Wednesday, May 20, 2009

KC Star readers' rep admits: "Yes, a Star columnist deleted a blog entry... and by the way, I do it too!"

Responding to an alert KC Star reader who noticed a blog post by a Star columnist had disappeared, KC Star readers' rep Derek Donovan admitted columnist Yael Abouhalkah did delete a blog post -- then Donovan admitted he has done it himself.

Deleting a blog post is a major no-no among bloggers, for good reason.

When a blogger deletes a post without explanation it gives the impression he has something to hide.

Transparency with readers is fundamental. If readers learn you just delete your mistakes you will lose them.

There might be good reason to delete a post -- maybe you posted something in an anger that you later realize shouldn't be published -- but if you delete that post you owe an explanation.

In this case, Yael Abouhalkah deleted a published blog post because events changed... and he didn't bother to give his readers any explanation. Abouhalkah should have updated what he had posted, not delete it and pretend it never existed.

(Image credit: John Altevogt)


John Altevogt said...

Let's get the ball rolling. The next entry will be a couple of the blog entries Derek chose to remove from his site. Let’s talk about their genesis.

I received a threatening voice mail from Derek and given The Star’s penchant for hate campaigns against conservatives I had the voice mail put up on line and wrote Derek’s editor, Mike Fannin about the call, copying Derek. The voice mail itself was the product of a week in which several of Derek’s reader’s had called him on various untruthful statements he had made on his blog and the repeated removal of the comments that had called him on those statements.

After emailing Fannin I received a phone call from Derek, once again threatening to damage my reputation, this time if I didn’t remove his voice mail from the Internet. When I refused Derek screamed “F*** yourself” at me and launched into a tirade about how he was a conservative and how I was being “childish” and “mean spirited.” He reiterated his threats to attack me personally in his blog if I didn’t take his voicemail off the Internet saying "take it down and it's over".

After that bit of joy, I wrote Fannin another note describing the phone call and detailing Derek’s threats. Again, I copied Derek. His response was not a denial, but an email back to me and copied to Fannin bragging about how we was going to follow up on his threats. These two blog entries are what followed. Needless to say they are filled with libelous statements and outright falsehoods. Comments like them were made elsewhere on The Star’s site and remain to this day. These are not merely misinterpretations, some of the stuff is brazenly made up of events and conversations that never took place.

So here you have The Star’s “Reader’s” Rep. This is the guy who is supposed to mediate between the paper and the readers. This is not a personal issue, this is how he interacts with those who criticize The Star. And Fannin’s response? Even after Derek brags about how he’s going to make good on his threats, denying nothing, Fannin writes this classic example of the Reverse Nuremburg:

“You will need to continue working through Derek on this. He is the reader rep, not me. I do respect that boundary we've necessarily created and also the work that he does.”

Picture an example of an employee being abused by a superior. This is how The Star handles those conflicts. “Go back to the person who has abused you and work it out with them.” Thanks Chief.

John Altevogt said...

Gettin Defensive Part 1
Gettin' defensive

I apologize in advance if this sounds self-serving, though I guess it is by definition. It's also really, really long.

At any rate, I need to explain something. I have deleted numerous comments to posts on this blog from former Wyandotte County Republican chairman John Altevogt.

I've deleted them for two reasons, the main one being that he got into a habit of calling me a Nazi, and then later "Stalin" or "Stalinist." As you know -- and as it states in the ground rules -- I don't tolerate name calling of any kind, to me or to other posters. Comparing someone on this blog to war criminals and mass murderers is unacceptable.

I've also deleted a few of Mr. Altevogt's comments because they alleged The Star "spiked" or "censored" stories. I feel these are absolutely unfair allegations, because I happen to know that senior editors very seriously considered assigning reporters to look at at least one of them. They ultimately decided not to devote the resources to it, but may revisit it in the future.

You can argue with that decision all you like. But saying something's "spiked" directly implies conspiracy -- and there was no outside hand directing anyone. Newspapers get tons of story suggestions. I've already passed along over a dozen that came into me just today. It's not "spiking" or "censoring" a story not to look into it. Unfortunately, there's just no way one organization can do everything that people recommend. That doesn't mean the suggestions don't all have merit. It's a question of resources, just like at any business.

If I had replied to those allegations of "censored" stories, it would have looked like I was being directly defensive of the newsroom, and I don't like to do that. I also can't begin to vouch for whether they were all true or not.

I've been looking back through the detailed weekly notes I send to the newsroom on Friday afternoons. Since 2004, I have reported more than 40 individual critiques of the paper that Mr. Altevogt has sent me.

Now, to put all of this in context, I'm going to do something very rare: I'm going to lay out what changed, and why I quit replying to him and started editing his posts.

In March of 2008, Mr. Altevogt joined in a campaign started by a member of an extremely prominent local business family, also involved in area politics. This campaign alleged that a Star staffer -- no longer at the paper -- harassed this person by phone from his Star desk, and further enlisted the help of his "uncle Lee." I conducted an extensive investigation, because this would have obviously been career-ending misconduct.

John Altevogt said...

Gettin Defensive Part 2

The allegations were based on two lies.

First, the person making the allegations said he'd gotten back to the Star reporter's phone by using the call-return feature on his phone. That is impossible, because The Star's phone system does not give outgoing call-identification information. Every call from The Star newsroom's outgoing lines shows the same return number, which does not go to anyone's desk and is never answered: 816-283-0712.

Second, the reporter has no "uncle Lee," much less in the Kansas City area. In fact, he was from the east coast, and the only member of his family in town.

Most important: Mr. Altevogt is not my constituency. He's not a regular, everyday reader -- though he remained anonymous in his comments on my blog. He's an activist and a figure in local politics. He's interjected himself.

I didn't want to air this for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, Mr. Altevogt has a long, long history of extremely vehement criticism of and even direct involvement with The Star. He's quite a well-known critic to every reporter and editor who touches on Kansas politics in any way.

He used to write a regular guest column at the paper. I had a very cordial relationship with him for years, even appearing on a radio program when he guest-hosted a show. As I've told him in the past, I think his style often works against him, as it's hyperbolic to the point of making people tune him out as totally unreasonable, even though many of his points make sense.

However, after the fraudulent charges against the reporter -- which, by the way, neither Altevogt nor the other accuser ever apologized for or backed down from in any way -- I made the determination not to convey his criticisms any longer. His credibility with me is utterly shot. You can disagree with me there, of course, but I see no reason to waste my time on someone who lent his bona fides to such a cavalier lie that could have cost someone his job.

This is inside-baseball stuff -- the kind of thing that I deal with all the time. I am not naming the other person involved in the incident from last March because he hasn't gone public with his beef against me. I am not out to shame or embarrass anyone egregiously. There are lots of activists whose credibility is suspect -- but as long as they keep t between us, we can agree to disagree.

But now that Mr. Altevogt is using other media to lie about me, my usual very-long fuse has burnt through.

As I've written many times before, I see my responsibility as airing fair criticisms of The Star when they come from readers. My track record speaks for itself. Roughly 80% of what I write comes from the conservative side.

John Altevogt said...

Gettin Defensive Part 3
But I'll also be honest: A shocking proportion of the conservatives I speak to are, sadly, very nasty -- especially online. Last October, I asked National Review's Jonah Goldberg what he thought about this phenomenon, which I've experienced firsthand literally hundreds of times. His reply was amazingly good. The best part:

"The social problem you identify is real, I think. Email has lowered the barriers to offering feedback without increasing the costs of rudeness. Even jerks used to have to at least think a bit before they put pen to paper. Now, that process is nearly instantaneous. Also, the web (and media balkanization generally) allows people who were once fairly atomized to all of a sudden be emboldened by reading and communicating with people who agree with them. That sort of sentiment gave birth to the lefty blogosphere four years or so ago, and to conservative sites like Free Republic in the late 1990s.

"As for conservatives specifically, I think that there's plenty of blame to go around. The feeling among conservatives that the mainstream media -- minus Fox of course -- is rigged against them is real, and to my mind largely justified (though obviously this is a sweeping generalization with lots of caveats). That distrust and cynicism is very bad for social peace and civility. I think the general approach of many news outlets to conservative critiques has been for the most part condescending and self-defeating. For instance, Gwen Ifill's a great lady, but her response to criticism about her conflict of interest was classically snobbish. I could go on about that sort of thing for hours, but you get the point.

"That doesn't excuse conservatives -- or anyone -- for their rude behavior. But I do wish liberals and journalists generally understood that they play a role in this process as well."

Absolutely, Jonah's right. As my column after the election stated, I think The Star's columnist lineup is weighted way too heavily to the left. That makes conservatives feel ganged up on -- and it's perfectly reasonable.

But the ridiculous hyperbole does two things: It makes your fellow-travelers look like babies who are loose with facts, and it cements your opponents' every last stereotype about you. Listen to what John Lennon said about pictures of Chairman Mao. Don't be your own worst enemy.

Now, I will give Mr. Altevogt the floor. Absolutely any comment he wishes to make will be published, unless it calls me a Nazi or a Stalinist. (Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million people, by the way -- on that count, he makes Hitler look like a piker.)
Submitted by derekdonovan on January 5, 2009 - 4:37pm.

John Altevogt said...


Folks, I had a post up earlier today that was defensive and just unprofessional of me. I succumbed to the taunting of a little-known activist who's been calling me a Nazi and "Stalin" here for months. I had put up a long post explaining why I delete his/her comments -- and I should not have done that. It was inside baseball, of no interest to regular readers.

There is a small number of people whose complaints I don't take seriously because of misconduct. That should be an internal matter for me and the newsroom.

Sorry again for taking the bait and dragging anyone else into it. It was a bad, bad choice made in anger -- and was exactly what the person wanted.
Submitted by derekdonovan on January 5, 2009 - 4:37pm.
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Gone for a week

See you all next Thursday or so, unless big news breaks and readers have stuff to say.
Submitted by derekdonovan on January 7, 2009 - 3:13am.
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Anonymous said...

Oh lord, is this boring. No one cares how terribly you suffered, or that somebody, somewhere took down a blog post, even if it is a "major no-no among bloggers."

No one cares. Amuse us better.

Anonymous said...

John, thank you for posting Donovan's complete explanation. With all due respect, it seems perfectly reasonable to me. You seem to have no qualms about calling people names, including Stalinist and Nazi, which MW doesn't delete although it sometimes discourages. (Personally, I think that kind of name calling is as bad as profanity, which MW deletes, but MW has the right to run its blogs the way it wants.) As for Donovan's alleged threatening voice mail, you haven't told us what it said. The link you posted a month or so ago didn't work. So bottom line: I don't see anything unreasonable about Donovan's explanation of why he deletes your posts. If MW can run its blog the way it wants, why can't the Star?

Anonymous said...

omygod what a non issue-
When did Blogging get rules? get a life.

Kevin Gregory said...

Lots to digest.

First thoughts: if Donovan posted something in anger which he later realized was over-the-top, it's legit to delete it as long as he gives an explanation.

Also, the Star contributes to the breakdown in respect by banning John from commenting at the Midwest Voices blog and Donovan's blog. That's petty.

The strangest part -- why is Donovan leaving voice mail messages on critic's answering machines? I don't get that at all.

John Altevogt said...

A point here is that Derek claims that the allegations made against a Star reporter "would have obviously been career-ending misconduct."

Yet Derek makes two such phone calls and is still at The Star. There's not even a question that he made them. Is the "reader's" rep" above the rules set for journalists?

Anonymous said...

Every newspaper has its wacko critics. Seems as though the Star as treated you pretty well, considering.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that John himself has not exploded in anger at someone sometime in his life. I find it equally hard to believe that he had the grace to apologize for it, as Donovan did.

Truth Hurts said...

"Every newspaper has its wacko critics."

Every blog has its wacko trolls.

Truth Hurts said...

"I find it hard to believe that John himself has not exploded in anger at someone sometime in his life. I find it equally hard to believe that he had the grace to apologize for it, as Donovan did."

I find it equally hard to believe that what John may have done, or may not have done, could possibly hold such significance in your life.

Anonymous said...

Get. A. Life.

John Altevogt said...

In this case, it matters not what any of us, myself included, think of this event.

Since his meltdown his credibility is shot and neither his column, nor his blog generate much interest. Indeed, thus far, ignoring my own posts this topic generated 9 responses. It took 11 separate blog entries on Donovan's blog to generate that many (excluding his own). That's on a website that claims to have a readership in the millions.

Perhaps those who suggest that I get a life should drop Derek a line and give him the same advice.

Anonymous said...

***Since his meltdown his credibility is shot and neither his column, nor his blog generate much interest. Indeed, thus far, ignoring my own posts this topic generated 9 responses. ***

That indicates that nobody except you cares that Donovan banned you from posting. So can you find something else to blog about on MW?