Friday, June 3

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE OWNERS AND EDITORS OF THE "HOUSTON CHRONICLE"

Dear Owners & Editors of the "Houston Chronicle":

It is singularly impressive that your stories carrying a byline in both your print and online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" -- the major newspaper in the United States' fourth largest city -- conclude with the email address of the reporter(s). Similarly, it is impressive that you have not only developed a group of in-house bloggers, but have published articles advising your subscribers (of which I am one) that you want to encourage a real-time interaction between readers and your newspapers' writers and blogger-journalists. A case in point -- this excerpt from a column by your Dwight Silverman:

By adding the ability for folks to comment immediately on what they read, the newsgathering and reporting process becomes two-way — bidirectional, as techies would say. The audience gives feedback, which can be incorporated in updates or future postings to the blog or in-paper stories. In addition, some readers may have more information on a topic to impart, adding to the value of that posting.
Oh, if only it were so. Fact is, you don't live up to either the good intentions or the hype.

I am a Houston-area blogger who has covered extensively the story of toddler Aiden Naquin, who was brutally murdered in April by a purported MS-13 street gang gunman, who allegedly fired multiple shots at point blank range into the windshield of Ernest Naquin's automobile -- the father of little Aiden. The hapless Aiden was strapped into a child's seat in the backseat of his father's car and was a fixed target for the man police have captured (along with his accomplices) as the principal suspect in the shooting -- Miguel Angel Castro.

In my postings on this horrific crime, I have used the "Houston Chronicle" as my primary source of information and I have always properly cited your newspaper and any other sources I have used.

As the story of Aiden's murder unfolded, it was reported that Ernest Naquin, who has a criminal record, may have illegally sold the drug Xanax to the wife of an MS-13 gang member the night of the shooting. But since then, the story has gone cold with no further articles published by your newspaper or other MSM publications.

So, way back on May 2nd, I sent an email to "Houston Chronicle" reporters Cindy Horswell and Susan Bardwell, both of whom had byline stories in your newspaper on Aiden's killing, and using the "chron.com" email addresses provided for each. In that first email I wrote:

DEAR CINDY & SUSAN;

I am a subscriber to the "Houston Chronicle" and have its print edition delivered to my home daily, while also reading its online version for periodic updates.

I have been captivated by the poignant story of the cold-blooded murder of Aiden Naquin, as well as the alleged direct tie of the shooter, Miguel Angel Castro, to the notoroious MS-13 gang.

I have been checking your newspaper daily and have been unable to find any updates as to whether Aiden's father, Ernest Naquin, has been charged (or is likely to be charged) for purportedly having sold Xanax to the wife of an MS-13 gang member the same night that Aiden was killed. I have also come up empty doing a "Google" search.

It seems as though ample time has passed for the Houston PD, the Harris County Sheriff''s Department, and the FBI to make a determination as to whether or not Ernest Naquin did anything illegal and, if so, if that law-breaking may have led, directly or indirectly, to the fate of his son. What is taking so long? Is the foot-dragging in the District Attorney's office or is an investigation still in progress.

I am a Houston-area blogger who has followed this slaying of an innocent toddler from the first report of his death. I remain determined that this little boy's death and what led to it will get the widest possible circulation in the blogosphere. Your newspaper is my principal source and I should add that I have been staggered by the lack of coverage in the mainstream media of this horrific, chilling murder. It would appear that it is a multi-layered story: the father's criminal background; the MS-13 gang; porous borders and the thorny issue of immigration reform; and, illegal sales and use of prescription drugs. It was not lost on me, as an example, that but a few days following an "HC" story that Ernest Naquin was involved in the street-level sale of Xanax that the "HC" published a story about a middle school student in the Houston area who was found to have brought Xanax to her school and was distributing it to other students. The whole thing is sinister.

To your credit and that of your newspaper, the story was not buried with Aiden in a graveyard in Humble, Texas.

Awaiting your reply, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

B.A. "BERNARD" HIGGINS


Impatient, not having received a reply from either of your reporters, I sent a subsequent email to them the following day, May 3rd:

CINDY & SUSAN:

I'm forwarding to you the email I sent to you yesterday morning and for which I have yet to receive a reply from either of you. It has been twenty-six hours now without a response.

Could you at least acknowledge that you're in receipt of my query and if you either do not have the information on Ernest Naquin that I am seeking or are unable or unwilling to provide it, then just let me know, please!

Were you put off by my forthrightness in telling you that I am a Houston-area blogger? Is that the issue? I hope not. My motivation is simply my ongoing determination that Aiden Naquin's story gets told and told correctly in the blogosphere.

Again, I am a subscriber to the "Houston Chronicle" and when I use it as a source in my posts, I always properly cite it.

Sincerely,

B.A. "BERNARD" HIGGINS

But still no replies from either -- right up until today there's been "nada." That makes a subscriber to your newspaper feel warm all over. Goodness, what gives with you folks? Are you totally oblivious? Do you think our interest in a story ends when you decide to stop reporting on it?

Then, ironically, I received an email from a Kim Hughes on May 17th, indicating she was preparing an article on Houston-area bloggers, asking if I could provide her with some names of and contact information for local bloggers.

She led me to believe she was on the "Houston Chronicle" staff and so I wrote the following email to her on the same day in reply:

KIM:

I find your email request a tad ironic (not your fault, however) in that I have written to Houston Chronicle reporters Cindy Horswell and Susan Bardwell twice now and neither time did I even get the courtesy of a reply, let alone the information I was seeking from them. And I told them I am a subscriber!

I wrote to them on Monday, May 2nd and Tuesday, May 3rd. These women, and perhaps you know them, have covered the story of Aiden Naquin, an 18-month old toddler who was shot dead in his father's car back on April 12th while strapped into a child safety seat. The alleged shooter, Miguel Angel Castro, is a reputed MS-13 gang member and, along with his sidekicks, is in police custody. A subsequent story broke in the "HC" that the little boy's father, Ernest Naquin, may have sold Xanax to the wife of one of the MS-13 gang members that same night. The gang members, in turn, purportedly failed in a robbery attempt to recover the drug sale money from Ernest, and young Aiden was murdered in the process. The story began as a father taking his little boy and two daughters out for a snow cone treat in the early evening and being followed home by a car full of men. Then it evolved into facts that may have indirectly implicated the father in his son's death. As a Houston-area blogger, I devoted a number of posts to the crime, using the "HC" as a primary source and always giving attribution.

All I wanted from Cindy and Susan was information as to whether Ernest Naquin had been charged for illegal drug sales, or if police were still investigating. The story suddenly turned cold and I can't find anything more on it. My concern: that a deal of some kind has been cut with the father (who, I should add, has a criminal background) in order to get him to testify against the shooter and his accomplices.

At minimum, I should have received a "sorry, can't help you" email reply; but, nada! That's not very good public relations for an MSM publication that has seen a decline in its number of subscribers.

That's how bloggers -- even responsible bloggers -- are oftentimes treated by the mainstream media. I advised the two reporters that I was a blogger. I'm always up front about that. Maybe that alone turned them off.

So, can you help me in this matter? In turn, I'd be glad to try to help you!

By the way, I take it you read my post on Cragg Hines (I like your sense of humor!).

Sincerely,

BERNARD HIGGINS

I received a reply from Kim in which she now revealed that she was a "freelance writer" and not, in fact, on the "Houston Chronicle's" staff. She said she could not help me.

Nonetheless, good guy that I am, I wrote her a follow-up email and gave her the blog sites (URLs and names) of some Houston-area bloggers I was aware of and who I thought might be of help to her in preparing her story.

There was no reply from Kim, no "Thank You," no nothing. I have never heard from her since.

Accordingly, my next try was with a regular columnist (and blogger) for your newspaper -- Dwight Silverman -- who I erroneously thought, because of the statement he made in a column of his (which I quoted earlier in this "Open Letter" post) , that he'd be quick to assist me. FOILED AGAIN!

On May 17th I wrote the following email to Mr. Silverman:

DWIGHT:

You wrote the following in your column today -- an excellent column, I should add:

"By adding the ability for folks to comment immediately on what they read, the newsgathering and reporting process becomes two-way — bidirectional, as techies would say. The audience gives feedback, which can be incorporated in updates or future postings to the blog or in-paper stories. In addition, some readers may have more information on a topic to impart, adding to the value of that posting."

This would be terrific if it was a "practice in place" at the Houston Chronicle (and not just with HC's blogs, but the entire news gathering enterprise), but my experience is that it is not so.

Here's the tale of the tape:

I wrote to your newspaper's reporters Cindy Horswell and Susan Bardwell on Monday, May 2nd and again on Tuesday, May 3rd. These women, and perhaps you know them, have covered the chilling story of Aiden Naquin, an 18-month old toddler who was shot dead in his father's car back on April 12th while strapped into a child safety seat. The alleged shooter, Miguel Angel Castro, who fired five rounds into the car's windshield at point blank range, is a reputed MS-13 gang member and, along with his sidekicks, is now in police custody. A subsequent story broke in the "HC" that the little boy's father, Ernest Naquin, may have sold Xanax to the wife of one of the MS-13 gang members that same night. The gang members, in turn, purportedly failed in a robbery attempt to recover the drug sale money from Ernest, and young Aiden was murdered in the process. The story began as a father taking his little boy and two daughters out for a snow cone treat in the early evening and being followed home by a car full of men. Then it evolved into facts that may have indirectly implicated the father in his son's death. As a Houston-area blogger, I devoted a number of posts to the crime at my blog, using the "HC" as a primary source and always giving attribution.

All I wanted from Cindy and Susan was information as to whether Ernest Naquin had been charged for illegal drug sales, or if police were still investigating. The story suddenly turned cold and I can't find anything more on it. My concern: that a deal of some kind has been cut with the father (who, I should add, has a criminal background) in order to get him to testify against the shooter and his accomplices. Regardless of my own feelings about that sort of thing, I'd like to tell my readers what is going on. The little boy is buried and I don't want the story buried with him. I promised readers of my blog that I would update them until justice had been served.

At minimum, I should have received a "sorry, can't help you" email reply; but, nada! That's not very good public relations for a major MSM publication in the nation's 4th largest city that has seen a decline in its number of subscribers.

That's how bloggers -- even responsible bloggers -- are oftentimes treated by the mainstream media. I advised the two reporters in my emails that I was a Houston-area blogger. I'm always up front about that. Maybe that raised a red flag with them. I don't know. But it is discouraging.

Thoughts? Can you direct me as to how I can get some help from the City Desk?

Thanks.

Sincerely,

Bernard Higgins

But, alas, no reply was forthcoming from Dwight. But, fool that I am, I wrote again:

DWIGHT:

I wrote to you three days ago on May 17th, complimented you on a column of yours, and made a simple request of you for assistance; but, I've yet to receive even an acknowledgement of my email.

In this regard, you join three other people who I have written to recently at your newspaper and from whom I have not received a reply, helpful or otherwise.

I even had a Houston-based freelance writer who is working on an assignment for your newspaper write to me seeking some information on Houston-area bloggers, which I provided, and I never so much as received the courtesy of a simple "Thank You!"

The online edition posts the reporter's (or columnist's) email address at the end of the story or column. Is it not fair to presume from that that writing to the newspaper's reporters, columnists, and editorial writers is encouraged and that subscribers to the paper, of which I am one, can have an expectation of some kind of reply?

There seems to be a pattern here.

Bad form -- it really is bad form. Wonder if this has anything to do with declining subscription levels? I can accept the liberal bent of the newspaper; I cannot abide discourtesy towards customers.

Sincerely,

B.A. HIGGINS

Again, I couldn't budge Dwight. After all, I'm just a customer of the "Houston Chronicle" and, besides, your number of subscribers has been eroding, as with most major metropolitan newspapers. Gee, could there be a reason for that?

Well, I'm persistent if nothing else. I decided to write an email and send it to one of the big guns: Day City Editor Ronnie Crocker. Here's what I wrote yesterday, June 2nd:

Dear Mr. Crocker:

The "Houston Chronicle" covered extensively the cold-blooded slaying of 18-month old Aiden Naquin on April 12th by the suspected shooter, Miguel Angel Castro, who was subsequently arrested, along with fellow purported MS-13 gang members. The last story from your newspaper indicated that Aiden's father, Ernest Naquin, may have sold Xanax to the wife of one of the MS-13 gang members the night of the shooting and that Miguel Castro and his coherts were trying to rob Ernest of the money used to purchase the Xanax.

Since, then, however, the story has gone cold.

Can you tell me if Ernest is: 1) still under investigation; 2) has been arrested and charged; or, 3) if authorities have cut a plea bargain deal with him to testify against those arrested.

I am a subscriber, followed the story closely, and have been disappointed that there have been no further updates.

Thank you,

BERNARD A. HIGGINS

Well, it's June 3rd and approaching noontime here in Houston, twenty-nine hours after sending that email, and I haven't had so much as the courtesy of an auto-reply saying Mr. Crocker is in receipt of my email.

Is it because I am a self-confessed blogger that your editors, reporters, and contract writers will not reply to me or do you just treat all of your subscribers this way? I think it's ridiculous and discourteous and close-minded. My blog has a small (but I hope devoted) readership. I am no threat to you, so why do you treat me this way? It's incomprehensible to me that you're courting the blogger community on one side of the ledger and treating them so inconsiderately on the other side -- the feedback side -- that your credibility is being eroded. Credibility is everything in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere. As professional journalists, you should know that.

Again, I ask you for me and for many of my readers, who do care about the death of little Aiden Naquin: is his father, Ernest, implicated in his son's murder, directly or indirectly; is Ernest still under investigation; if an investigation has been completed, has Ernest been charged with a crime; if not, was a plea bargain agreement cut with Ernest Naquin and is the quid pro quo that he testify against Miguel Angel Castro? Facts, please! Facts! And throw in some courtesy towards a customer along the way -- it's a basic tenet of running any business!

Sincerely,

Bernard A. Higgins
"Houston Chronicle" Subscriber
BAustinHiggins@consolidated.net
http://acertainslantoflight.blogspot.com/