Express-News feels the heat on lack of coverage

Link to article here.

Mr. Richter called me a few days ago to own up to a major failure to cover a massive statewide grassroots event last weekend at the Alamo with more than one hundred people, including THE gubernatorial candidate supported by every single citizens group against DOUBLE TAX tolls and the Trans Texas Corridor statewide.

Decide for yourself if this is an apology or excuses. I named several papers around the state who have done a better job of covering the toll issue. I explained that, overall, the coverage has been scant, not in-depth enough, and seriously lacking hard-hitting investigative reporting. Simply having our name appear in a story doesn’t come close to reporting what’s really happening under the noses of Texans who are being treated to disparate soundbites, not the heart of the matter.

Most Texans are largely unaware of the stakes in the push for tolls. And those who are aware, are growing exponentially (thanks to the internet and a lot of hard work by grassroots ordinary citizens spreading the word), and they are highly motivated to take their state back from the chokehold of special interests. When 43 counties participate in a single statewide protest to this Governor’s toll road policies, that’s news. Our organization was not the only one who sent press releases. These events were widely publicized, heavily on talk radio as well. Bottom line, the “Hands Across the Corridor” event was newsworthy and massive, and the Express-News dropped the ball. That said, we look forward to greater in-depth coverage.

Bob Richter: Despite missing protest, paper diligently covers toll road issue
San Antonio Express-News

On Sept. 30, about 100 people carrying protest signs and handfuls of dirt rallied at the Alamo to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s massive toll road plan.

Perry’s feisty challenger, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, spoke at the event, which was not covered by the Express-News.

Our no-show wasn’t a judgment call. A reporter who was notified about the rally simply did not pass the information on to editors who decide what to cover and who will cover it.

It was a flub, primarily by the Express-News, but also by the organizer, the San Antonio Toll Party, which needs to be more effusive in its notification process.

That notwithstanding, the paper wasn’t there, and last week Editor Robert Rivard and the hierarchy here heard about it.

“You cover garbage and sweep the important things under the rug,” wrote John Hutson in an e-mail to Rivard. “How much are you being paid to not report opposition to toll roads?”

“It isn’t your place to suppress the news but to report it,” wrote Robert McKechnie.

Snowed by more than 50 e-mails, most of them harsh and sarcastic, Rivard responded:

“We missed an event which was staged with little notice to the newspaper, which is no excuse, since one of our reporters did know about it and failed to alert editors.

“What is disturbing is how quickly some of the anti-toll road forces have galvanized to conduct a somewhat shrill spam campaign against the newspaper, asserting that we have failed to cover the issue or that our coverage is guided by some pro-toll road agenda.

“That’s simply not the case. We’ve covered the issue aggressively and in far greater depth than any other media.”

Let’s check the record.

Since the first story on Perry’s ambitious Trans-Texas Corridor was published, on Jan. 29, 2002, the Express-News has published 101 mentions of it.

That includes 15 Page 1 stories, 17 on the Metro front, four on the business front and 17 on the editorial-commentary pages.

Meanwhile, since its first mention in the Express-News on Aug. 14, 2005, the San Antonio Toll Party has received 32 mentions, including four Metro front stories and three pieces in editorial-commentary.

There’s no shame in that. That is a worthy record. Plus E-N transportation writer Patrick Driscoll is an active blogger on these topics (for those who fancy blogging).

Despite that, Terri Hall, the regional director of the Toll Party, gives the Express-News a C on its toll road coverage.

“There is massive, massive opposition. It’s just not getting covered,” Hall contends. As for the Alamo rally, she adds: “With people saying there is no opposition, well there it was. It showed up. And you didn’t cover it.”

Laura Dylla told me via an e-mail that some protesters “brought handfuls of their home-place dirt to tell Governor Perry that this was all the ground they were going to get from them without a fight.”

She asked, quite civilly, why we didn’t cover the Alamo rally. Here is what I told her:

Because there is always a potential for human error when groups are having an event … it is good to speak with media people multiple times, ensuring someone will be there, giving them good numbers to reach organizers … but don’t assume that one phone call or news release will do.

There is a lot of information coming into this place. It isn’t out of the question — as our slip-up Saturday proved — for things to get misplaced.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is a 50-year, 4,000-mile, hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars plan. Its quarter-mile-wide pathways will greatly alter the Texas landscape. It will turn over thousands of acres of private property to private road builders. It is not to be taken lightly, and more information is needed.

Toward that end, the Express-News will continue to probe, but it may not cover every event that showcases anger (or glee) or some politician.

Whether you’re for toll roads, against them, or just curious, education is a noble goal — for journalists and for all Texans. This issue needs more light, less manure and less darkness.