by Justin Robbins
I recently found myself wanting to make a contribution to the local newspaper, but I ultimately thought better of it. I believe my offer is still relevant, but let’s call it a service; to the public more than to the Helena Independent Record and its staff. Those folks seem tragically confused about what constitutes a contribution and what does not. Confused, for that matter, about what constitutes news.
Take, for example, new staff writer and budding innuendo-ist James DeHaven’s most recent unabashed hit piece, “reporting” that Montana Republican Party staffers are “irked” about campaign contribution rules that apply equally to both political parties. Perhaps it was because the rules apply to both parties equally; DeHaven never really clarifies. He just wants to assure the reader that not only does the Republican Party believe itself morally superior to its counterpart, its not happy that different rules don’t apply. It might also be the GOP is frustrated they don’t understand the rules…again, DeHaven is not really clear.
Where DeHaven does succeed, is in bringing the reader along on “Lee Newspapers Archive Day”. This seems to be a new feature (similar to “Random Employee ByLine Day”) where an old story which was accurately reported by a genuine newsman (in this case, former Lee reporter Mike Dennison) is revamped by someone like DeHaven. That may be unfair…re-vamping a story would take effort. DeHaven essentially trots out Dennison’s 2008 piece about political party staffers working on individual candidate’s campaigns, and assures the reader that the Republican Party is still in a snit that [then Attorney General candidate] Steve Bullock didn’t do anything wrong.
The DeHaven article is truly a study in journalistic hackery and frustration. Not only does DeHaven take 1,736 words to remind us Governor Bullock plays by the rules, he strikes a tone that showcases the impotent rage he seems to feel at not having an actual story. He also tackles the dual challenge of making his story less relevant by soliciting a quote from convicted campaign fraudster Art Wittich, while simultaneously highlighting his own ignorance of Wittich’s offenses; on which DeHaven himself reported. Remarkable.
But, I digress…I had intended this essay to provide a public service. It is simply to illuminate for the public that the Helena Independent Record no longer provides a service. It has rid itself of its finest reporters and, with them, its last vestiges of intelligence, integrity and impartiality. It no longer even seems interested in concealing its own disgrace. Okay, the classifieds aren’t terrible.
To Mr. DeHaven and his Grand Old Publishers I would say this: spend a little more time in the archives. Pay particular attention to Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson. If their writing doesn’t help you develop more respect for your profession, perhaps it will at least engender a little more respect for your reader.