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How Not to Keep the Press in Line

Brief by Central Staff

Media – March 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Keeping the press in line is a tough job, even for U.S. presidents, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.

For as long as we can remember, Salida’s daily Mountain Mail had a deal with the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, so that patients could receive the paper every day. But recently, the papers were terminated.

Now let us quote from the minutes of the Hospital Auxiliary meeting of Jan. 8, 2001: “Visitors to the meeting representing the hospital were Chief Nursing Officer, Tracie Newman, and Chief Financial Officer, Connie Prewitt. They were asked about the discontinuing of the Mountain Mail to the patients. Tracie said it was because of the paper being negative toward the hospital. She suggested they might begin delivering the Pueblo or Denver paper.”

The volunteers of the Auxiliary apparently disagreed with hospital management, for later in the minutes, there is: “It was moved, seconded, and passed that the Auxiliary pay for resuming delivery of the Mountain Mail to the patients, as has been done in the past, with the co√∂peration of the sponsors who helped before, and possibly some others.”

When someone brought this to our attention, we thought it was a little different than most disagreements with the press, because even though it strikes us as fine to cancel your own subscription, this seemed roughly equivalent to canceling your customers’ subscriptions. Also we’re not fans of suppressing information or opinion.

But we do have a little advice. When dealing with a newspaper, especially a daily newspaper, canceling your subscription — or even several subscriptions — is a pretty ineffective protest; they assess circulation by the hundreds or even thousands, depending upon the size of the newspaper. Canceling advertising may be more impressive, but it will in all likelihood also entrench the newspaper’s position — since it would be unethical to change a position for monetary reasons.

Writing a letter to the editor assures that the newspaper’s view isn’t the only one circulating. Or if you don’t want to make the matter public, editors are pretty accessible in a small town; you can usually make an appointment to see one. If a complaint concerns a long-standing issue and you feel that the paper has been continually unfair, you might consider appealing to another forum. Salida has several radio stations; and talk shows aren’t a bad way to air differences.

We offer this advice, though, because we were somewhat surprised. We didn’t feel that the Mountain Mail’s overall coverage was particularly unfavorable to the hospital, and we couldn’t help but wonder what the staff member’s objection was.

But this isn’t the first time something like this has happened hereabouts. On Feb. 24, 1998, Leadville School Superintendent Peg Portscheller faxed a letter to Merle Baranczyk, publisher of the Leadville Herald-Democrat (as well as Salida’s Mountain Mail and several other regional newspapers).

She said that unless the Herald quit publishing so many letters critical of the school district, “we will immediately cancel our organizational subscriptions to The Herald Democrat, encourage all 250+ of our employees to do likewise, and withdraw all advertising dollars.”

In that case we understood exactly what the complainant was unhappy about. But Portscheller is gone, and the Herald is still there, just as Richard Nixon is gone, while the Washington Post remains. Someday certain authorities will figure that out.