Tom Burford of small-town MN paper says Muslims don't value human life like Christians

Tom Burford of small-town MN paper says Muslims don't value human life like Christians
The Bagley Farmers Independent

Tom Burford sees military intervention in Syria as an extension of the religious warfare that the United States has been fighting in the Middle East for the last 10 years.

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He edits the the weekly Bagley Farmers Independent and, earlier this month, published an opinion piece entitled "Thoughts about Syria" cautioning his northwest Minnesota readers on theological grounds. (A scanned copy of a single paragraph from that article is shown above.)

Carl Sewall, the news director of RP Broadcasting in nearby Bemidji, tipped off Jim Romenesko, who published part of the article Wednesday on his media blog.

Burford is of course entitled to his opinion. What bothered Sewall was that the article ran on a news page without indication that what the reader was getting was an opinion. It appeared above another opinion piece but below two straight news stories.

"There's nothing in (the paper) that distinguishes editorial content, opinion content, news content," he said. "It's just not organized like that, like you'd expect a newspaper to do."

The headline and editor's byline should have been enough of a trigger for the reader, Burford said. Still, he put the little essay on page nine of the paper because page eight, which is entirely dedicated to commentary, had filled up.

"It's fairly logical," he said of anyone who looks at the previous page.

Naturally, the article says much about Burford's worldview. But the way his words were broadcast to a national level also reveals a clash of journalistic values in northwest Minnesota and beyond.

Burford conceded that the BFI is somewhat of a throwback to the partisan papers that were prevalent in the early days of the country.

The idea of objectivity in journalism was not developed as we know it until the early 20th century. Some historians see the rise of impartial reporting as an product of economic and historical circumstances. The Economist has noted:

Journalists agreed not to alienate anyone so that advertisers could aim their messages at everyone. That way the publishers got a broader market and the journalists got steady jobs but gave up their voices.

Burford said he writes for his market, which is primarily conservative and Christian, adding, "We don't have a lot of immigrants except for third generation."

Wednesday wasn't the first time that one of his articles wound up on Romenesko.

In March, BFI reprinted an article about EPA regulations, which was originally printed in Processing Magazine in February:

That article, however, was clearly presented on a page titled "Commentary."

-- Email Jesse Marx at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse

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