by Justin Robbins
There’s a certain inevitability to the gradual decline of print media. Television, radio, Internet and mobile technologies provide an array of choices by which interested persons might consume the news of the day, any time of the day. Newspapers simply can’t keep up; leaving little for them to do, save to choose the amount of grace with which they exit.
Some try to maintain relevance and credibility while they are consolidated under a single corporate overlord, like Viacom, CBS or Comcast. Still others try to use technology to their advantage by utilizing automated story writers; sacrificing quality for volume. The Helena Independent Record (IR) seems to have settled on (developed?) a third approach. They chose to simply rid themselves of talent and integrity, simultaneously reducing both their overhead, and the readability of what has become the type of cage liner that will convince your parrot not to bother learning English.
To ensure they leave no trace of dignity, the IR has entrusted fact-phobic conspiracy theorist James DeHaven to pilot the nose dive. Alert readers who remember Mr. DeHaven from his previous innuendo-laden diatribes will be disappointed to discover he has done little to enhance the image of his chosen profession. His latest piece is a study in shoddy journalism; weaving vague allegations, unfollowed leads and unanswered questions into a knitted bag of hot gas one assumes floated somehow unseen past the editor’s desk, directly to the printer.
In fairness, I’ve never met Mr. DeHaven. Although my previous encounters with his work are the basis for the somewhat personal critique above, I do not intend this as an ad hominem attack. If journalism is to be considered a profession, then its practitioners, not unlike police and fire fighters, should be held to a standard of professionalism. In Mr. DeHaven’s chosen line, it is called the Code of Journalistic Standards and Ethics.
There are a number of organizations within journalism which seek to set the bar high. According to Wikipedia, “One of the leading voices in the U.S. on the subject of Journalistic Standards and Ethics is the Society of Professional Journalists.” Their code is worth a read in its entirety; however, for brevity, I would draw the attention of Mr. DeHaven and his editors to this nugget:
– Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
In his newest piece, titled “Top Montana Officials Accused of Stifling DPHHS Auditors’ Work”, Mr. DeHaven cites one former DPHHS staffer and a litany of her allegations. He seems to take her at her word, but fails to identify the ‘top officials’, she claims acted under the direction of Governor Bullock and his predecessor Governor Schweitzer, as far back as 2005. He notes, somewhat greasily, that the men (“both Democrats”) denied the allegations; but forges ahead with yet more. These allegations are left standing by unnamed “officials” who did not respond to requests for comment.
It is worth noting I made every effort to learn more about Mr. DeHaven’s story. He referenced “previous IR interviews” and “June 2015 legislative testimony” by his source; however, I was unable to locate any mention of her in IR archives, or the 2015-2016 online legislative archives. As he ultimately, perhaps unintentionally points out…there’s really nowhere else to look.
I bear no enmity toward Mr. DeHaven. Neither do I take pleasure in assigning to him even slightly disparaging adjectives; save to say the evidence, in his own words, seems to bear them out. Aside from illuminating the complete lack of journalistic integrity in Mr. DeHaven’s apparent propaganda piece, my only goal would be to offer some small contribution toward improving Helena’s last print news source; for, you know…nostalgia.
In the meantime, Mr. DeHaven, as an occasional consumer of your product, I will readily defend my critiques, offer more, or accept yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.