Lex Alexander on Robin Saul
Whether you realize it or not, the debate over the Amendment One referendum has inadvertently shaken one of Greensboro’s greatest institutions, the News & Record, to its core. I can’t predict the outcome, but regardless of the success of the referendum, it is not likely our daily newspaper will ever be the same.
The first inkling I had something was seriously wrong was an uncharacteristically damning post by Ed Cone, who regularly chides the paper for its failings:
The N&R did not labor under the burden of debt that afflicted so many publishing businesses, some of which became online innovators. The same crew of journalists that built the good version was there as things went south, at least until they started getting fired all the time.
Is it fair to blame the publisher, Robin Saul, for the malaise that has afflicted the N&R over the course of his tenure, which began not long before that high water mark in Cambridge?
Not for all of it, but surely for some of it. The paper is worse now by every measure I can think of than it was before Saul arrived, and worse also relative to its peers. He has been a disaster for the N&R, and thus for Greensboro.
Journalistically speaking, it is apparently a very bad thing for a newspaper not to take an editorial stand on an issue as important as Amendment One. Lex Alexander, a former reporter for the N&R, makes that point extremely well:
First, the decision not to publish an editorial on this proposal is cowardly. (As Ed notes in the comments on Romenesko’s piece, the story of a blanket ban on editorials on “moral issues” appears to have been just that: a story, and one intended only for internal consumption at that.) Amendment One is the most important statewide ballot initiative in my 52 years of living in this state; it could have serious and negative everyday implications for my fellow citizens and appears likely if enacted to generate a whole passel of lawsuits. As I just noted, newspaper publishers don’t get a pass on things like that.
But Robin Saul did just the opposite (and I’ll explain in a second why I single him out rather than blaming the paper as an institution). He took a pass. He chickened out. He dismissed as a “highly personal decision” what is in fact the most important public-policy issue to go before my state’s voters in more than half a century.
That’s bad enough. What’s more, by issuing the statement that the paper did, Saul is trying to deceive readers in such blatant fashion that one can’t avoid the inference that he thinks his readers are idiots.
I’ll not attempt to excerpt more as you must get over there and read the whole thing. It is simply the most poignant deconstruction of the N&R publisher written by anyone to date.
I have no idea if Robin Saul will remain as publisher or not. This may just be the most recent of the paper’s death by a thousand cuts. However, this is a very big one. It’s one thing for people like me to grumble and snipe, and quite another to have someone of Lex’s stature offer such an opinion.
In the comments, Lex’s mom says she’s proud of him. Well Lex, I’m proud of you, too. Thanks for saying so very well what needed to be said. Speaking truth to power has rarely been done as properly around here.