Friday, July 27, 2012
The Forum of Fargo: chutzpah, homophobia
Considering all this competition, you'd think newspapers couldn't afford to act high and mighty anymore, i.e. "We're the gatekeeper so just defer to our judgment."
Some people still like to use the services offered by newspapers. This dawned on Allison Johnson and Kelsey Smith as they were doing some packing. They were using a newspaper in a way that has nothing to do with enlightenment or knowledge. The paper in question, the Fargo Forum, should have been thankful the two weren't wrapping fish. That's the old derisive image, of course, as we were reminded when Mad Magazine used to hawk those posters of Alfred E. Neuman: "Suitable for framing or wrapping fish."
Johnson and Smith were using a Forum to wrap a vase. They noticed a page that had wedding announcements. They liked this "Celebrations" section which included both young and old couples. "It was sweet," Johnson said. "We wanted to be a part of it."
Allison and Kelsey will be getting married on August 1. The couple ages 31 and 27 will be tying the knot in New York City where same-sex marriage is legal. Smith grew up in Fargo and the couple is settling there. A reception for family and friends is scheduled August 4 in Fargo.
North Dakota is not like New York. The North Dakota Century Code asserts that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. So, "the great and powerful Oz has spoken."
The couple's attempt at announcing their nuptials in the Forum's "Celebrations" section was rejected. Will this be a scenario like Chick-Fil-A? It remains to be seen. The story has gotten some traction in the national media. The couple's plight has gone viral in a way that must disturb the newspaper's ownership.
The Fargo Forum is the flagship newspaper of a quite extensive chain, a chain that includes the Morris and Hancock newspapers (here in MN). If you disapprove of the way the couple was snubbed by the Forum and its chutzpah, you might want to reconsider ever showing any more support for the local newspapers. It's not like we don't have options in the year 2012.
Let's add homophobic to chutzpah. It's as if the Forum's bigshots believe they can act like Caesars in their palace, as if we should all wait breathlessly for their pronouncement.
The couple was told their $25 publication fee would be refunded. Heavens to Betsy, I'm not sure what surprises me more, that the newspaper bigwigs would react like Neanderthals or that they would actually return money to someone.
We hear that newspapers are in desperate straits as a business model. We hear one of their biggest problems is getting the interest of the young generation. We all know the young generation is pretty indifferent about "gay marriage." Do I have opinions about gay marriage? Well, I imagine I have opinions about marriage in general, but I'm not sure I've furrowed my brow over same sex marriage.
An online petition taking issue with the Forum gathered 1300 names in under a day. Editor Matt Von Pinnon took the role of "Fearless Leader" (from Bullwinkle) announcing that a "policy review" would be undertaken. On a matter so innocuous and harmless as a wedding announcement?
Obviously there have been threats of cancelled subscriptions. (Of course, the newspaper business model is built on advertising and not subscriptions.)
Allison and Kelsey placed the ad on Saturday, July 21, and got the rejection Monday morning via a terse message from Dianna Baumann, "Celebrations" editor. Allison posted the Forum's message on her Facebook page and a friend broadcast it via her Twitter account a couple hours later. See? Why depend on the dead-tree media at all?
"Snail mail" and "snail media" are circling the drain, but transition happens slowly.
Allison and Kelsey simply wanted to seize the opportunity they felt was afforded them by Fargo's newspaper, to share something special. The tweet received 114 re-tweets by 9:40 a.m. Tuesday. A variety of other media including CNN were starting to pay attention.
Forum Communications has a conservative reputation with a track record of endorsing mainly Republicans. I could be cynical and say the few non-Republicans they've endorsed didn't win approval based wholly on merit. It would be embarrassing to endorse candidates of one party only. The Forum needs a little "cover." So they endorse someone like Amy Klobuchar who the polls show is going to win anyway. Nothing lost there.
Why would a Fargo-based newspaper chain or empire try to influence Minnesota politics? Well they do. Their empire extends into Minnesota so we feel their chutzpah too. They endorsed Tim Pawlenty in a very close and pivotal race.
North Dakota is a conservative state. We might even draw distinctions between North Dakota's brand of conservatism and Minnesota conservatism. North Dakota has an anti-gay marriage amendment in its constitution, passed in 2004. I imagine this is the grounds on which the Forum rejects the marriage announcement of the newlyweds-to-be. "It's against the law."
Except that it isn't (against the law) in New York. So is this an argument to have a Federal standard? Perhaps. In the meantime, Forum's Fearless Leader and his fellow suits might well be whistling in the graveyard as they watch reports of the Chick-Fil-A story. The company is hardly reaping dividends from being homophobic. But how utterly exasperating it is, trying to understand why a newspaper of all businesses would be "on the edge" like this.
Believe me, the Forum is a company that cherishes profit. It's very much a top-down company. An employee in good standing one day might get thumbs-down the next. Fearless Leader might find himself expendable in the company's scheme of things. They don't hesitate firing people.
Fargo radio station Y94 has placed the marriage announcement on its website. More national attention might come when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow gets back on the air. She was off this past week while sub Ezra Klein filled her role. Maddow is highly attuned to issues like this.
Does the government spend money to put legal notices in the Fargo Forum? I assume this is so, so we cannot view the Forum as an entirely autonomous private enterprise with no transcendent obligations to the public. The legal notices angle might be the best way for the public to turn the screws on the Forum.
There has been a rising cry to get government legal notices put online (for free) anyway. Actually this would have made sense starting as long ago as 5-6 years. But change comes slowly. Papers still have the power to kick and scream on such matters, and politicians can cower under their glare, although the glare is getting rapidly dimmer.
North Dakota is the state that has given us the neverending controversy of the "Fighting Sioux" nickname. Now we have a new black mark suggesting resistance to the power of history and inevitability. I don't blame South Dakota for staying independent of North Dakota (LOL).
Will Allison and Kelsey get their announcement in print? It really doesn't matter given the reach of new media. But the whole issue is a test for the entitled-feeling suits of the old media, behaving as if they fancy themselves sitting up on Mount Olympus. They seem more like Alfred E. Neuman to me. "What, me worry?"
How about "Love is a many splendored thing."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org