Shelton A. Gunaratne, Published April 07 2012
Forum follows the trendHerbert Lansing (letter, April 2) of Fargo suspects that the late Joe Dill, the longtime editor of The Forum, “must be rolling in his grave” because of the changes the current editor, Matthew Von Pinnon, has inflicted on the rag that Dill nurtured as a conservative voice to maintain the status quo.
Another Dille, first name Roland, who was a longtime president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, in a conversation at a retired faculty gathering, expressed surprise that The Forum (March 16) led its front page with a story on Nadine Schweigert, a 36-year-old Fargo woman who “married” herself before a crowd of 45 friends and family members at Ecce Gallery.
I came to teach journalism at MSUM in 1985 (when Dille was president) after a decade of teaching in Australia. Dille posed the query to me, sarcastically implying that I must be partially responsible for the radical changes in The Forum inasmuch as several of my former students have become decision makers at the newspaper. Von Pinnon took my journalism classes in 1992, online editor Rob Beer in 1993, copy editor Dan Haglund in 1992 and assistant sports editor Hayden Goethe in 2003.
Although Von Pinnon is editor, I don’t believe the radical changes to which conservative readers object are his alone. I taught my students that journalism entails bringing about change because progress is not possible if status quo were to prevail. Because change is a universal truth, journalism must pave the way for the community to adjust to new circumstances.
Buddhist philosophy asserts that everything is impermanent. Resistance to change will result in increasing dukkha (sorrow). But Buddhist philosophy also advocates not to follow the extremes but to follow the Middle Path. The Chinese believe that everything is a composite of the two extremes yin and yang (capitalism vs. socialism, change vs. stagnation, autocracy vs. democracy, etc.). Thus advocates of extremism are creating greater sorrow for themselves. Problem solving is an ongoing search for the best degree of balance between yin and yang.
Let’s apply Oriental philosophy to analyze the changes that Lansing, Dille and other readers complain about:
- Lansing says that the current news staff has changed the paper “from a concerned news source to a gossip paper that has but slight concern over accuracy in its reporting.” He sees the transfer of columnist Tammy Swift to the news desk as a bad omen that points toward further degradation of news.
- Dille expresses his dissatisfaction with sensationalizing news by running a bizarre story as the front-page lead in capital letters: “WITH THIS RING, I THEE WED … MYSELF.” Another front-page headline in a Sunday edition (March 4) screamed “FARGO EYES GAYS ON THE GO.”
- Lansing and several others have also objected to The Forum’s new section SheSays. This is a magazine-style section that the newspaper added at the expense of cutting down its news hole.
I am sure that Von Pinnon and his editorial staff are aware of the immorality of sensationalizing news because they learned about yellow journalism in the Hearst-Pulitzer era and the recommendations of the Hutchins Commission in the last century. They are only following a national trend to increase readership and advertising revenue to preserve their jobs in the context of the predicted demise of print journalism by the fourth decade of this century.
Editors and publishers attend annual meetings to discuss national trends. They know that capitalism entails the survival of the fittest. Social responsibility entails infusing some degree of socialism into the practice of journalism by following the Middle Path.
Readers must remind the editors that treading the Middle Path is better for the community as a whole rather than resorting to sensational and other devious means to accumulate profits.
Gunaratne is professor of mass communications emeritus, MSUM.
Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.