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Peeved in Peoria

As for Luciano, he notes that "I'm not personally incensed and pounding my fist" about the Planes Mistaken for Stars piece. "John Moore hit the nail on the head when he wrote to me. He said, 'I know your job is to make things interesting.'" By this measure, Luciano succeeded. "I even got a slew of e-mails from people who said they were from the Denver area -- and who in Denver reads the Peoria paper?" he wonders. "Most of them were ragging all over me. They said, 'This was about this band, it wasn't about Peoria,' and they were defending John Moore."

Granted, such naysayers were dwarfed -- in Peoria, at least -- by the size of the pro-Luciano contingent. Their fervor gave the columnist a new perspective about his readers, many of whom weren't too happy with him a year or so back after he appeared on an episode of Whad'Ya Know, a National Public Radio program hosted by Michael Feldman, that was taped in town. "A lot of people were angry that I didn't come on and say, 'We have a ballet and an opera and we're like a little, tiny Chicago,'" he recalls. "Rather than doing the civic-booster spiel, I talked about some kooky things and yukked it up and made it look like an interesting small city, which it is." He allows that Peoria, with an approximate population of 360,000, has "an insulated kind of small-town mindset -- but I don't mean that in a negative way."

These days, Luciano can probably get away with such nuances. Following "Reporter's Slur of City Unfounded," he found himself being hailed by some of the same people who he's pretty sure were hurling invective in his direction because of his Whad'Ya Know performance. He feels this turnaround can be traced to a single, simple truth: "We can kick ourselves around, but if you're going to kick us around, you'd better be able to back it up."

The members of Planes Mistaken for Stars, seen here 
circa 2000, had a few choice words for Peoria.
T. Jonsson
The members of Planes Mistaken for Stars, seen here circa 2000, had a few choice words for Peoria.

Rocky times: In August 2002, Joe Bullard and Diane Eicher, both former staffers at the Denver Post (as well as husband and wife), debuted as bi-monthly media columnists for the Rocky Mountain News, alternating with the Independence Institute's Dave Kopel. During the year that followed, the couple raised hackles aplenty for sharply critical commentary that often zeroed in on the Post. Even Greg Dobbs, their predecessor as Rocky media watchdog, believed they pilloried the Denver broadsheet so often that it brought their objectivity into question -- an opinion he expressed in a letter to the editor published on the same page where the Bullard-Eicher column regularly appeared. John Temple, the Rocky's editor/publisher/president, defended the two against bias accusations in a rather backhanded way, saying, "They aren't very popular in either newsroom.... And I can tell you there are editors at my newspaper who really bristle at what we allow the critics to say and believe them to be poorly informed, misinformed, ignorant" ("Coming Attractions," May 15).

Nonetheless, many readers were caught off-guard when they opened the September 6 Rocky to find the first submission from new media columnist Michael Tracey, a professor at the University of Colorado's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Just as unexpected, there was no mention of Bullard and Eicher, leading to widespread speculation that their departure hadn't been their idea.

Wrong. Bullard, reached at Publication Design Inc., a Wheat Ridge-based business he oversees, reveals that the impetus for the switch came from them. Eicher left the Post, where she'd toiled for 23 years, to pursue a career in teaching, and after a stretch as a substitute, she landed a full-time position in the Adams 50 school district. "She's teaching first and second grade, and it's a real challenge. About ten kids she has don't speak English," Bullard says. As a result, he goes on, "we didn't feel like we had enough time to devote to reading the newspapers as closely as we needed to read them. Before, we could kind of team it; she'd read something and I'd read something. But we just can't do it anymore."

That seems straightforward enough -- so why didn't the Rocky share this story with readers? "I was kind of surprised they didn't," Bullard admits. "I'm not quite sure why they didn't have some kind of note."

Editor Temple acknowledges that the omission of this information was problematic. "It seemed like a complicated thing to explain in a box," he says, "but maybe we should have explained it. I certainly appreciate their contribution, and I thank them for what they did." He adds, "We're happy to have Michael writing the column."

By the same token, Bullard seems pleased to no longer have a figurative "Kick Me" sign affixed to his caboose. When asked if he and Eicher had gained any new insights during their twelve months examining the institution in which they once worked, he says, "We found that the thinnest-skinned people in America are probably journalists."

Really? I hadn't noticed.

Had Bullard and Eicher stuck around, they could have commented on a sizable gaffe that turned up in the very edition of the Rocky in which Tracey bowed. Columnist Tina Griego was given prime page-one space for "Life After Welfare Tiring But Fulfilling," which focused upon Oshanette Neal, a onetime welfare mother who's remained gainfully employed for nearly a year in the face of obstacles that would stop most folks in their tracks. The tale was a rare, clear-eyed, condescension-free look at the daily struggles of the working poor that seemed complete -- but it wasn't. Two days later, on September 8, Griego published a followup called "Evaluating Welfare Moms: A Window on Misery." In it she wrote that the prose that followed, as well as an accompanying information box loaded with statistics, "should have run as a package" with the main September 6 piece "but didn't. An official journalistic term for such a mishap exists. It is, however, unprintable."

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