The State of Journalism in Utah
Paul Rolly, political columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, spoke on the subject The State Of Journalism And Its Relationship To The Political Climate Currently In Utah at our October general meeting. Rolly grew up in Salt Lake City and received a BS in political science and journalism from the University of Utah. He started at the Salt Lake Tribune in 1973 as copy boy and moved up the ladder over the years, reporting political, legislative, and business matters. He wrote a column with Joanne Wells for 13 years and has written a solo column since Wells retired.
Rolly discussed how newspapers are having a rough go of it now. He wishes the Trib and other papers had started charging for content on the internet 12 years ago in order to compete. Now the horse is out of the barn and papers must figure out other ways to make money, with many papers simply folding.
A component of this that he finds disturbing is that the right wing in Utah is gleefully watching newspapers fold. He spoke about the program “Red Meat Radio.” It’s hosted by two of the most conservative legislators in Utah. When a paper is in trouble or goes under, they play “Another One Bites the Dust” and are very happy about it. The reason is that they hate the press—it’s gotten to the point where there is an active movement among politicians to obstruct and hurt the press.
Rolly talked about HB477, which attempted to gut GRAMA, the law which gives the public access to government records: the secret passage of the bill through closed Republican caucuses, the backlash from the press and especially the public. Prior to that victory for the public and the press, fees charged to produce the government records were low and it was routine for government agencies to waive the charges. Now, however, exorbitant charges are demanded upfront. When an article in the Trib criticized the Utah Transit Authority for a $91,000 charge for records requested, lawyers from UTA actually tried to have the newspaper “sanctioned,” saying they were acting criminally by trying to intimidate a government official through a negative article.
Physical access to government officials is getting more difficult. Rolly described the access he had to government offices, including governors starting with Scott Matheson (Democrat), then Norm Bangerter (Republican). He had easy access to back offices and very genial relationships with those governors. However, when Mike Leavitt was elected, the first thing they did was build a fortress around the governor’s office and all the access shut down. Rolly has always had good relationships with press secretaries, but it’s very rare now that reporters can get one-on-one time with the governor. All responses come through the press secretary.
The press used to have a press table on the floor of the legislature and reporters could speak directly to legislators. They’ve done away with that now and members of the media must sit in the gallery with the public. If a reporter wants to talk to a legislator, they give a note to a security guard. If the legislator wants to talk to you, he or she will come out. If not, they won’t. They usually won’t talk to Rolly.
This all emanates from what he believes has become a one-party state (he did say it would be just as bad if Democrats had complete power). The Republicans can do a lot of things and they don’t care much about how they’re covered in the press. Most of the people in Utah are going to vote Republican anyway and legislators know they’re going to be reelected if they’re Republican. This is a real problem: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” is absolutely true. That’s the state we have now.
Objectivity and balance for Rolly now that he’s a columnist have gone out the window. He was a hard news reporter for 20 years and it took a long time for him to get the concept of looseness in his column. Now he’s bought into why it’s good to have opinion reporting as long as you’re honest. He doesn’t have to reveal sources. News reporters can’t use unnamed sources—Rolly uses them all the time. Because of that he has sources in highest areas of government because they can remain anonymous.
Rolly also deplored the gerrymandering that he says has devastated the state—making it as difficult as possible for Jim Matheson or any Democrat to get reelected. He doubts that a Democrat will win statewide office in his lifetime.
In the question and answer period following his talk, Rolly discussed his relationship with publisher Jack Gallivan which was very close. He told the story of how Gallivan helped save the Deseret News in the 1950s because he believed it was important to have newspaper competition, especially in Utah.
When asked about the Tribune’s endorsement for president, he said that the Trib publisher is a Republican who has a lot to say about the endorsements. If he decides they’ll endorse Romney, they will; however, Rolly believes he’s having second thoughts. The paper lost 5000 subscribers within a week when they endorsed Bush over Kerry. The publisher thought they would have lost more if they endorsed Kerry. He didn’t understand, which Mr. Gallivan always did, the relationship of the Salt Lake Tribune to its readers. It’s always been the alternative newspaper and has always been expected to be that voice, not only by Democrats but also Republicans. That endorsement made a lot of people distrust the Trib. The Trib is trusted even by many Republicans to cover many issues, including LDS news, more honestly than the Deseret News does.
This month, in honor of Halloween, Utah humanists answer: what is something that is your fright monster, something you are keeping a wary eye on, some shadow in the forest that you hope won’t materialize?
- Corporate World is my scary monster. Mitt Romney/republican/corporate manipulation of the election-stealing it in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina maybe Colorado, Nevada and other points – scares me breathless.
- Long term, my greatest fear is that Western civilization will be led by the United States back into another dark age, an era of superstition and persecution. This tendency toward ignorance and oversimplification that overcame the classical world is still alive and well. The more intellectually deficient and morally simplistic a religion is the faster it seems to grow. Without better education, hope for the future will be lost. I don’t mean more money per student. That is an attractive over-simplification in itself. Every individual in a successful democracy must have a good knowledge of human history, a firm understanding of science and the ability to think clearly and communicate. Sporting competition between schools at every level should be eliminated and athletics in our schools should be encouraged for its health benefits. Focus must be returned to academics with an emphasis on civics or in my view we will lose our democracy.
- I will mention two fright monsters among many. The first is all the money in politics. We won’t solve any of the other fright monsters until we fix this one with a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United opinion, which declared corporations people and political contributions free speech. Free speech, of course, is protected by the constitution. Politicians will do the bidding of their big donors—corporations and individuals alike— and there goes our democracy and here comes a plutocracy. The second fright monster is climate change. While more and more people are accepting the reality of climate change and humankind’s complicity in causing it, too many influential corporations and individuals—the big political donors—are deniers, so nothing gets done. I’m truly frightened.
- For me the most frightening thing is the growing tendency by people in general and our “leaders” in particular to place more value in opinion than on observable facts. How can evolution, global warming, and women’s rights to control their own bodies be legislated, denied, restricted because our elected leaders place more credence to their own personal beliefs than to physically verifiable evidence? This is a dangerous trend that has been discussed off and on in the Utah Humanist, but with the current election cycle it appears that we are not headed in the right direction.
- With the election so close at hand, my fears are all centered on a Republican win. In a recent article on the Huffington Post website, Daniel Ellsberg, who does NOT support Obama, said that nevertheless a Romney/Ryan win would be “much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of…important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.” That’s what I fear—the loss of so many hard-fought gains in so many areas. I know many people personally who are voting for Romney on two issues: “he’s against abortion and gay marriage.” Other issues simply don’t matter to them. Once again, voting by religious beliefs instead of critical thinking may have catastrophic consequences for us all.
- My big fear is republicans winning control of congress, the senate, and the presidency! Now that will be a nightmare.
- One big scary shadow for me is the possibility of abortion being made illegal. It’s a shadow that is gaining substance and form, too close to emerging from shadow and roaring over us in terror. I am somewhat terrified at the threat of women being yanked back to days when husband hunting is the only viable pursuit, where our human-ness and sexuality is something to fear, and our “place” is defined for us. Because make no mistake, the abortion issue is a linchpin of female (aka human) self-determination.
That’s a pretty good Halloween scare set!
For next month:
What is something you’ve done or experienced that you are really proud of? Let’s celebrate and cheer ourselves.
Flo Wineriter presented a brief history of humanism, our Utah Chapter, and humanist philosophy to the University of Utah Osher Luncheon Wednesday, October. 31. His talk included details of Rev. Ed Wilson, former Minister of the Salt Lake Unitarian Congregation, concerning his role in the founding of the American Humanist Association, Editor, and Publisher of the first Humanist Magazine in the U.S. and his leadership in the founding of our Utah Chapter. Following his talk Flo engaged in a lively 30-minute dialogue with an estimated audience of 40 adult Osher students
After the Question and Answer session several people talked with him individually including Dr. Dana Wilson, now a retired VA Hospital physician and the a son of Ed Wilson and was the reason Rev. Wilson retired to Salt Lake City. Friday Flo received a lengthy letter from Dr. Wilson saying how much he and his wife enjoyed his presentation and saying “Thanks for your kind words about Dad. He was a great guy and we miss him enormously.”
1925 – 2012
Lorille Miller, one of Humanists of Utah’s founding members, died in October. Lorille was our official Historian for many years and one of the main reasons our chapter survived during its formative years.
Lorille was also a pillar of the First Unitarian Church, the Utah Democratic Party, and other local progressive endeavors.
Humanists of Utah extends our condolences to the Miller family.
Humanists of Utah mourns the passing of the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism–and, indeed, of the secular humanist movement in America itself.
The meaning of life is what we choose to give it. Meaning grows out of human purposes alone. Nature provides us with an infinite range of opportunities, but it is only our vision and our actions that select and realize those that we desire. … Thus the good life is achieved, invented, fashioned in an active life of enterprise and endeavor. But whether or not an individual chooses to enter into the arena depends upon him alone. Those who do can find it energizing, exhilarating, full of triumph and satisfaction. In spite of failures, setbacks, suffering, and pain, life can be fun.
—“Exuberance: A Philosophy of Happiness”
The loss of life in the wake of this so called super storm named Sandy is tragic. As I write this message, the extent of the damage, injury, and loss of life caused by hurricane Sandy, has not been fully determined. In fact, on this Halloween evening the storm is still causing problems with continued rain and snow. We already know it will take a lot of time, work and many billions of dollars before the lives of those impacted by the storm return to anything resembling normal.
Humanists of Utah has donated to disaster relief in the past, and I think this is another one of those times when we should put together our contributions and send them through a humanist organization (most likely the AHA). There is no doubt that the relief organizations will be in need of donations to keep their operations going. The Board of Directors will determine an amount to give from our treasury and add it to any donations we receive from the membership.
Another reason I wanted to write about this big storm is because of the climate aspect. If you get on some of the internet “blogs” you find people arguing about whether the storm is an example of global warming or climate change. But one storm does not define a climate. Remembering the old saying, “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get, is useful. As geographer I do worry some about climate change, but my feeling is that the seemingly endless arguing about climate change distracts us from dealing with the real problem, pollution. The question as to how much humans affect climate would become moot if we reduced pollutants by a significant percentage. Our societies allow far too much of our waste products to be dumped on the environment, mostly for the sake of the profit margin.
Sometimes when arguing on a blog, I get a little smart assed in my response by saying something like, “it’s really quite simple. Clean air is healthy and GOOD for you, dirty air is BAD and unhealthy. Clean water is GOOD and good for you, dirty water is BAD and unhealthy. Is that so hard to understand?” The World Health Organization estimates that about 2 million people die prematurely due to air pollution each year. Isn’t that reason enough to clean up the air? I think it is.