Since mid 2012 the Central Virginian has undergone a decided change in their coverage of local issues, particularly on their op-ed page. With large notices at the bottom of their op-ed pages telling us how newspapers keep the government from controlling their access to public information
One might be tempted to believe there was some accuracy to that claim if they weren’t taking up space on their op-ed page with decidedly conservative political cartoons from King Feature’s Syndicate, like all the local papers controlled by Lakeway Publishers.
Roughly one quarter of the CV’s op-ed page is often occupied by a stream of consciousness piece, which while occasionally amusing would find a better home in their community or style sections.
Finally, they run ultra conservative commentaries and op-ed’s, from organizations and individuals on the farthest right like; The Family Research Council, and The National Review. A wholesale descent into conservative messaging, accompanied by a decidedly stenographic approach to covering local news and events, particularly the actions of our public officials.
Quite often, the CV’s reporter’s fail to ask obvious follow up questions, repeating a pattern of journalism we've seen from “non-profit” news organizations like the Franklin Center. Most notably failing to cover a recent Town Hall meeting with Louisa’s two state senators and delegate.
If several citizens hadn’t submitted letters to the editor about what took place, their readers wouldn’t have even known this meeting even took place. The CV’s decision to reinforce conservative messaging over informing their readers about local events makes a mockery of their claims of supporting your right to know.
In this case, it’s not the government who’s keeping you from being informed, it’s your local paper.
Still, when it comes to important information, like gas lines running through the county or problems with how this gas is produced, our local newspaper could be much worse.
Like how the development of the Utica Shale deposit in the Appalachian foothills of Eastern Ohio is being covered by one local newspaper.The Harrison News Herald is Harrison County’s only paper of record and everyone, from managing editors and photographers to reporters and sales directors, pulls double duty at both the News Herald and Pipeline Connections, an oil and gas industry trade rag. Both publications are owned by a local publishing company, Schloss Media.
When local residents were asked about their coverage of the gas industry their response was “The News Herald!? …. You’ll learn 10 times more just looking at people’s Facebook feeds”… “You’ll see something on Facebook real quick about some accident that happened and then, before you know it, it’s just gone…vanished.”
And when asked about Pipeline Connections magazine their response was “They give them out for free at gas stations and mini marts and that sort of thing.” “…trying to brainwash us all into thinking fracking is going to make everyone rich, but it doesn’t. It just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
While the folks at the Franklin Center, claim that their “professional journalism” work is separate from their political work, and the folks at the Harrison News Herald expect the public to believe that their coverage of the gas industry is separate from working for a publication dedicated to promoting those interests, they are grossly misrepresenting their journalistic independence and the accuracy of their reporting.
With few exceptions, this is how the impact of gas lines and hydro-fracking, and many other local issues will be covered by most newspapers throughout the country.
Perhaps it's time we started demanding more from our local papers.
Editors Note: this piece has been revised from a July 2105 post, now in the Archives section.