Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rescue Me: Cincinnati Enquirer, or The National Inquirer?

Cincinnati firefighters are the new Bengals. They're always getting into trouble, and they're going to be subject to extra scrutiny even when they haven't done anything wrong.

But the Enquirer is going too far. A blog post by Jane Pendergrast links to a series of 92 photographs that someone posted to the website of a Fort Myers, Florida, newspaper. The pics are purportedly of Cincinnati firefighters on spring break.

I quickly went through the pictures, many of which are of bikini-clad beach-goers (okay, maybe I went through some of those more slowly). I'm not sure if all of the people pictured are supposed to be Cincinnati firefighters, just the men, some of the men, or what. I don't even know if any of the people who are allegedly Cincinnati firefighters really are Cincinnati firefighters--and the Enquirer doesn't seem interested in finding out.

I suppose this is the natural consequence of a newspaper attaching blogs to its website and recruiting its journalists to post. Ultimately, what the Enquirer staff posts there will be no better than what any other blogger posts on his or her own blog. The problem is compounded when the newspaper's website's front page links to blog posts in a manner indistinguishable from the manner in which it links to actual stories (the kind that appear in the print edition). So until you click the link, you don't know whether you've read a headline or a blog post title. Apparently, the Enquirer now considers the two to carry equal weight.

Besides the question of authenticity, Pendergrast's post raises the question of newsworthiness. Assuming some or all of the pictures are of Cincinnati firefighters, so what? These pictures are patently different from the "Real Men of Genius" videos publicized in the last few weeks. Those videos were apparently made inside firehouses and shown at an official event. Instead, in the pcitures, they're on vacation. They're not wearing CFD uniforms, or anything else that would identify them as firefighters. Firefighters are not elected officials. They're just municipal employees. Granted, they do a tremendously important job for the City, but they're still just employees in one of the City's departments. Are Parks Department employees now going to be subject to this level of scrutiny? Are we going to be treated to summer vacation pictures of snow plow drivers?

This reminds me of an odd moment I had the first time I visited Cincinnati. I wanted a local newspaper, and walked into a Walgreen's and asked for one. The clerk told me that the Enquirer was "over there." I didn't know what the name of the local newspaper was, and assumed she was referring to the National Inquirer. So I said again that I was looking for a newspaper. We went in circles a couple times before the poor clerk realized what a moron I am.

Given Pendergrast's post, I'm no longer sure there's such a big difference between the two publications.

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