How to destroy a newspaper in just 90 months
7-1/2 year editorial jihad ends in defeat
By Walter Brooks
Shortly after 9/11, when the power we had given to Arab nations through our dependence on foreign oil became painfully clear to most Americans and all newspaper editors, our local daily, the Cape Cod Times commenced on a suicide mission which lost it one of the greatest opportunities ever handed to any US newspaper.
The newspaper had a new off-Cape publisher from the Mid-West and a new editor from Brooklyn who took the long history of progressive liberalism which had risen the newspaper to a highly respected place among the country's regional dailies and turned it on its head.
The wrong and unprofessional choice
That began when Jim Gordon announced his hope to build America's first offshore wind farm off our southern shore. The reaction to his bold step toward energy independence was applauded all major American media from coast to coast.
Media outlets worldwide turned to Cape Cod and its largest newspaper to feed them news about this bold, imaginative leap into a renewable energy future for America.
"Times environmental reporter, John Leaning, sought in vain for Schechtman to send him overseas to provide more depth to the paper's reporting on Cape Wind. 'They sent me to Paris to cover an art-show opening by a Cape artist,' he said, 'but they refused to send me to cover offshore wind farms in Europe.'"
- Jack Coleman
The Times reacted to this unheard-of opportunity for stature and worldwide exposure by writing the first of nearly a hundred editorials against the proposed wind farm despite having editorialized in favor of building a renewable energy project in Nantucket Sound before 9/11.
The Times was even caught running an editorial which was exposed as a page lifted verbatim from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound website, an fossil fuel funded group which has raised $20 million to stop the wind farm to protect the oceanviews of rich, mostly seasonal, trophy home owners.
Even worse than it editorials which few read and none follow, the same editor altered his reporter's copy whenever they wrote anything praiseworthy about Cape Wind. Early on veteran Times reporter John Leaning was assigned the task of writing lengthy profiles on the two major players in this seaside drama, Jim Gordon of Cape Wind and Douglas Yearley of the Alliance.
Leaning spent days with each man but his series was spiked by the editor when it read like Gordon was a good, decent man with a noble dream while his opponent, Dougl Yearley, the former C.E.O. of Phelps-Dodge when it was repeatedly designated Arizona's worst polluter.
One after another the experienced reporters retired or left including Leaning. Those that continued to report the story fairly were sent to distant news bureaus or laid off. One Timesman left to work for the Alliance and promptly get sued and found guilty of faking bad news stories about Cape Wind. The monetary award the court ordered paid to Cape Wind was donated to a fund to provide fuel for the needy.
"The problem with the Cape Cod Times is that they can't keep their reporters or
get rid of their editors."
- Spyro Mitrokostas
Another reporter who had covered the wind farm story for five years left and wrote a scathing article in the Providence Journal describing how he was ordered to change his copy to alter the results of a poll the Times took on the public's opinion on Cape Wind an other shabby, unprofessional ploys.
Instead of becoming the favored source for news about the project, Cape Cod Times became an embarrassment to the newspaper industry and was soon being pilloried by the respected newspapers for its conduct.
Timing is everything - Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
And the Times did this at the worse possible time in newspaper history as one newspaper after another shuts its doors or switches to web-only.
In the past fifteen glory years for Cape Cod, the Times circulation has fallen from over 60,000 to 40,000, a one-third drop while the Cape's population continued to grow by 35,000 new potential readers in the same period.
In April of '07 the newspaper reported, "Buffeted by declining advertising revenue, the Cape Cod Times announced yesterday it will cut about 12 positions through layoffs and buyouts." The newspaper has gotten thinner since then with less local reporting and more wire service filler.
The Cape Cod Times would have had trouble prospering during the present worse-ever recession anyway, but being the 800 pound media gorilla in one of the fastest growing counties in the state would have mitigated that had the editors and management not destroyed this great newspaper's credibility so wantonly to advance their own views.
Instead of becoming the universal source for coverage about America's first offshore wind farm they are shunned by their peers and coverage has passed to other more worthy of the attention.
And yesterday's Final Environmental Impact Statement by the US Department of the Interior demonstrated how little impact the Times' foolishness had on the debate.