Quad Formula… Maybe it’s because Squid is translucent and it’s simple narcissism. Squid likes to think it’s because of something bigger – like the Constitution of the United States enshrining a free press – but Squid loves newspapers.
Even so, Squid was surprised to see the flurry of headlines about a trial in Iowa that started Sept. 23, in which Seaside City Manager Craig Malin is suing the Davenport-based Quad-City Times and parent company Lee Enterprises, alleging the paper undertook a deliberate effort to publish false information about him, ultimately leading him to lose his job in Davenport after 14 years. Per outlets that picked up an Associated Press story: “Former Public Official in Iowa, Now a City Manager in NorCal, Sues Newspaper in Suit Alarming Free Press Advocates.” “Press Freedom Advocates Troubled by Suit Against Iowa Paper.”
Squid is also a press freedom advocate and also believes in running accurate stories. And when they’re not accurate, Squid believes in correcting them. As Malin says, “I’m fighting forjournalism, not against journalism.”
Things got testy between the paper and Malin when he led the charge to develop a new website with cool transparency features, including automatically uploading all of Malin’s incoming and outgoing emails, for the public to read. The Quad-City Times dissed the endeavor in an editorial in 2014. (Calls to the paper were not returned.)
Then things really went south in 2015 as a one-mile road project moved forward that would connect a casino to the interstate. It was a $13 million project – as the paper reported, in at least four early stories. Then came stories that appeared to be based on a misreading of the budget, suggesting it was an $8 million project, with $5 million unaccounted for. They came with headlines like “The mile-long mess” and an editorial calling on the City Council to fire Malin: “After last week, we’re convinced: The hired help has got to go.”
After Malin got axed, the old storyline resumed in the Times, as if nothing had ever happened: “The $13.8 million project will be funded through the issuance of bonds abated by tax increment financing… ” You know, boring stuff on government and finance.
In discovery, the paper was required to hand over some 4,000 emails that are now public as part of the court record. They show some internal exchanges that Squid expects will be part of Malin’s case. As Malin puts it, “They ran the guy out of town whose emails were totally transparent, and now their emails are coming back to haunt them.”
Malin’s legal team will not be permitted to use the term “fake news” at trial, but Squid thinks that’s for the best. They can keep it to a discussion of how and why the paper reported on the road accurately, then inaccurately – while editors were on a mission to get Malin fired – then back to reporting accurately. You know, basic journalistic questions, something newspaper people should be pretty good at.