The Austin Chronicle

Love of Labor

More Than Hot Dogs

By Lee Nichols, September 18, 1998, News

The last edition of "Media Clips" called on the local mainstream media to recognize the importance of Labor Day and give us coverage of actual labor stories, rather than just coverage of hot dogs and swimming at the lake. So how did they do?

The Austin American-Statesman wasn't half bad. Their best coverage was actually the day before Labor Day: Mary Alice Davis wrote a great editorial titled "Low-wage workers gain our attention once a year" which began, "If Labor Day isn't our most hypocritical national holiday, it's certainly close." The column mainly focused on how images of the working class are extremely underrepresented in popular culture, saying, "But for all the pious blather about how we're a nation of plain working folk, we don't really approve of the working class." Davis' only weak spot was a failure to point out the role that the news media has played in failing to address the concerns of laborers (see WSJ above). Davis is really developing a strong editorial voice -- we hope to see more work like this.

Also on that day, the daily began a two-part series on Central Texas employment issues focusing on how the local high-tech industry has jobs that need filling and the opportunities they offer; an Associated Press piece on how a narrowing of the gap between America's rich and poor could be hurt by the recent worldwide economic upheavals; a list of employment and job training resources; and the beginning of a new section called "Jobs & Careers" -- a "Labor" section, if you will. "J&C" was pretty thin on content, but perhaps this could develop into a strong section.

Labor Day itself saw editorial writer Susan Smith Richardson taking up the entire editorial page with three strong profiles of average workers in the Austin area, and letting the workers speak for themselves. There was also a New York Times wire story on an upsurge in strikes buried on page A2 (followed the next day, oddly enough, by another wire piece on how the use of strikes is declining).

With the exception of KXAN, what we saw of the TV stations were pathetic, with far more time going to Mark McGwire's home run record than to labor. "Media Clips" caught the 6pm newscasts of Fox-7 and KVUE, and K-EYE and KXAN at 10pm.

KXAN was a pleasant surprise, with stories on the The Working Stiff Journal, Whole Foods Market, and the current situation of unions in America's political landscape, covering almost four and a half minutes. (The Whole Foods story took us aback, however -- it trumpeted Whole Foods' ranking by Fortune magazine as one of the best companies in America to work for, but completely neglected to mention Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's extremely controversial anti-union stance. Had KXAN consulted another, less management-friendly magazine, The Texas Observer, they would have gotten another picture of Whole Foods. See "Minding the Store" in the Sept. 11 issue of the Observer.)

Complaints aside, KXAN's labor coverage was great compared to its rivals. Fox-7 spent all of 16 seconds on the Northwest Airlines strike, K-EYE devoted 30 seconds to that strike and a United Auto Workers parade, and KVUE -- which this column has often praised as the best newscast in town -- had not one single story devoted specifically to labor. Its morning show featured WSJ, but apparently it wasn't important enough to make the evening reports.

These stations did, however, find plenty of time for McGwire's home run. All told, the quartet spent nearly eight minutes on the Cardinals slugger in their lead story slots -- mind you, that's not including even more time devoted to it during their actual sports segments. While we appreciate the significance of McGwire's accomplishment, these stations could use a bit of perspective on baseball's significance in the overall scheme of world events.

Giving Money Away

Back to KOOP -- here's the weekly fiasco from the (supposedly) cooperatively run community station: The board of trustees recently decided that the cash-strapped station was unworthy of a $5,000 gift from the Elton John foundation and gave the money away to Informe-SIDA, a Latino-oriented AIDS charity. The move was requested by the station volunteer who had helped secure the gift, Jose Orta, who also decided to leave the station on Sept. 1, two days after the membership of the station overwhelmingly voted to recall the board. Orta, the now former host of RadioActive: Your HIV Radio News Source said in a press release, "The situation at KOOP has gotten out of hand. Ill-informed and ignorant individuals have subverted the current leadership, mission statement and goals of KOOP. They have utilized lies, deceit, misinformation, and misrepresentation to take damage [sic] beyond repair. I believe that the factions, infighting and mudslinging has created an atmosphere that has poisoned any chance of bringing this station back from the brink of financial collapse."

Well, he's right about the "out of hand" part. But isn't giving way $5,000 (a huge amount of money in KOOP's bare-bones budget) just going to accelerate this financial collapse? Frankly, the board's decision smacks of a scorched-earth policy.

Orta claims to be the recipient of homophobic remarks at the station. We might take his complaints seriously if "Media Clips" hadn't already been accused of homophobia by board supporters, and if so many good people hadn't already been unjustly accused of racism and sexism. Instead, it just sounds like crying wolf. Apparently, disagreeing with the board and its followers is enough to make you guilty of an "-ism."

Critique Misses Mark

Among our recent discoveries (thanks to reader David Smith for the tip) is an anonymously produced Web page called "Alt.Austin American-Statesman" (, devoted to critiquing our local daily. But although we were initially excited at the find -- this city could use more media activists -- the page has proven to be a disappointment. If the author, who identifies him- or herself as "newsinaustintx," really thinks that the Statesman has taken a turn for the worse since Rich Oppel took over as editor, then he/she obviously didn't read the paper back in the pre-Oppel days. The author rants repeatedly about how Oppel has led the Statesman into being a tool for the Chamber of Commerce -- a valid criticism, but again, you should have seen it in the old days; it was even worse -- and says the same about the current City Council, a body that more sensible people would see as only having a shaky friendship with the CoC. (I certainly don't share newsinaustintx's view that Mayor Kirk Watson "is a dyed in the wool developer's lackey.") Even worse are the writer's paranoid delusions that the Statesman is stifling dissent in its letter section, something which an actual read of the letters will dispel.

Add to this a constant stream of spelling mistakes and factual inaccuracies (the author claims that Oppel was "Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce a few years back"; actually that was former publisher Richard Kintzel), and it's pretty hard to take the page seriously. And no, I'm not slamming it because of the shot it takes at me: "The Chronicle showboated one feature article on its front cover that was so pro Editor Oppel, that many Austinites thought Oppel had surely written the article himself." ("News Boss," Vol. 16, No. 45.)

There are plenty of legitimate complaints to be made about the daily -- the main one being that its improvement seems to have stalled out at "mediocre" -- but it has a way to go before it backslides to where it was. Go back and read some old, pre-1995 issues and refresh your memory. It was truly horrid.

Levin Hits Houston

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Houston: Marc Levin, former editor-in-chief of the conservative Austin Review, has resurfaced 130 miles to the east as publisher and editor of The Houston Review. The new paper is completely identical to its Austin sister, except, of course, the focus is on Houston politics.

Former UT student Levin was infamous locally for being a staunch supporter of the Hopwood decision and a defender of Lino Graglia. He graduated this spring with a degree in government from UT's Plan II program, and has moved back to his hometown to inflict his views on the populace there. The first 16-page issue has a lengthy story on bilingual education in the Houston Independent School District (a surprisingly rational commentary which actually recommends half-English, half-Spanish classes over both traditional bilingual ed and English-only classes), a heavy focus on university issues, and guest commentaries from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rep. Bill Archer.

The Review is a nonprofit publication and is distributed for free around Houston, including at City Hall and the campuses of Rice University and the U. of Houston. For info, call 713/626-2622 or e-mail

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