Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Freedom of the Press, not Freedom of Your Opinion of the Press

"For a paper that is supposedly founded on the idea of people saying what they want, for them to act like a wrist-slapped child is beyond hypocritical." --Rick Carroll

So, yeah, last night I made a Facebook comment on a local paper here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was not a nice comment, and maybe the timing of my comment was shitty, as I have a local book signing coming up in a week.

The story actually begins some fifteen years ago, when, in 1997, Portland, Oregon's Willamette Week purchased The Santa Fe Reporter. What had been an interesting alternative weekly newspaper rather quickly turned into a weekly newspaper catering solely to the northeast (wealthy) section of Santa Fe. As I read it, I watched Santa Fe grow smaller and smaller. Most anything west of Saint Francis Drive (the wrong side of the tracks, for some reason) became seemingly off limits. Most any alternative shows and events, be they art, music, books, what have you, faded out of their listings, and rather than a paper about what was going on in Santa Fe, it became a paper of what was happening mostly downtown that might appeal to high-income people who reside in the northeastern part of town. It picked its favorite people and places, and has pretty much stuck with those. If you wanna know what's happening at Site Santa Fe, on the historical Canyon Road, or who is playing at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, The Reporter is the place to look. There have been rare exceptions to this, but as a general rule, that is what you will get.

What will you also get? You'll get movies reviewed when no one on the staff has actually seen the movie. A good example of judging a book by its cover (I'll get to books in a moment). For example, the movie Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston. They wrote it off as a claptrap action film, giving an inaccurate summary of what the movie was even about. A friend of mine, after she and I saw the movie together, wrote them and explained what the movie was, and that reviews should not be written about movies no one has seen. They corrected it in the next issue, so I will give them that.

Okay, books. Rarely is a book featured (or even mentioned) if it does not deal with one of two certain subjects: New Mexico history, or better living through valerian extract enemas (or equivalent). Mary Higgins Clark came to town and got a tiny little line about her appearance, almost unnoticeable. Joe Lansdale was coming to town. Same thing. Joe wound up not coming in the end, but that was not the paper's fault.

Every year there is a Best of Santa Fe. The winners are pretty much always predictable, though I'd like to point out one instance, while the subject of books is still nearby. Tony Hillerman, rest his soul, a fantastic mystery writer who knew more than just about anyone when it came to the Southwest, won for best Santa Fe writer a couple of years before his passing. All fine and good, and he very much deserved a "Best of" acknowledgement, but not Best of Santa Fe. Why? Because Tony Hillerman did not live in Santa Fe. He lived in Albuquerque, which has their own weekly paper with their own "Best of". It was seeing this that, as much as I love and respect Hillerman, officially decided me on the fact that this paper was full of crap.

I don't want to ramble too long here, so let me now just try to bring up what this is all about.

The Reporter has ignored me forever. That is fine with me. I don't care if they want nothing to do with me. It's their paper (well, technically, it's Portland's paper) but they can do whatever they want with it. Over the years I've had two of my signings mentioned (less pronounced than Clark or Lansdale), both with my name spelled wrong and one with incorrect information on the book. Again, that's fine, as I find the paper, much like they assumed of the movie Drive, to be claptrap. The difference being I've read the paper, whereas they didn't see the movie.

So last night, seeing online a tiny little mention of my upcoming signing (again, name misspelled), I found myself annoyed. Maybe that was the catalyst, but I looked at other articles on the site and found it to be more and more exclusive, catering to only a few, and so I posted on Facebook:

"The Santa Fe Reporter really needs new writers and editors and needs to stop living in the fantasy world where all of the news created by them is simply for them, and only covering about eight square blocks of town."

Okay, maybe not the nicest thing to say, I'll admit that. We are all human beings, and all human beings do or say inappropriate things at times. But I stand by it. A few locals actually said I was way too nice in my comment.

About a month ago my good friend and PR rep (who helps me as a friend, because I never have two dollars to my name) sent a copy of my new book, press release and all. Like with all of my other titles, the whole thing was basically ignored. No one ever got back to her, but I guess they figured they'd throw us a bone by essentially tucking my signing in a small corner of their site (name misspelled) where no one is going to see it.

This morning, my friend and PR rep received, from The Reporter: expect for us to help you promote this event, when the person that you are representing is publicly bashing the Reporter on Facebook?

And now, they want nothing to do with me, and refuse to promote anything I'm a part of.

Okay, honestly, no, we did not expect you to help promote the event. Already knew you wouldn't, for the simple reason that you don't promote events which don't involve New Mexico history, better living through valerian extract enemas, or the new charming "shocker" Why are Faggots Afraid of Faggots. No, we--maybe I should say I--never expected a damn thing. It was sent, just as my books are sent to many places.

Email sent. Email ignored. I make comment. Email gets response. In other words, "Yeah, yeah, whatever, put this in the junk folder... Wait! He said something bad about us? On Facebook? Get that outta the junk folder and tell them to fuck off."

I pulled the comment down to keep people's asses from twisting up too tight, but it was reposted in a later thread, in which I'd announced that I had pissed off the paper.

I liked very much what one friend--a local--had to say: I think that comment is pretty much dead on. In the four years I spent out of NM, I found myself missing the SFR, in what I came to realize was an overidealized way. When I returned, and actually read the thing again, I was sort of blown away by how empty and meaningless it is, outside of a very, very small subset of Santa Fe. If it wants to have any relevance at all, it should take your advice to heart...perfectly sums up how the Reporter works: ignore anything outside of its miniscule circle of influence/comfort zone until it does something that the Reporter perceives as annoying. Then attack.

 While another friend said: I mean, seriously, who the hell actually listens to anything in the SFR? And, let's face it, I'd go with a recommendation by Neil-Fucking-Gaiman over the SFR. Go anywhere in Santa Fe... fuck it, go to the office of the SFR, and ask anyone standing around, if given between the choice of Gaiman's blurb or the SFR, who they would go with...For a paper that is supposedly founded on the idea of people saying what they want, for them to act like a wrist-slapped child is beyond hypocritical.

 So, basically, this is a very long way of me saying that I said what I said, it was taken how it was taken. I've managed to piss off a local newspaper with a Facebook comment I made last night on my personal page. They refuse to promote anything having to do with me. Thing is, they've blown me off and ignored me my entire career, so how does this change anything?

Answer: It doesn't.


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  2. What were they doing stalking you on FB in the first place? Why ignore you to your face, only to get pissed when you finally have something to say about it publicly? I can't stand elitists on any front ... and unfortunately, there are far too many of them in this world.

  3. For the record:
    I did respond to Trent's comment (in which he tagged the Reporter, making it specifically visible to us).

    Here's why: As editor of the Reporter, I'm truly trying to do a good job of making the paper inclusive and community-oriented, while still maintaining its irreverent tone and commitment to the truth. When someone says we're being elitist and exclusive, I want to know how we're screwing up so that we can fix it. I also want it to be very clear that I am accessible and open to criticism.

    I sent Trent a Facebook message to that effect, and we have an appointment to talk about ways the Reporter could improve. As I told him, I'm happy to talk with any or all of you about your issues with our newspaper.

    We work really hard to be the best we can be with a very small staff. Do us the favor of talking to us directly and helping us do better rather than simply tearing us down--the exact error of which you accuse us.

    I won't be commenting further.

    Alexa Schirtzinger
    Santa Fe Reporter

  4. Just to expand somewhat on the original idea that prompted this whole thing, that the SFR focuses almost exclusively on a very limited subset of Santa Fe in general, I think this problem actually sort of encapsulates a bigger issue with Santa Fe as a whole. This city is incredibly divided and the only subset that really has any voice or merits any public notice is that same subset that the SFR chooses to pay attention to. As a result, I think the city as a whole comes off as being, well, stagnant. There is potentially a great deal of good in this city, but until it starts to act like a city, rather than as a small town with a small enclave catering to the well off, it is going to be far less than it should.

  5. I hope to still have the meeting. I've no personal ill will toward anybody, at the paper or anywhere else. I found the email exchange with Alexa positive and a move toward something potentially productive--or at least interesting--until another editor from the paper called me a sociopath, based on a comment and an opinion.

    And, for the record, be it good or bad, the paper wasn't meant to be tagged in the post. It was not intended for all people who follow the paper to see--i.e. I was not trying to create any sort of public outrage. Facebook has lots of bugs in it, especially recently, and those kinds of things happen, as most everybody knows.

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