UPDATE: Originally this post identified Von Pinnon as the publisher of the Fargo Forum. That was an error, he is the editor. I’ve corrected the post to reflect this.
On Friday the Fargo Forum caused quite a stir when they featured on the front page of their newspaper a sort of “wanted poster” for state lawmakers who voted against a controversial anti-discrimination bill.
The term “wanted poster” is the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw it, and I saw that phrase repeated by others on social media. The lawmakers were being targeted by the state’s largest and decidedly left-leaning newspaper. That was the near universal reaction to the front page both in the state and in the national media which covered it.
But Forum editor Matthew Von Pinnon, in a column illustrative of the bubble some Fargo media types live in, wants to assure everyone that the cover was entirely objective and fact-based.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”As an employee of FCC, it’s all about shock value now,” this employee, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told me. “They want TMZ style clicks. That’s what’s gonna pay the bills in the future, and what’s worse is they’re probably right.”[/mks_pullquote]
“There was not one subjective piece of information on that front page,” Von Pinnon wrote over the weekend.
“We like to think Friday’s fact-based front page gave voters a powerful tool, no matter which side of this social issue they’re on,” he concluded.
Give me a break.
That front page was sensationalism, pure and simple, as evidenced by the fact that the Forum was flogging digital images of it on social media before it was even published. Even certain Forum newspaper employees admitted to me that the paper was basically trolling the state.
“As an employee of FCC, it’s all about shock value now,” this employee, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told me. “They want TMZ style clicks. That’s what’s gonna pay the bills in the future, and what’s worse is they’re probably right.”
Other evidence for this is the way Forum Communications tries to make every Marilyn Hagerty review of a chain restaurant go viral, and the embarrassing attempt at online video ranting by Forum opinion editor Jack Zaleski (which I’ll admit was hilarious though probably not for the reasons Zaleski and the Forum intended).
Back to Von Pinnon, he’s basically trying to cloak a bit of rank click baiting in the clothes of fact-based, hard-bitten journalism. Meaning that I think the Forum editorial staff, which in the post has taken a belligerent stance against online media, is feeling a bit sheepish about needing to resort to such tactics as part of their emerging business model.
And there was absolutely subjective information on that front page. The headline accompanying the photos of the lawmakers was, “ND denies protections for gays.”
That’s about as subjective a headline as you could write about SB2279.
But whatever. My only problem with the Forum’s choice of front page is that they insist on painting it, and their coverage of political issues in general, as objective when it so clearly isn’t. If they want to be the MSNBC of North Dakota newspaper journalism, more power to them. It’s a free country.
Just don’t be the MSNBC of North Dakota newspaper journalism and then lecture us about objectivity and fact-based journalism.
UPDATE: For those disputing the Forum’s move toward “TMZ” style click bait, get a load of this screen shot from this morining of the new and improved (?) AreaVoices.com, a strange blogging platform Forum Communications has been trying to make relevant for years now.
I rest my case.