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"Press"ing Issues In Las Vegas

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After thinking about it for awhile, I've come to the conclusion that I am naive. Or, at least, naive about my chosen profession, journalism. You see, I believe that journalism is a higher calling that exists-- if not to correct them -- to point out the wrongs perpetrated on our society. Investigative reporting (which can be loads of fun to do) can actually better the community.

In fact, in a glaring exception to what my friend Steve Fernlund, president of the Red Rock Democratic Club in Las Vegas, says is the local journalism rule of "go along to get along," the Las Vegas Sun's Alexandra Berzon this year won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for her work exposing the high death rate among construction workers building Strip properties. And, her work was great and deserving of the award.

But, as noted, she is a terrific exception to the rule.

If you are a news junkie who spends a considerable time reading newspapers and you move to Las Vegas from a large city, you should be prepared to adjust your reading/news-gathering habits. And it can be a difficult adjustment.

I came here from New York City, the largest, most competitive media market in the world. Even today -- with the death of print sadly looking as if it's a reality -- New York boasts three daily papers (five, if you include the Wall Street Journal and Newsday, the Long Island daily that covers the City), a couple of well-respected weeklies and, in the suburbs, a plethora of local weeklies. In addition, there are papers in Spanish, Yiddish, Chinese, Italian and papers geared toward Irish Americans and Americans from India. And this list just scratches the surface. The point is that just about every possible interest is represented still today in print.

While three dailies in any city in 2010 is pretty astonishing when you add the electronic media and the internet, the New York-based news junkie has lots to read and contemplate. This is not so in Las Vegas.

For more than 50 years this city had two newspapers, the Las Vegas Review Journal (RJ) and the aforementioned Las Vegas Sun. The former was always considered to be the more politically conservative; the latter the "Democratic" outlet. But, a few years ago, The Sun became an insert in the RJ. It's still there, but it's difficult to find and, when you do, to take seriously because, let's face it, a "real" newspaper would be out there on its own.

Both papers employ some very competent reporters. But both are ruled by the bottom line and by the politics of the owners. Of course, this is not unique to Las Vegas, but here it is very obvious.

A woman I know is suing a major business that has offices in Las Vegas, Honolulu and Palm Beach for sexual harassment, assault, retaliation and unfair labor practices. Her suit, with depositions from a range of people supporting her (and many of these expressing willingness to talk to the press), got literally only one sentence in the RJ and that was a brief announcement in an opinion column that a suit had been filed against this company.

This person cannot get a story about her suit published, Her allegation go deeper, also in including unlawful imprisonment. Asked by the company to dismiss the suit, a judge refused, an indication that the suit has some merit. There are thousands of people working for this employer, a huge number of them located here. This is surely -- in journalism parlance "sexy" -- news. But, when I asked a couple of reporters why the story couldn't get into the papers (or on TV) the response was that the company is "a big advertiser."

The two alternative weeklies, City Life and Las Vegas Weekly cater to those they see as their core audience. I read them each week because they are fun and interesting. But no one seems to read with much of a critical eye. So, the writer who reviewed the October 23 U2 concert here didn't like the music? Fine. He's entitled to his opinion. But totally ignoring the impact Bono and One.org have had on the world, he called the singer's pitch to his clearly partisan, devoted audience to get involved, "cheesy social commentary...[with] a video of Desmond Tutu." One may not agree with Bono's cause or his politics, but Desmond Tutu "cheesy?" I don't think so. Not one reader raised the slightest objection.

So much passes unchallenged here. This is sadly true when it comes to politics. Steve Fernlund believes, "The coverage of politics is very shallow." Instead of explaining an issue in a clear manner, detailing opinions on both sides so readers can learn and make up their own minds, one point of view only is most often articulated. For example, today's editorial in the RJ calls the Democratic Party "depraved." The comments posted on the newpapers' websites often degenerate into one commenter calling the previous one names. It's ridiculous.

Isn't it a wonder how can one make an informed decision without the facts? I may be, for example, pro-choice, but I can tell you -- thanks to news outlets I've read on the topic -- what the people who differ say about the issue. This should apply to any issue about which one is asked to decide. There should be a real dialog. The end does not justify the means and it is critically important how one arrives at an opinion.

My friend Vicky, whom I met when we were both journalists in New York, says part of the problem is that people outside of major markets like New York, Chicago and London -- where there's been real competition -- "have no idea what a newspaper could be, so they accept what is."

One would hope that news gathering and dissemination would be a professional endeavor with an eye to educating the reading public. One can hope and, until that hope becomes reality, I think I'll refrain from eating fattening food. I should lose lots of weight.