liberal tradition that most of the Conservative/Libertarian readers of this site are too young to remember. It’s a tradition that speaks for those with no voice in the halls of power and seeks to empower those people without power -- not domesticate them like today’s liberals and, sadly, moderate Republicans. Again, it’s an excellent piece that makes a unique point -- but was rejected on the basis that the paper (meaning me) has already done a lot on school choice.

So what does that say to readers -- school choice is something that nutty Westover writes about; oh yeah, and also all the people who write “Taking Exception” columns. As far as Pioneer Press Opinion Page readers are concerned, there is no huge support for school choice, certainly no liberal support. That’s frustrating.

I could leave it there and you might think I’m somewhat heroic, but there’s a more personal reason I’ve been sulking that is much less laudatory.

The topics I write about are important to me. However, in the world of “objective” journalism, that is not always a positive thing. Even on the Opinion Page, one is supposed to be dispassionately objective, which means you can write about something, but you’re not to dirty your hands by being closely tied to the issue.

As a result, I’ve had to turn down paid advertisers for this site, because that would be a conflict of interest. I’ve had to pull back from freelancing for think tanks and other organizations because if I did, I would not be able to write about them or any activities they supported. I had to turn down the opportunity to visit the Milwaukee Public Schools because the trip is paid for by the Friedman Foundation.

Although I regard it as insulting to my integrity to think that I can be bought that cheaply, I do understand the paper’s position. The losers, however, are Pioneer Press readers who miss out on a first-hand view from Milwaukee and the expertise gained from exposure to intelligent people with deep “product“ knowledge. The paper’s position is still style over substance where appearance is more important that fact, especially when one notes that the position of editorial writer is a guild position, and editorial staff writers are members of CWA, which modestly could be characterized “a little left of center.”

Nonetheless, because I am not on the Pioneer Press staff, all that does raise an issue for me.

Full disclosure -- I receive $75 a column. I’m not gripping. I knew that going in, and as I’ve repeatedly said on this site, I am extremely grateful to Art Coulson and the Pioneer Press for the opportunity. It was a gutsy move on their part. It’s an opportunity I’ve pursued, funding that pursuit with a minor windfall from a couple of start-up companies. That base is just about gone, and given the restrictions, I’m going to have to make a decision about keeping the column or, as they say, pursuing other interests.

It’s not an easy decision. The column is having an impact -- I don’t want to lose that -- but I don’t like juggling credit cards at the end of the month either. Making that decision is something I’m going to have to do sooner or later. In any case, stewing about it doesn’t further the causes I want to serve. I let self-absorption sap the juices this past week. For that, I apologize. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.