PI Original Adam Doster Friday April 10th, 2009, 2:28pm

Spielman Reports From Her Walled Garden

After uncovering a trail of official paperwork using the Freedom of
Information Act earlier this week, Alex Parker of the Chi-Town Daily
News explained in great detail how the Chicago Department of Public Health lost more than $1 million in state funding thanks to problems ...

After uncovering a trail of official paperwork using the Freedom of Information Act earlier this week, Alex Parker of the Chi-Town Daily News explained in great detail how the Chicago Department of Public Health lost more than $1 million in state funding thanks to problems with its new, $16 million billing system. Parker's article came on the heels of mental health advocates' sit-in at Mayor Daley's office in protest of the city's plan to close four mental health clinics to make up for the funding cut.  This one-two punch appears to have forced the Daley administration to reassess the consolidation plan and ultimately spare the clinics.

But reading Fran Spielman's coverage of the clinic controversy in the Sun-Times, you'd miss much of that story. From her article yesterday: 

Earlier this week, mental health advocates and patients held a noisy City Hall demonstration that included a brief sit-in at the mayor’s office. They argued that a flawed Health Department billing system triggered the cuts and that the cuts could be reversed if the billing problems were corrected.

They "argued"? Parker's article establishes that state officials warned the Chicago Department of Public Health in early 2008  that the billing problems could result in future funding issues.  Furthermore, there's no argument about whether the state funding will eventually return to previous levels once the billing system is working properly.

Without acknowledging the Daily News story -- either with a link online or a reference in print -- we can't help but wonder if Spielman even read Parker's piece.

To the Tribune's credit, Hal Dardick's April 8 story on the clinics points out that Parker first disclosed the department's internal documents. But just like their print competitor, the paper doesn't provide a link for readers to go see the original story on their own.

Back in June, we highlighted blogger Kiyoshi Martinez's criticism of the Chicago dailies, which he described as "walled gardens" unwilling to "link outside of their Web site to local bloggers or other Chicago-media sites." The mental health clinics story perfectly exhibits this phenomenon. Because of the paper's reticence to understand or utilize the new media tools available to them, their readers are left with a flat story that ignores the context provided by rival outlets. It's a shame, not only because online sources send their readers to the Sun-Times on a daily basis, but because the journalism itself suffers.

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