Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Small-town Oklahoma newspaper still paying a price for Clinton endorsement

Manny Fernandez reports for the New York Times today from Enid, Oklahoma regarding the backlash that The Enid News and Eagle newspaper has suffered for endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton for President.  The headline speaks volumes, "An Oklahoma Newspaper Endorsed Clinton.  It Hasn't Been Forgiven."  As Fernandez writes, the paper is a "red newspaper in a red county in what is arguably the reddest of states."  (See my prior commentary on Oklahoma voting here).  Here's what the paper did to cause such a fuss: 
The editorial board, in a gray-shaded column on Page A4 on Oct. 9, wrote that Donald J. Trump lacked “the skills, experience or temperament to hold office.” The headline and subhead read: “For U.S. president: Hillary Clinton is our choice for commander in chief.” 
Among the paper's 10,000 subscribers, 162 canceled their subscriptions, a far higher rate of retaliatory cancellation than those suffered by papers like The Dallas Morning News and The Arizona Republic, which also deviated from their long, Republican-leaning track records when they, too, endorsed Clinton.  Fernandez's report suggests that the response in Enid has been rather personal, as one might expect in a small-ish town, with its high density of acquaintanceship.  The executive editor, Rob Collins, explains that he has "talked a lot of people off the ledge," when they have called to cancel their subscriptions.  This quote from Collins provides a vignette of small-town relationships in this municipality of about 50,000, in nonmetropolitan Garfield County:
People knew my dad or know my mom and know my family here. A lot of people who were angry called expecting me to argue right back with them. Really, the only time I would raise my voice is when I would get cursed at or yelled at, which I don’t really like.  
I hope people can respect that we’re entitled to our opinion, too, and that that can be different from news.
In addition to the cancelled subscriptions, The News & Eagle has suffered other consequences:  
Eleven advertisers pulled their ads, including a funeral home that had a sizable account. Someone stuck a “Crooked Hillary” bumper sticker on the glass doors of the paper’s downtown office. A man left a late-night message on the publisher’s voice mail, expressing his hope that readers would deliver, to put it delicately, a burning sack of steaming excrement to the paper.
Fernandez notes the the paper did add one subscriber as a result of the Clinton endorsement.

The News and Eagle is owned by Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., whose holdings include newspapers and websites in 23 states.  The editorial endorsement, however, was drafted locally, by Enid reporters and editors.

I like this quote from Terry Clark, Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.
There used to be a saying that the editorial page was the soul of a newspaper, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of weak-souled newspapers in the country because they’re afraid to offend anybody.  This is an excellent example of the way American journalism ought to be — standing for something — and, man, it takes guts to do that in Enid, Okla.
This story is just one more reminder to me of how strongly so many folks opposed Hillary Clinton.  And that, I can't help believe, implicates attitudes about gender as much as anything else.   

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