Our readers will particularly understand being in a campaign as the hopeless underdog, where you’re so irrelevant that your competitor doesn’t even mention your name.
So you work your ass off for months in obscurity, and then comes that moment when out of nowhere your opponent attacks you.
And that’s the moment when you know you’ve arrived. You have their attention, it’s now a race, and they’re not happy about it.
In journalism it works much the same way. Politico, a paper whose business model we have modeled our own after, was founded in 2007 and was criticized as irrelevant, too soft, too close to lawmakers etc. by the older establishment media.
It only took 2 years for them to officially arrive when in 2009 the Washington Post began attacking them on how they ran their business, and even tried to kick them out of the White House press corps. After Politico’s validation via attack, they now openly compete with them for stories, readers, advertisers, and talent.
As I write this, the presses at the Columbia Tribune are making that wonderfully validating moment a reality for us at The Missouri Times.
In short, thanks to you – our readers – we have arrived.
After 24 months of hard work, endless hours, countless mistakes, thousands of challenges, the fact that the 100+ year old Columbia Tribune ran by the eminently respected Hank Watters allowed reporter Rudi Keller to attack us days after we announced that we would begin distributing in Columbia is more gold plated proof than anything we could have ever said about ourselves that we have officially arrived.
I haven’t seen it, but let me quickly run down the elements of the attack I understand is being cranked out in Columbia tonight.
After the November elections I made the decision to begin distributing print copies of The Missouri Times in Columbia, a move that makes sense for us and has been met with a very enthusiastic response in the Columbia community.
A month or so later I got a call from Chuck Simino, formerly of the MCTA, telling me that Rudi Keller had called him with “all sorts of leading questions trying to take the Missouri Times down a notch or two”.
According to Mr. Simino, he told Rudi that he didn’t know if the event was reportable or not. He told me that after over half a dozen questions soliciting negative comments about us for what Mr. Simino described as a “hit piece” on us, he finally told him he had to get off the phone.
Then coincidentally the day after our announcement that we would be distributing in Columbia I got a call from Rudi.
After exchanging pleasantries, it became obvious that everything Mr. Simino told me was right, and then became and remained confrontational.
I think he was surprised that I was personally eager to confront him because, after all, it was Rudi who was participating in a shady act of corporate attack journalism and I couldn’t be prouder about the events we hosted.
I’ve felt that for some time now that in Jefferson City there is a growing problem of hyper-partisanship and an increasing lack of institutional memory.
So I decided that from time to time we would host what we sarcastically called “portrait unveilings” of people in the public policy process. We would invite people from both parties, and all walks of life together to discuss someone’s legislative career and hang up their portrait in an effort to stoke some remembrance of the lacking bipartisanship and historical memory.
The phone call was one of the most revealing calls I’ve ever been on, and unearthed some of the (unspoken until we stepped on his turf in Columbia) loathing Rudi has for our newspaper, and the changing news environment leaving behind so many in the old school media.
During the call, Rudi told me his personal feelings about Missouri’s reporting laws and the need to strengthen them, telling me he intended to write stories about it “until every time a lawmaker takes a sip of water.”
At The Missouri Times we try to keep our own personal agendas out of our reporting, but each to his own. Before we did this, I called my lawyer and the Ethics Commission and was told told that our events weren’t required to be reported. Our events are little different from a business journal hosting a legislative awards banquet. There are sponsors for those events as well, and the companies who sponsor them are not required to report their sponsorships either, but absolutely no one would have cared to report them if they were.
Then he accused me of hosting these events in secret. After laughing at his desperation I told him that we promoted all of our event sponsors proudly, publicly, and without reservation. And by the way, how many hundreds of people in Jefferson City do you need to invite to an event for it not to match Rudi Keller’s definition “secret”? In short, that’s just bull, and he knows it.
And that was the tone of most of the 20 minute 51 second call. I told him that this hit piece was actually his participation in the lowest form of that awful capitalism he derides so much. He went on to in a very dark voice complain about our new television show, and angrily question if it’s right that I make money when the company I own turns a profit.
For what it’s worth, I like Rudi Keller, and have spoken highly of him to lawmakers, staffers and the like. And honestly, Hank Watters is the exact type of person whose memory we would have loved to commemorate at such an event. Rudi and I have both had to overcome some things in our lives, and there is a grit and passion about him that I’ve gotten to see over some beers together at Paddy Malone’s.
I’ve been one to defend Rudi against allegations from other members of the press behind his back about illegal drug use, and from others outside the press corps who call him “Rudi the Red” because of a perceived partisan bias (hint: its not a conservative bias they complained about) to his stories.
Take my word for it, he does ask Governor Nixon the toughest questions in almost every press conference. He was also fair enough to tell me on the record that he has “no complaint about any of our stories.”
Since no one can know the truth for sure, and because I’m just a simple hillbilly from west Butler County, I’ll choose to believe Rudi when he tells me that we invited 300 people to half a dozen events in Jefferson City while he was there covering the legislature and he had no clue about it eleven months until the week we announced plans to distribute our newspaper in Columbia.
However, let me ask those who know Rudi a simple question. Would Rudi Keller give Rudi that same enormous benefit of the doubt lined up against all those facts?
Lastly Rudi attempted to question our fairness. When we began our company two years ago there were some valid concerns we would be politically biased. We have worked damn hard to prove to our readers that we do not intend to have any partisan slant, in fact, it’s my personal opinion that we are one of the least partisan news outlets in the Capitol, an opinion I think at least some in the building would happily support. I’ll happily put our record of unbiased reporting up against Rudi’s any day of the week.
Being the new kid in town does come with a target on your back. Ours may be a little a little bigger from the old school media for a number of reasons, most told us to our face that we would be long out of business by now, that building momentum and success at the Capitol would be too hard, or I’m just not quite liberal enough, maybe it’s that I’m personally just a little too rural Missourah for their high brow tastes.
But, damn, not only are we not out of business, but we have now started a TV show, and are handing those damn papers out in their town. Who knows and I’m really not interested in pondering it further.
The bottom line is competitors attack each other. It’s called capitalism, the Columbia Tribune apparently isn’t above it, and here at The Missouri Times we love it.
Thanks for the validation.
Scott R. Faughn, Publisher of The Missouri Times
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.