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​Our Opinion: The Forum’s history of shoddy journalism repeats itself

by C.S. Hagen | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Editorial | December 8th, 2017

The Forum's 1989 story that prompted my interest in journalismIn 1989, when I was 17 years old, Fargo Forum reporter Bob Lind became the inspiration for my desire to become a journalist. Lind wrote on my experiences during a string of surgeries I had while overseas in China. He came to my grandmother’s house, sat down on the old Victorian couch, pulled out his pad and pen, smiled, and asked intelligent questions. The interview didn’t last long, at most 30 minutes, but the interview is one I have never forgotten.

On Thursday, another Forum reporter made contact with me. From the minute I picked up the phone, reporter Blake Gumprecht did not make known his intention of writing a story. It is this reporter’s belief that the Forum manufactured the situation, prompting a police response, and tried to cast doubt on the validity of the High Plains Reader's reporting on a story entitled "In the mind of Brooke Lynn Crews."

At times, on the news battlefield, there exists a camaraderie, in Chinese it’s called yiqi, a brotherly or sisterly understanding, that no matter who gets the scoop, we’re all on the same side. Rarely does a reporter desire to make the news. We’re the shadows behind a camera, the scribes that must know how to listen. What should be even more rare is one reporter writing a story on another reporter’s story.

Not so with Gumprecht.

Several questions of his were answered before I asked him if he planned to do a story – on my story – entitled “In the mind of Brooke Lynn Crews” published in the High Plains Reader, or HPR on Thursday.

His reply was yes, HPR had covered issues that the Forum had not, therefore the story of a story made news.

The Fargo Forum has a long history of trying to smear its small competitor, HPR. They’ve attacked former editors, reporters, and Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, an owner at HPR. Although some may call HPR a local liberal rag, it’s a publication that bends its knee to no lobbyist or agenda.

With a 24-year history in North Dakota, HPR has paid reporters, editors, and staff, and also offers unpaid page space for aspiring writers and knowledgeable professionals to let their voices be heard.

The Forum Communications Company, with its multi-state array of newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, thinks it owns the street corners – all of them. Like a bully missing 50 cents for a Snickers bar in grade school, the Forum continuously beats on reporters who make them lose face.

This is the second attack in five months the Forum has launched against a HPR reporter just doing his job. The first was in August when HPR filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the City of Fargo on City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn and a series of coincidences that linked him to “Alt-right” media outlet Breitbart.

Instead of launching an investigation of their own, or writing a related article from a different perspective, the Forum’s editorial staff thought the story of a story was newsworthy when Piepkorn issued a press release.

The second attack came on Thursday, after the Forum asked for information trying to validate HPR’s investigative piece on Brooke Lynn Crews, charged with conspiracy to kill Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and kidnap her then unborn baby daughter. Initial shock gave way to disbelief when Gumprecht announced his intentions. Nearing deadline, Gumprecht called a second time, and became argumentative when questions were not answered to his liking.

Gumprecht’s questions were belittling, his temper short. He wanted to know how HPR could prove what we said, where certain items came from, and earlier in the day hinted at illegalities. In essence, the Forum was trying to say: we own the news, and we don’t like being scooped.

Scooped, however, is a term the Forum must be finally aware of, as HPR has repeatedly beat them on “their turf” on major issues during the past two years.The Forum does not hold a monopoly on reporting the news.

The Forum could have investigated facts obtained by HPR, or they could have investigated a different angle, as experienced journalists might do, but they didn’t. After the loss of face for being scooped, and in an effort to take back control of the F-M area’s journalistic reins, they did what they do best: belittle the competition.

Friction between journalists and police has existed since the printing press, at least, and although journalists carry a responsibility to shine light into darkness, HPR had no desire to belittle the Fargo Police Department with the information included in this week’s story. Police have no responsibility to empty an entire house into evidence.

According to the Fargo Police Department’s Facebook post, investigators took 154 items and snapped more than 1,100 photographs of the apartment Crews and Hoehn occupied. HPR hopes that our investigative pieces may be of current and future help to law enforcement, and not hindrances. In fact, in this case, I wish they hadn’t been as thorough as they were.

The superiority complex displayed by the Fargo Forum, editorial decisions to promote sensationalism instead of investigative stories – all to sell newspapers or garner online clicks – is a gruesome display of unprofessionalism, editorial spite, and lack of courage.

Gumprecht’s conniving attempts at abstracting information, and the short temper displayed by him when I did not answer questions to his liking, is irresponsible journalism and unprofessional behavior. A real reporter, such as Bob Lind, would not have approved.

When a true journalist decides to pursue a story, all attempts should be made to meet with the individual wanting to interview, especially for the first time. A reporter should be courteous, and alert his or her intentions from the conversation’s start. Naturally, there are times when journalists may need to bend the rules to protect themselves from harm when pursuing a hard truth, but this story the Forum finds so fascinating falls far short of that honored status.

What has happened to the world of journalism? When did it become fashionable or even ethical to write a story on a reporter simply doing his or her job? Where is the camaraderie, the yiqi?

Well, Fargo Forum, this reporter won’t be bullied.

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