Archive for October, 2009

Helen’s Halloween Costume



Here’s a photo of me in costume: It was the scariest thing I could think of–Terrifying, isn’t it?

The (Toledo) Blade’s editorial board ought to save itself some effort and costly print-space and nix any formal editorial endorsement of a mayoral candidate. Their choice is already as clear as last Sunday’s sky–they’ve already endorsed their candidate in their news coverage.

Yesterday, The Blade demonized Bell for admitting he was taking a break the very day after his election work ends. Today, above the fold, in large type, we learn that WIlkowski has twice the financial backing of Bell. Both aggrandize Wilkowski and make Bell look like a bad bet.

Both stories are just stories, you say? Just reporting the facts?

Well, that is true, to a point. But let’s consider how the rhetorical choices of a writer/publisher manipulate audience sensibilities.

WHERE something appears on the printed page conveys its level of importance. Both stories had important placement—the first appeared on the front page of the front section. The second was posted at the most prominent slot on the Second News section.

WHAT appears first in a news story is obviously the most significant item in that story, as determined by the reporter, in this case, Tom Troy, who attended a neighborhood meeting at which Toledo Mayoral candidates Keith Wilkowski and Michael Bell took questions.

Troy centered the significance of the story on just one of Bell’s answers.When a member of the United North community group asked the mayoral hopefuls if they would be available to attend their meeting the day following the election, the former fire chief honestly answered that he had planned to take a brief and much-needed vacation after campaigning closed.

HOW MUCH space a writer devotes to a topic also conveys its importance to the audience of readers:
Despite the fact that he cited the exhaustive nature of stumping, The Blade devoted 40 paragraphs to the story, gleaning Wilkowski’s expertise: “I don’t think this is a time for vacations. I think this is the time to go to work,” he said.

I’ll admit, maybe this was a boring Q&A, and the scrap over vacation time was the only interesting tidbit of news. Even if this were true, it doesn’t deserve 40 paragraphs and a photo—the same coverage as the top news story covering the sentencing of a trio of Toledoans in a national terror plot.

When we read just about anything, we are being manipulated by the writer—that is, if they are a skllled writer. In this case, the writer tells us that it is significant that Bell wants a vacation, and he lets Bell’s opponent tell us WHY it is significant. In fairness, Troy does ask Bell to clarify, and Bell does, but the majority of the story is devoted to the idea that taking a break is a weakness.

A large headline above the paper’s fold telling us that Wilkowski is garnering much more monetary support than Bell, makes a claim of importance, and at the same time, serves to send the readership a message that more people are behind Wilkowski than Bell..maybe you should be, too? And if you aren’t already, you might want to abandon ship.

Bell supporters, of course, won’t be swayed by coverage like this anymore than Wilkowski supporters would by unfair coverage of their candidate. It is the undecided and those who entrust the local newspaper to guide them in their choices that will be more likely affected by the Blade’s characterizations of Bell as a slacker with half the support of his opponant.

And these are the voters that worry me.