By Richard McCann
Bob Dunning managed to go 0 for 2 in the May 1 edition with two columns that were off the mark.
In his first at bat, he described a media market that does not exist, and may have never existed. Whether a news outlet gains the assistance of elected officials or from businesses, that outlet is dependent on outside financial sources and must be cognizant of those sources when reporting the news. The Enterprise must not rouse the ire of the Davis business community with its content as the paper relies on advertising revenue. As revealed in various books and movies about newspapers, as well as in depth articles, the line between the editorial and publishing sides of media outlets is virtually non existent. And the fact is that this has been largely true since the beginning of our republic, starting with the row between Jefferson and Hamilton.
What give a media outlet credibility is not a faux patina of avoiding a conflict of interest, but rather presenting a relatively balanced set of facts and being open to presenting a range of viewpoints. And as part of that presentation of facts is a willingness to admit error (an aspect that Mr. Dunning has not shown a willingness to do.) NPR and PBS receive funds directly from the government approved by elected officials, yet those news sources consistently receive the highest approval ratings.
The most important fact is that news organizations must find new ways to finance operations. The admitted financial problems at the Enterprise illustrate this issue. We need to keep local media outlets, and some have suggested direct public financing. Wouldn’t that violate the conflict of interest code? Mr. Dunning would leave us with allowing our local news sources to die solely because he doesn’t want to violate a theoretical ethical standard that is already in question.
His second whiff was on the mercy rule. Having coached Little League when games were played under split rules and having been on the losing sides in both cases, the games lost under the mercy rule were clearly less painful to the kids than the 26-0 games that they suffered through. In fact, trying to avoid the mercy rule provided added motivation for those players late in a losing cause. Instead of looking at the exceptional anecdotes (which seems to be Mr. Dunning’s primary basis for reasoning), we should be looking at what happens in the vast majority of those games–the team that is way behind still loses. Finally, the real basis for the mercy rule is that studies found that injury rates increased in games in which the score margin was wide. This occurred because players were more likely to tire and lose focus. Why should we increase physical risk just to see the exceptional outcome that really doesn’t matter in the bigger societal scheme?