MN News Council upholds two, denies one complaint
The Minnesota News Council last month upheld a complaint that the Minnesota Daily was unfair in using local artist Mari Newman to introduce a review of the play “The Mad Woman of Chaillot.” The vote was 10-4. The News Council also voted 11-3 to uphold a complaint that the review was unfair in how it described the character and activities of Ms. Newman.
Newman, known for her colorfully decorated home in South Minneapolis, complained to the News Council after she saw the May theater review that contained what she said were offensive descriptions of her character. Newman complained that her inclusion in the article was “politically incorrect” and “cheap.” Newman also complained that the use of her first and last name in the article, as well as the location of her residence, was unnecessary.
The News Council denied a third complaint that the use of Newman’s first and last name in the review, as well as the location of her residence, was unfair. The vote was 10-3, with one abstention.
The publishers of the Minnesota Daily attended the hearing, and defended the paper’s inclusion of Newman in its review of “The Madwoman of Chaillot.” “The author, Sarah Miller, drew parallels to real life, where readers could relate to the play and its message…Miller used people from the Twin Cities, including Newman, to speak critically about societies that label people ‘crazy,’” said Editor-in-Chief Emily Banks. “The words used to describe Newman were subjective and intended to communicate nonconformity, or extreme eccentricity,” noted Banks.
“There’s an underlying negative tone to this review; it goes beyond colorful creativity,” said media member Kerri Miller.
Banks, defending the review, told council members that the review, taken as a whole, is meant to celebrate eccentric, colorful women, like the play’s main character. “The article wasn’t meant to attack Ms. Newman,” said Banks.
The Council members agreed that Newman, whose home and art has been featured in past news coverage, is a public figure. “Newman’s history of being in the media spotlight made her a public figure subject to public critique,” commented Banks.
However, most Council members believed that the inclusion of Newman in the theater review was unnecessary.
“I always tell my journalism students, ‘Never forget that you’re writing about real people,’” said media member Steve Schild. “I don’t think the Daily did that here.”
Al Zdon, a public member who voted to deny all three complaints, did not think the review was unfair. “I don’t see a problem with what the Daily wrote,” said Zdon. “Perhaps it was not well-written, but that’s fairly common in journalism.” However, most Council members believed that the inclusion of Newman in the theater review was unnecessary.
Newman, a past winner of the VSA arts of Minnesota Artist Recognition Grant, commented, “I hope my complaint brought a dose of reality to the Minnesota Daily and the campus. It was a victory for disabled people.”
Sarah Bauer is Interim Director of the Minnesota News Council. The Minnesota News Council was created in 1970 to promote fair, vigorous and trusted journalism. It presents complaints about accuracy and fairness to news organizations, holds public hearings to consider unresolved complaints and conducts public forums aimed at fostering trust in journalism. The News Council has 24 voting members, half of them journalists, half laypersons. The hearing process is voluntary; the Council’s determinations are advisory and carry no sanctions.
Editor’s Note: We have recently learned that the Daily has no plans to publish the News Council’s findings.