The Worcester PD didn’t take long to voice its objections to Sunday’s T&G story about the past reputation of some college criminal justice programs as “diploma mills.” The WPD issued a somewhat strange press release that it was revising its media policy (see full release below), apparently to favor radio and TV news operations over print. Just how isn’t made clear. We’ll try to find out. Note that some of the release is written in first person — is the person speaking spokesman Kerry Hazelhurst? Chief Gemme? We’ll try to find that out, too.
Worcester Police Department
9-11 Lincoln Square
Worcester, MA 01608
Press Release: Revised Media Policy
For Immediate Release
Monday, October 19, 2009
Contact: Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst
Public Information Officer
The Worcester Police Department is compelled to alter the existing media policy in order to better serve the community. The department through our media relations person is now focused on getting relevant information in a timelier manner to the local radio stations and television station. We are also looking at more direct, contemporary electronic methods to transmit information to the public.
This change in policy may affect the print media but as Daniel Lyons recently wrote in Newsweek magazine, “They didn’t adapt… Because for decades these companies enjoyed virtual monopolies, and as often happens to monopolists, they got lazy. They invested their resources in protecting their monopolies, using bully tactics to keep new competitors from entering their markets. They dished up an inferior product and failed to believe that anything or anyone could ever take their little gold mines away from them.”
The internet version and the print version of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, while guilty of the above, are trying to remain relevant as a legitimate news organization. Unfortunately, the dark, dirty, and poorly lit newsroom is affecting their neutrality, professionalism, and integrity. Because of this, the media policy of the Worcester Police Department must use all relevant media to get the message out to the community and remain transparent as an organization.
I believe that in order to survive as an enterprise the T & G now places a premium on hyperbole over reality, fiction over fact, and innuendo over truth. This may seem biased on my part, but I believe that many detached readers have reached the same conclusion.
An example of this can be found in a recent on-line article and headline that read: “Extra pay for police based on ‘degrees that are useless.” Compounding this hyperbole is the print version article with a front page, above the fold headline that referred to local colleges that awarded criminal justice degrees as “sheepskin mills.”
These headlines and the weak content of the articles should not surprise the reader. If you have followed the decline in the standards at the T & G you recognize their new standard operating procedure. This adopted SOP is based on a dysfunctional hat-trick: hyperbole, fiction, and innuendo.
Some quick observations of the articles show that the writer questions the validity of 117 of the 134 master’s degrees, but offer no bases or testimony to support their claim. They inflate the Quinn Bill payments to individual officers because they are not held accountable for the content. You can objectively review much of what they have written and what is perfectly clear is that they will not let the truth get in the way of providing fodder for the bloggers.
A Times Company top executive said recently that “they had ended their consideration of a Globe sale, and looked forward ‘to charting our future together.’ The company did not rule out a sale of the Worcester paper. Stating, we continue to assess strategic alternatives for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and are determined to reach a conclusion there quickly. We will provide a full update to our colleagues in Worcester as quickly as possible.”
I am sure that this uncertainty coupled with the rash of layoffs, the dark and dingy work environment, and declining circulation is the cause of their shift to information based upon hyperbole, fiction, and innuendo.
As a police department, we are prepared to work with the T & G but they need to address these deficiencies. If they do, the community is better served. I am sure many public figures and media outlets may question our shift in media strategy because they fear a dying medium. But fairness and integrity demands our shift in media policy. However, if the T & G wants to remain relevant on police issues they need to heed the words of Walter Cronkite, “we journalists had to be right and we had to be fair… a never ending crusade for the truth.”