The Dallas Morning News is caught up in a circulation scandal of its own. But that paper, and its parent company Belo Corporation, have hardly embraced Newsday's model of self-examination. Jim Schutze of the weekly alternative Dallas Observer tells Bob that ignoring the problem doesn't always make it go away.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim Schutze is a reporter for the Dallas Observer, where the local daily is caught up in a circulation scandal of its own. But according to Schutze, the Dallas Morning News and parent Belo Corporation have in no way embraced the Newsday model of self-examination. Jim, welcome to OTM.
JIM SCHUTZE: Good to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: How did the news of the circulation scandal break in Dallas?
JIM SCHUTZE: It broke about a year ago, and the Morning News at that time divulged some of it on its own. They characterized it as sort of a technical problem with counting circulation. Several months ago, a shareholder lawsuit against them was amended, and a whole bunch of much more specific and controversial, colorful claims were made, and the News did not divulge that. In fact, they were scooped by a competing newspaper, the Star-Telegram, broke that story, and then the News chased it the next day with a story about themselves.
BOB GARFIELD: The allegation is that Belo Corporation flat out lied in some of its SEC filings about how the over-counting of circulation took place. Consequently, the issue is not merely mis-reporting but actual fraud. Now, in your piece you said that there has been cursory coverage in the Dallas Morning News. Just how cursory has the coverage been?
JIM SCHUTZE: Well, the News has covered none of its own circulation problems with its own staff. They've brought a reporter here from the Providence Journal, which is owned by the same company. I think they brought him here. He may be doing some of the coverage by phone, and he has covered only the sort of official filings and the outside of the story. There's been none of what Newsday has done - that is, describing how it actually worked, how do people commit circulation fraud and why is it important - there's been none of that in the Morning News.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I should say here that we invited Belo to come on and discuss this matter for itself, but the company declined to join us. Let me ask you, has the Dallas Morning News been as averse to covering the details of business scandals when they do not involve the Dallas Morning News?
JIM SCHUTZE: The News has been especially tough on city hall in the last year. It has to do with a local proposition they wanted passed; has to do with a lot of real estate politics, but they brought in the international consultant Booz Allen and pored over the city's books, in a way that I think most people would applaud, but they were very, very rigorous in demanding candor of the city, so one can't help seeing a pretty dramatic double standard when they're required instead to look inward.
BOB GARFIELD: You know a lot of reporters at the Morning News. Are you hearing any grumbling from your colleagues there about the way the paper has covered itself or, or not covered itself?
JIM SCHUTZE: Well, the newspaper is run by sophisticated, experienced news professionals. At my paper, we're the weekly, we like giving them a hotfoot, cause that's sort of our bowl of rice, but [LAUGHS], but we recognize that these are good journalists. They knew - they had to know - that they were setting themselves up to be scooped on their own circulation story, and so what I get from inside the News is that this decision to sit on everything is not being made at the newspaper. I think it's being made above the newspaper at the ownership level, at the corporate level, and there's somebody there who just didn't get that they're simply setting the newspaper up to be embarrassed.
BOB GARFIELD: Sure, there's the pain of self-flagellation, as the Times and USA Today and others have experienced. But there must also be some level of pain at working at a major news organization and not reporting the story of, of your own company. Is there anything you've heard from anyone over on the editorial staff that makes you think that they're embarrassed or anything else?
JIM SCHUTZE: You know, the Morning News just went through massive layoffs. Part of their latest story on circulation fraud involved admitting that their circulation losses are twice what they had admitted a year ago. I think that there is some embarrassment, but there's more anxiety and fear about the long range well being of the newspaper. I think you have a lot of people who just are hoping to weather this storm. It's not a situation that offers people very many viable alternatives.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, Newsday happens to be in the middle of one of the most competitive newspaper markets in the United States. Dallas, on the other hand, is a one-newspaper town.
JIM SCHUTZE: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you think that has had a bearing on the decision just to clamp down?
JIM SCHUTZE: Absolutely. I mean the newspaper here is simply not watched the way newspapers are in that climate in the Northeast. I also have to think that, that at the newspapers like Newsday that have done these mea culpa coverages, or like the Times with the Jayson Blair story, that's really painful internally, I would think, and yet somebody has to bite the bullet and do it anyway. Here, I guess there isn't the pressure or there isn't the courage, but I'm from the daily newspaper business - that's - that's where I worked most of my career, but I can't help looking at them and thinking this is just the, the slow process by which they all finally sink into the La Brea Tar Pits, and then the rest of us - then a million flowers may bloom. [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: Right. Well, Jim, thank you so much.
JIM SCHUTZE: Sure.
BOB GARFIELD: Jim Schutze is a columnist for the Dallas Observer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the New York Times decides to reach out to readers and maybe keep anonymous sources at arms' length.