Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

FRIDAY UPDATE: The Stranger reports that San Francisco Commissioner Everett A. Hewlett heard arguments yesterday over whether the  San Francisco Bay Guardian, which won a more than $20 million judgment against the SF Weekly, can now start to seize half of the SF Weekly’s ad revenue every month in order begin collecting on the debt. If you’ve been following along, SF Weekly is a VVM property, same as the Pitch. (via the Stranger)

ALSOEditor & Publisher will have a full length article on the entire case soon…

This time last year the local paper of record was in denial over its obvious obligation to report the after hours doings of Rhonda Lokeman, long-time Star columnist and wife of Star publisher Mark Zieman.  The now defunct McClatchy Watch and WNBTv applied enough public pressure that the Star bowed to the inevitable and begrudgingly printed the tawdry details of Ms. Lokeman’s Excellent 3-Wheeled Adventures. 1 Later that same afternoon the Pitch posted a thoroughly sourced, much more detailed report of the same incident. Indeed, after a later WNBTv post wondering why the police booking video had yet to surface, the Pitch produced it within a week. It was the Pitch‘s publication of that video, which showed a soused 2 Rhonda Lokeman, that made the invisible slap on the wrist meted out to Ms. Lokeman 3 all the more galling.

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Should we then bother to review the Star’s pathological reluctance concerning coverage of their own fiscal misfortunes over the last year and a half? How none but the most minimal McClatchy memo concerning layoffs/furloughs/firings is ever published? How Bottom Line and the Pitch end up reporting on the details and the who of the Star’s metamorphosis into USA Today Lite? How aloof and hyperlocal the Star’s become?

Or are we all up to speed?

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It is surprising then that the Pitch has fallen prey to the same hubris as McClatchy, Zieman and ilk.

WNBTv posted an item a couple of weeks back detailing the legal tussle in which the Pitch‘s holding company, VVM, currently finds itself. We openly questioned Pitch Editor C. J. Janovy’s decision to not provide coverage of the lawsuit and the possible outcomes, one of which is the possible sale of the Pitch itself 4; certainly this might be of interest to the average reader, as well as fitting neatly into the requisite journalistic transparency we all constantly bludgeon the Star over. Ms. Janovy responded, somewhat archly we felt, that she had other concerns.

And so we left the matter.

Comes now the Stranger, out living with the hippies in Seattle. The Stranger just ran an item in yesterday’s Slog 5 in response to an earlier post by the Bay Guardian updating their legal strategy.

SF Weekly, Westword and the Houston VVM weekly have also run articles on the ongoing lawsuit. We expect we would find –if we could afford to underpay a researcher– that every VVM property, except the Pitch, has published something about the legal mess.

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As the man said…forget it, Nick; it’s Kansas City. There just isn’t enough local competition to hold our news organizations’ feet to the fire.

This seems to be true of all one-newspaper, one-weekly towns. And don’t expect the TV stations to chime in; their news crews are a) normally too jealous and in awe of print (“real”) reporters to do anything but suck up, b) aware that most of their “leads” come via the daily, and c) too busy trying to bust a lead in The Book to actually hold a friendly competitor accountable to journalistic standards.

Which makes the Pitch‘s stance doubly disappointing.

What if the predatory pricing claims by the Bay Guardian are systemic to all VVM properties? What if the Pitch is illegally pricing their on-line ads so low that the KC Free Press, for example, will never be able to get enough purchase to establish itself? What if the Pitch is in collusion with the Star in this illegal pricing scheme to control all print ad revenue in Kansas City?

Who, exactly, would investigate this?

We mean, judging from her recent history it doesn’t look like KMBC’s Dion Lim is even dressed for the job. And the other TV reporters seem too busy tasering idiots during their “news” broadcasts to, you know, do any actual investigative journalism.

My guess is that we would never learn of these hypothetical activities, or any other sub rosa illegal arrangements, unless and until someone at the state or Federal level undertook an investigation. 6

WNBTv just feels that a certain amount of faith in what’s left of Kansas City’s independent, honest journalism could be squandered by refusing to address the VVM issue proactively.

CORRECTION:  We misidentified The Stranger, an Index Newspapers, LLC, property, as a VVM property. The article we meant to cite can be read here, at Seattle Weekly, another VVM  property. We regret the error and the inattention that caused it. Our thanks to one of our more alert readers.

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  1. You can  read WNBTv‘s original post on the topic here.
  2. At least to our eyes, as well as the hundreds of readers who also saw it and took the time to write us [ and here we’ll just paraphrase, thank you]: “Wow, she’s fucked up, man!”  However, we suppose that if you’re Ms. Lokeman’s lawyer you would say it depicts nothing of the sort. To which we would not respond at all, our policy toward guttersnipes and invertebrates being one of intolerance.
  3. If, indeed, any was; CASE.net simply shows that the Chief’s war-time consigliere retrieved Ms. Lokeman’s driver’s license, which is pulled by state law for refusing a breathalyser. In fact, no final disposition of the charges against Ms. Lokeman { 0916-CV00241 – RHONDA C LOKEMAN VS DIRECTOR OF REVENUE} can be found on CASE.net, which leads one to believe that the Star, or maybe even McClatchy, intervened and had all charges squashed, probably on the grounds that it is discriminatory to pull over a black woman driving after dark down Gillham on just three tires, sparks shooting off the 4th bare rim. And to WNBTv, the fact that not a single news organization in Kansas City ever reported on how the court handled the original charges against Ms. Lokeman bespeaks a corruption that sadly runs throughout all of KC’s media.
  4. Which, to be honest, WNBTv feels unlikely; Westword (Denver) or Seattle Weekly the Stranger(Seattle) bring in far more ad revenue and, thus, are more likely targets.
  5. Think Plog, but since it’s in Seattle…yeah – too cute.
  6. Not that we’re necessarily calling for one.

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