Friday, May 1, 2009

A Hard Right Hook From The Roanoker

The Queen Darlene (right) in the title is, of course, City Manager Darlene Burcham>

The Roanoker Magazine's May-June issue has a must-read story on the City of Roanoke's tax rates ("Queen Darlene and Her Ever-Growing Bureaucratic Kingdom"; I think they meant "queendom"), perceived inefficiency, stealth tactics to raise money and a host of other seething issues, brought to you in a format that is far more advocacy than journalism. It is a fascinating read, entertaining mood swings from frothing right-wing anti-tax sentiment, to just-the-facts-ma'am reporting, to ignoring the official line almost defiantly. The piece fairly drips with righteous indignation.

I'm not sure if this feature--accompanied by striking graphics--represents new journalism or old journalism or no journalism at all. I know I have most often seen this type of story on blogs, but I also recognize that the two men credited with writing it--publisher Richard Wells and editor in chief Kurt Rheinheimer*--are consummate professionals, veterans who are unafraid of pissing off those they consider unresponsive and irresponsible.

People at the city's offices are perplexed, angry and generally ready to shoot somebody, if my informal polling has any authority. They're calling the story "unfair" and provocative, citing facts and figures that, factual for what they are, are misleading for what's missing. I heard the word "unprofessional" used. I know that word well. I've heard it yelled in my direction on occasion.

I offered Darlene Burcham an opportunity to respond in this blog (which she's considering), but she lamented, "There is so much wrong in the article that I honestly don't know where to
start or if folks will read, or if they really care to hear the truth."

I won't defend or ally myself with The Roanoker and my boyz (they don't need my defense and I have some issues with the story myself, primarily the failure to talk with their targets, especially Darlene Burcham, who loves a good food fight and knows how to throw a wad of mashed potatoes), but I will strongly urge you go to the story, read it and respond. The Roanoker wants your response. Now that is good journalism.

My guess is that whether or not you agree with the story or with the way it was prepared, you will have an opinion and you will want to express it. I love it when the press stirs people up, as it should. I want to know what you all think of this as a form of communication, whether or not it is journalism in any sense, modern or traditional. Good, bad, necessary, something to avoid, something to embrace? What's your take?

(*Former editor Marie Hodge did some background work on this story before she left The Roanoker's employ recently, but asked that her name be removed from it.)


  1. Anyone who would like to leave their own feedback and/or join the ongoing conversation, can do so at the Queen Darlene Burcham discussion The Roanoker has created to let all sides of the argument have their say.

  2. Thanks, Dan, for pointing the way to this piece. Your pointing is my idea of "new media", and is appreciated.

    Regarding my opinion of the Roanoker piece as journalism; I found it frighteningly ideological and incomplete. It's the same half-baked feeling I get when I read most folks' blog posts (including my own).

    I'll save my critique of the story's "facts" for the Roanoker blog site.

    Chad Braby