Editorial: Yellow Journalism At it’s Finest
By Brandi Makuski
By now you’ve undoubtedly already read about Andrew Halverson filing for bankruptcy.
You’ll notice I didn’t write “Mayor Halverson”, but rather “Andrew Halverson” and it’s not something the City-Times ever planned to address because of the simple fact that filing for bankruptcy protection as a private citizen is in no way newsworthy.
Since it’s already hit the newsstands with the words “mayor” and “bankruptcy” in the headline, someone decided it was newsworthy. We maintain the position that it is not, and arguing this point is vital because labeling this as “news” is only the latest in a series of dangerous attention- grabbing headlines which serves no purpose other than making us dumber and meaner by providing fodder for gossip-mongering at the bar.
There are those who would argue everything the mayor does is newsworthy and claim we can’t trust the mayor to run our city effectively if he can’t even run his personal finances. That argument becomes moot when you consider the mayor has a support staff in city government to research and offer options for approval through a group of elected aldermen and alderwomen known as the Common Council (or City Council), and it is this body which makes final decisions for the city.
Bankruptcy cases are a matter of public record. But so is the pending legal case against Jerry Fahrner, owner of Fahrner Asphalt and one- half owner of Schertz-Fahrner, LLC (an entity which owns many buildings in downtown Stevens Point), who has been charged with his first OWI, two counts of Injury by Intoxicated Use of a Vehicle and one count of Causing Injury While Intoxicated after crashing a party bus he drove back from Packers game in November of 2012.
It is a part of public record, yes. That doesn’t make it decent, necessary or worthy of publication outside the realms of the National Enquirer or TMZ because it serves no real informative purpose. The only possible reason behind publishing this information is to provide ammunition for malcontents to blast a public figure over an issue that has nothing at all to do with his professional service to the city or the credit, reputation or future of the City of Stevens Point. It’s not even a fun feature story; it’s diverting attention away from crucial discussions and votes for the well-being of our city and the manner in which we chose to govern ourselves.
The mayor may not be the most well-liked individual in the city, and he may have plenty of faults as a mayor. But he is also a man with school- aged children who can read a newspaper; children whose friends are now aware their family is facing financial difficulty all because somebody decided the mayor’s private family business was worthy of publication.
The fact is Halverson is a fellow human being who lost his shirt (no pun intended) on a business venture that has nothing to do with city business. It doesn’t affect our tax base, the lives of the electorate or city business.
Filing for bankruptcy is not a crime, nor is it unethical or immoral. This isn’t a prostitution scandal and no cache of weapons or cocaine was found in Halverson’s trunk: his family has a personal financial problem and they’ve handled it in the same appropriate forum as every other family whose financial liabilities exceed their personal income.
The story in no way improves the lives of community members or better informs voters of issues that should dominate news: manners by which taxes are collected and allocated, tectonic shifts in the manner by which we govern ourselves or major social trends.
There is a difference between doing what is right and what is popular, and this should be the first question an editorial board asks itself before deciding whether to run a story lacking in legitimacy just to sell more newspapers.