Amid The Philadelphia Inquirer’s battles over editorial integrity, “Big Trial Net” has scored big ink with some of the national news media blogs with coverage that seems to many to be pro George Norcross III and anti-editor Bill Marimow.
Alls well in two sides of a story of course, but it’s not so well that those bloggers like Jim Romenesko who pick up these stories leave out two major facts:
- The blog is sponsored by one of the most prominent and litigious law firms in the city, one that has sued the Inquirer a number of times.
- The writer of the blogs, Ralph Cipriano sued The Inquirer and received a settlement reported in the $3 to $7 million range a few years back.
Is it possible for a blog sponsored by a law firm that sues newspapers written by a writer who actually sued the newspaper to write a fair account of the ongoing affair?
Well, of course, all things are possible. But for those who pick up this commentary, transparency as to origins of possible points of view and conflicts of interest, would of course be very useful to the reader. Everyone of course can come to his own opinion that way.
Even without knowing of the potential conflicts, there seemed something slanted in the reporting to me.
Much of Cipriano’s writing seems to be about settling scores and the relentless selective reporting and observations seems like ax grinding.
For example, when Bill Marimow returns to the newsroom and is greeted with what others news outlets reported was “spontaneous applause,” Cipriano writes:
The memorandum of law said that after Judge McInerney ruled that Marimow had to be immediately reinstated, “Marimow returned to applause and a strong showing of support from the Inquirer’s newsroom.”
Did they expect his underlings to boo him? (Emphasis mine.)
What Cirpriano is writing, in my opinion, is the classic “knockdown” story — the piece that goes against the grain and attempts to show there really is no story here about editorial independence and freedom, that in fact a South New Jersey political boss named George Norcross III, is the real victim and Bill Marimow, a conscientious journalist who has twice won Pulitzers, is the one interfering with the newsroom. Even applause from his staff is suspect and probably forced somehow by Marimow’s reign of terror (a prospect that is laughable if one has worked with Marimow.)
It is of course a dog bites man story and I’ll give it to Ralph that he is single minded in pursuing such a story, gathering every bit of grist to support his point of view and ignoring or downplaying facts that run counter to his point of view.
For example, the horrid strategy of the Philly.com website, advocated by Norcross and his daughter, Lexie, gets a complete pass, even though it flies in the face of successful trends elsewhere to erect metered, paid sites such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal has done, and even though it seems central to news room interference with actions Philly.com has taken to promote politicians.
Big Trial Net proclaims boldly on its website,
We believe in putting the power of law back in the hands of the people, and that starts with letting the people see inside in their courtrooms. In 2012, we launched BigTrial.net with two award-winning veteran journalists to provide full gavel-to-gavel coverage of the biggest trials in Philadelphia — the best coverage of these cases anywhere, with no editorial restrictions, all free for the public to read. (Emphasis again mine.)
What the law firm, which has specialized in suing The Inquirer in the past, needs to know of course is that “no editorial restrictions” is not the same as good editing. Sometimes editorial restrictions are good.
When your writer and your sponsoring law firm has a dog in the fight, you might for example give some hints to the reader as to where the barking comes from.
(Disclosures: I worked with Bill Marimow years ago in the City Hall Bureau and for The Inquirer for 10 years. I am a former investigative reporter, the author of three books, and former Knight Ridder and McGraw Hill Publisher. I am the president and founder of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Daily News Alumni Society.)