Making sure it's for the right reasons - Denny Scott editorial
The power of the press is an important one not only because of the responsibility that accompanies it, but because of the impact that journalists (and columnists, or journalists/columnists) can have by choosing which stories to follow and which stories are unlikely to interest readers.
There are often discussions in The Citizen’s offices about whether a story is a high priority or not, and whether or not the average reader may be interested in the story or whether it’s more of an isolated situation.
Every week those decisions must be made and the consequences dealt with, which is a lesson that Rob Snell, a writer for The Detroit News, should be learning right now.
Snell, recently, wrote an article about golfer Phil Mickelson right around the time that he was participating in a fundraising golf tournament in Detroit. The story is about a 23-year-old controversy that involved Mickelson, a Hall of Fame golfer, being swindled out of $500,000 after betting with an allegedly mob-connected gambler.
Mickelson was never in the wrong, and the story doesn’t suggest that. There was also no reason whatsoever to dig up the old story, except for the fact that Mickelson was in town for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The story hadn’t been broken before, so, despite being 23 years old, it could still be relevant, however the timing reeks of opportunism.
The situation puts Mickelson’s participation in future iterations of the three-year-old tournament, which ended up donating $1.1 million to local nonprofits, at risk as he said he wouldn’t be returning after the story broke.
Mickelson said he doesn’t need to deal with the kind of welcome Snell rolled out when he’s trying to help the community.
“It’s hard for me or somebody to come in and bring other people and bring other entities involved to help out because you’re constantly being torn down,” Mickelson said.
Some people have claimed that Mickelson is being a bit dramatic about the situation, pointing to the fact that he’s changed his
tune since initially saying he wouldn’t return for the golf tournament, taking his associates with him and having a negative impact on the event and its ability to help the community.
While he initially said he wouldn’t be back, an online petition, with a goal of acquiring 50,000 signatures from Michigan, swayed him. He said if it reaches the goal set out by organizers, and each signatory pledges to do a good deed, he will return. As of writing this, the petition had acquired one-fifth of its goal in just under three days.
Mickelson also donated $100,000 to the Detroit Children’s Foundation, just to show there were no hard feelings with the community at large.
That kind of support is important in communities and, in the dubious timing of Snell’s story, he put it at risk for no discernable good reason: the community didn’t benefit from the story, nor did the tournament. The only person who benefitted was Snell, which calls his intentions into question.
Every day The Citizen’s editorial staff members have to deal with that question: is what we’re doing for the betterment of our communities? In this space in particular, we need to make sure what we’re writing about is, at worst, not going to unnecessarily cause problems for someone else.
Our decisions have resulted in falling out with some: there are organizations and individuals who don’t want to work with us because a necessary, timely story proved beneficial to the community, but not to their private interests. No, I won’t go into details, but it’s happened.
It’s gone the other way as well, there are individuals we are skeptical of working with. It may be because they have proven they aren’t interested in community betterment, and instead only look to further their own agendas at the expense of (or causing harm to) local communities. For others, it may be they only reach out to us because they want to use the newspaper as a threatening stick against other people.
Rest assured that, if you see it in the newspaper, especially on this page, the subjects herein have been subject to a long, hard consideration before they’re enshrined in ink. Everything that gets here (that isn’t of a softer nature) is here because either myself, Editor Shawn Loughlin, Past-Publisher Keith Roulston and/or Publisher Deb Sholdice believe it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
We do it because the community needs to know what’s happening and they need to know the impact of the decisions and actions that are happening in the community, for good or for ill. Unfortunately that occasionally requires stepping on some toes.
Making sure the community is best served by stepping on those toes, however, is the duty of every journalist and while I hope
I’ve hit that goal, I have to say that I think Snell missed the mark in this particular situation.