Double Exposure

Freelancer Dustin Block insists he wasn’t trying to one-up his old employer. But just days after leaving his job as Racine Journal Times city editor, Block and retired Journal Times publisher Pete Selkowe teamed up to start an online site with a very newspaper-like name.The Racine Post is a first in southeast Wisconsin: A news Web site run by experienced journalists that’s not connected to an established print or broadcast operation. The much larger OnMilwaukee.com does have regular contributors like Doug Hissom and Drew Olson, veterans of the Shepherd Express and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, respectively. But OnMilwaukee emphasizes entertainment…

Freelancer Dustin Block insists he wasn’t trying to one-up his old employer. But just days after leaving his job as Racine Journal Times city editor, Block and retired Journal Times publisher Pete Selkowe teamed up to start an online site with a very newspaper-like name.

The Racine Post is a first in southeast Wisconsin: A news Web site run by experienced journalists that’s not connected to an established print or broadcast operation. The much larger OnMilwaukee.com does have regular contributors like Doug Hissom and Drew Olson, veterans of the Shepherd Express and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, respectively. But OnMilwaukee emphasizes entertainment and sports and does little news reporting.

The Post delivers two things. Racinepost.com has a format similar to the Drudge Report,with links to news stories about Racine from many sources. Block admits a fondness for pioneering Internet newshound Matt Drudge’s format (although not his right-wing sympathies). The stories Block links to may be from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WTMJ or other area media outlets – including Block’s former employer. He also links to news and opinion blogs run by Racine-area political activists. “There’s a decent independent media movement in the city,” Block says. “I’m trying to bring attention to these sites as much as possible.”

The Post also features racinepost.blogspot.com, where Block and Selkowe write their own mix of breaking news, arts features and profiles, and even include interesting local photos. Despite the blog format, the style of stories is closer to traditional newspaper writing, focusing on reporting rather than leading with opinion. “I don’t see us getting too ideological,” Block says.

There are exceptions. After an upbeat New York Times travel story about Racine, Mike Moore of the Journal Times penned a column about the darker side of the city – crime, industrial decline – that the New York Times left out. That was too much for Selkowe, who responded with commentary chiding the paper with the question, “Why is it always outsiders who love Racine, and locals who run it down?”

Block says he’s been surprised by the amount of original reporting in the new venture and feels liberated by the freedom to cover what he thinks is important. “When you’re not the Journal Times, you can not cover something and no one ever complains, ‘Why weren’t you there?’.” As for making money, that’s another story. The site has sold a handful of ads that bring in “a couple of bucks a week,” he says.

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Looking for the lazy way to dismiss any serious opposition? Just call your idea a “no-brainer.” Journal Sentinel editorials brandished the term three times to defend proposals to rebuild Interstate 94 south to the state line – a verbal tic
that led Pressroom to search the newspaper’s archives.

In 2007 alone, we counted 22 uses of “no-brainer” by JS reporters and editors. The phrase is a hit with sportswriters, who used it six times in assessing decisions by a coach, team or player. That left a tie with editorial writers, but a “No-brainer” headline put the opinion-page team over the top with seven. And no one loves those two words more than deputy editorial page editor David Haynes, who alone accounted for four uses of the term.

Besides being a cliché, the use of no-brainer substitutes bluster for reasoning, and there’s too much of that already on talk radio and the more ideological corners of the blogosphere. Pressroom has a deal to make: Retire “no-brainer” and we’ll retire a cliché of our own – but you’ll have to catch us using it.

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Channel 4 reporter John Mercure has won a few Emmys (for local broadcasting), but a November story blasting big bookstores is far from contest-worthy – unless there’s a prize for journalistic double standards. “Books and Bees” was a breathless, hidden-camera story on how chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders carry – gasp! – racy books! Where kids might see them! This isn’t a first for Mercure; a few years ago he did a similar piece on naughty merchandise at Spencer’s Gifts. What’s next, crusading against the local mall’s Victoria’s Secret store?

Considering the talk show hosts on Channel 4’s radio sibling, WTMJ-AM 620, love to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, Mercure was oddly dismissive of the bookstores’ understandable defense: that parents had a duty to pay attention to where their children were in the store and, if they were uncomfortable with the merchandise, take the kids elsewhere.

Such stories help contribute to Channel 4’s growing reputation for sensationalism. Moreover, there’s something particularly smarmy about trying to simultaneously claim moral high ground while titillating viewers.

Perusing Mercure’s blog, though, Pressroom had an urge to call the irony police. Less than a week before “Books and Bees” aired, Mercure posted on his blog a racy joke and illustrated it with a photo of an alluring, bikini-clad Playboy model.

Right where any child could surf over and see it!

 

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