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April 28, 2008

Free Press = Fruit Loops?

Last week, Burlington's CCTV Channel 17 taped another episode of its Media Literacy Series. This one features Burlington Free Press environmental reporter Candy Page, Seven Days Staff Writer Ken Picard  and Champlain College professor Craig Chevrier. Chevrier teaches a class called "Social Responsibility in Media." His bio on the CCTV website says he serves as Vice President for the activist group Action Coalition for Media Education, although he's not listed as such on the ACME website. (UPDATE: Chevrier is the veep — and the secretary! — of the Vermont chapter of ACME).

The podcast is an hour long, and some of the questions are less than exciting (i.e. "Where do you get the photos that appear in your paper?") But it's worth listening to, if only to hear Chevrier accuse Page and the Free Press of being "Fruit Loops." The exchange happens about halfway through the podcast.

Says Chevrier, "The news is a product, for most news outlets. They need to sell it, and they need to make a profit on it. I equate the mainstream popular press, or the corporate press, to Fruit Loops, or Cheez Whiz. Nabisco or Kraft sell that stuff, they make money on it. Is it nutritious? No. It possibly does more harm to you than it does good..."

He goes on a for another few sentences, then Page interrupts. She sounds pissed.

"So are you saying that the Free Press is Fruit Loops?" she demands. "That my work is Fruit Loops? That it doesn't have any nutritional content?"

Chevrier responds, "I'm saying on the whole, yes, I think the Free Press is the journalistic equivalent of Fruit Loops."

"I cannot disagree more," says Page. "I think that is insulting, it's inaccurate, and it's an attack on the work that I've spent the last 30 years doing." 

Ok, I'm a frequent critic of the Free Press, but I gotta say, Candy Page is no Fruit Loop. In my mind, she epitomizes what's right about the Free Press, not what's wrong with it.

Here she is toward the end of the show, talking about keeping an eye on the government:

I grew up as part of the Watergate generation. That was my real introduction to the news. And what the news was about was keeping an eye on government. A very sketpical eye. And when you find government doing something that appears to be wrong, going after that. And I still try to do that.

You go, Candy P.

Which is not to say that there's no Fruit Loopage in the Freeps. It just seems counterproductive to impugn a good reporter. I found myself rooting for her.

My wise co-worker Ken stayed out of that scrape, but he did get some good stuff in, especially toward the end. I particularly liked this comment about how we judge whether we've succeeded as reporters.

Says Ken:

One of the best compliments we can get: If I do a story on a controversial issue, and there are two sides to that issue, and they are diametrically opposed to one another, and I get an email from both of them saying, 'You were really fair to me,' — for me, I feel like I did a good job. If one side feels like they won this one, and they used me as their tool to do it, I did something wrong. Part of what we do is we move the dialogue forward. We don't simply take sides and say this is the cause we're championing. We need to inform people even if they disagree with the other point of view.

Click here to listen to the show.

So, not to stretch the analogy to its threads, but even Fruit Loops has some nutritional content. Perhaps Candy Page and John Briggs are the "fortified with iron" part of the Fruit Loops.

That works for me. You could lump in a few other writers, too. Nancy Remsen, Adam Silverman and Lauren Ober come to mind. Vitamins A, D and Potassium?

I wish I had seen this blurt when it was fresh. I think the record shows that I clarified that I wasn't talking about Candy Page's skills, per se, but about the Freep as a whole. And like Bill Simmon says, on the whoe, Fruit Loops are not nutritious, even though they contain *some* nutrition!

Short story is: I wouldn't feedmy kid Fruit Loops. Nor would I feed (or read) him the Free Press.


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