The ‘Perception' of The Ledger | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The ‘Perception' of The Ledger

I used to work with someone who would infuriate me because—as I used to say somewhat venomously—she would "treat me as if I were as stupid as she is." Ever get that feeling? I've been feeling that way a lot since The Clarion-Ledger's crack opinion team has been going on about the "passion" shown by Chief Moore for his job. Their day-late-dollar-short opining has gotten me edgier than a double-tall iced mocha frappe.

On May 12, 2005, the C-L editorial read, "What Moore never 'got' (in perception or reality) was that the perception is changed by leaders taking decisive action—not decrying 'perceptions'—to make real changes in procedures, police numbers, salaries, to force allocations … and show the results, creating a new reality."

In my opinion, the chief did all of these things. What the chief's biggest "fault" was, in the eyes of The Clarion-Ledger, is that he didn't properly play his role in their "PerceptionGate(TM)" marketing campaign, starting back in 2003.

If only he'd shown up at the C-L's shiny building, found a parking space, retrieved a visitor's pass, and walked past the sea of sales cubicles to the conference room—the logic goes—he could have prostrated himself, apologized to the C-L's crack opinion team for something he didn't say in the first place—all because they twisted his words and misunderstood the principle behind them.

If he'd shown the appropriate contrition because they found it more useful to their bottom line to build a series of Blab-A-Torials(TM) about "perception" than to try to figure out what he was talking about, then he'd have been an acceptable chief.

But Chief Moore was not the perfect "talk newspaper" guest. In his recent column, "Job Passion Never On the Chief's Side," C-L "host" Eric Stringfellow even says the following: "It's a shame that much of what the chief did was overshadowed by his atrocious public relations skills."

Watch closely what Stringfellow is doing in service of the C-L's "news-talk" team. In one fell swoop, he's able to disavow the C-L of any responsibility in this matter. If our leaders—even the unelected ones—don't have the "PR" skills to razzle and dazzle the likes of Eric Stringfellow, then they must not be doing their job running the police department, right?

And when the C-L gets it wrong, misquoting the chief saying something about a perception of crime when he said "perception of fear" back in April 2003—well, that's not their fault, either. The chief should be such a PR maven that he can deftly overcome the C-L's indolence.

In announcing his quick retirement, the chief does seem demoralized by his experience in Jackson. But I don't think it's because he was criticized by the media—after decades in law enforcement, I imagine that he has a thicker skin than just about any newspaper columnist I've ever met.

My guess is that what has demoralized the chief is that he's being criticized by media who don't know what they're talking about. They're treating him as if he's as stupid about law enforcement as they are.

You see, community policing is a real thing. And it includes dealing with the problem that people perceive that crime is worse than it is and that they fear for their lives as a result. One thing that feeds that fear is media sensationalism of crime.

That happens here. Promise.

It is incumbent upon the C-L opinion team to do more than just listen to friends at parties and then write what seems to them to be the widely acceptable take on a given topic. The "newspaper of record" shouldn't devolve into "talk journalism." There should be facts, research and interviews backing up those "opinions."

Mr. Stringfellow laments that Chief Moore will be remembered less for the job that he did of turning around a department that had been riddled with corruption, run by temporary chiefs and that, as many of us have come to realize in this election cycle, has had 10 chiefs in 15 years. Now, over 15 years into this amazing drama, we're living with the lowest crime since 1988.

Instead, Stringfellow says, the chief will be remembered for his poor public relations skills. Well, C-L, whose fault is that?

You see, not only is there a thing called community policing, but there's also a thing called
community journalism. Its meaning can be boiled down to this—instead of just reporting on the problems, you need to be part of the solution. Bring facts to the table, challenge conventional wisdom and introduce new ideas.

Read a book about community policing and see if "media sensationalism" and "fear" are mentioned. Yes, your role is to criticize—but not about things you don't understand. That's like a food critic who doesn't know paprika from thyme.

My question is this—could Jackson be farther down the road of lower crime if the C-L practiced community journalism?

Ervin S. Duggan, former president of PBS, says on the Web site of the Center for Community Journalism and Development: "What seems to me the besetting sin of (journalism) today is a know-it-all cynicism that gets in the way of the story."

It's not the criticism that people find demoralizing. It's the cynicism. If the C-L had been doing its job—being critical, watchful, engaged, but not so damned cynical—then I believe we would have been further down the road to community policing and lower crime in Jackson. Instead, the C-L stood in the way of progress. Casting a cynical eye from the sidelines is easier, and it still pays the light bill.

The JFP calls again on the Clarion-Ledger to hire an ombudsman or "public editor" whose chief responsibility is to listen to reader criticism and critique the paper with a free hand. It's time for The Clarion-Ledger to step up and use some of its vast corporate resources to serve the broader interests of this community. They need someone who understands community journalism and who can help bring trust back in a community that too often refers to its daily paper as "The Clarion Liar."

They must start treating us, the public, as if we're as smart as they think they are.

Previous Comments


BTW, since no one else has commented on Todd's column this week, I will. When I first read this statement, it gave me chills because it rings so true: My guess is that what has demoralized the chief is that heís being criticized by media who donít know what theyíre talking about. Theyíre treating him as if heís as stupid about law enforcement as they are. Y'all be sure to read this column. Todd nails The Ledge like I haven't been able to.


Interesting. Today The Clarion-Ledger ran a correction about how they paraphrased a statement by the mayor from his press conference last week. Here is the correction: "At a news conference on Friday, Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. said, 'It takes the media participating in the crime-fighting process alongside our citizens and the Police Department instead of sensationalizing the problem.' A story in Saturday's editions misstated what the mayor meant." Here is the letter from the city requesting the retraction: Jack, I just read ìCommunity Urged to Help End Violenceî that ran on May 21, 2005.† In the article you inaccurately state that Mayor Johnson said that ìmore uplifting stories from the media would help defuse crime.î† In fact, what the Mayor said in regard to the media was ìIt takes the media participating in the crime-fighting process alongside our citizens and the Police Department instead of sensationalizing the problem.î Your inaccurate statement belies the true meaning of what Mayor Johnsonís said, and in turn mischaracterizes the entire point that he was making ñ that the media has a responsibility to be a part of the solution as well.† I would very much like a retraction.† Please advise me of when it will run. Sincerely, Christopher D. Mims Public Information Officer Public Information Office Office of the Mayor _____ This is the first time that I have seen the Ledge correct one of its questionable paraphrases about crime perception-gate. Perhaps we'll see this happen more often. The paraphrase does demonstrate that they just do not get what the city is talking about here, as Todd states above. The opposite of "do not sensationalize crime" is not "run more uplifting stories"óalthough more uplifting stories would indeed be a good step as well. But to turn that statement into that paraphrase, well, it just proves what Todd says above.


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