Several years ago, the Washington Post ran an article citing a Pew Research Center study showing that less than one third of the daily newspapers in the U.S. send a reporter to state capitols to cover the latest state legislative developments.
Another topic this study did not adequately cover was the more local a particular issue or election,, the less informed local residents were, in addition to being less active in the civic and political process. Take for example, Louisa County paper of record, The Central Virginian’s recent story about a proposed gas pipeline stretching from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and across the county.
On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward story about a proposed gas pipeline that cuts across a historic farming district. Shortly after this article appeared, two thirds of the people responding to their survey said they thought it was a good idea to have a gas pipeline running over private properties in the National Historic Green Springs District where some of counties most important underground water supplies are located.
Speaking on behalf of Historic Green Springs Inc., Rae Ely, had this to say, “It’s unthinkable to have this enormous pipeline run through the source of water for so many people.”
It should be noted that the CV’s public link to this important local story was only a few paragraphs, and that this type of coverage is typical of their parent company, Lakeway Publishers giving their on line readers a “Cliffs Notes” version of local news.
This degree of disconnect between Ms. Ely’s common sense statement about the dangers of running a pipeline which could potentially spill, contaminating one the counties few sources of fresh water, and the handful of local folks responding to this survey is one of the consequences of newspapers declining coverage of local and state issues and reducing their coverage down to the barest essentials.
In the case of these folks responding to the survey; it’s clear that they have brought into the prevailing conservative mantra that any business is “good”, and that this pipeline would benefit Louisa County regardless of the actual cost.
The decline of newspapers fortunes has led to a substantial reduction in informative reporting. The number of statehouse newspaper reporters throughout the country has declined by over thirty five percent in the past decade. As newspapers budgetary pressures increase, many are leaving for greener pastures.
Several of Virginia’s better known long time statehouse reporters are now working for various public relations firms. At the local level, the Central Virginians’ past editor now works for Louisa’s school system.
According to one now retired statehouse reporter, “The industry changed. We went through this really difficult time … particularly during the recession,” “It’s not the kind of profession people feel secure in and going into,” one reason why many of the remaining reporters covering Virginia statehouse are entry-level, with low starting salaries and few benefits.
The absence of reliable information has given public relations professionals, lobbyists, and politicians, an unprecedented opportunity to control the message. Using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, lobbyists, politicians are increasingly generating their own news, and spinning their own stories.
It’s no secret that most media outlets rely heavily on wire services like the Associated Press instead of their own reporters. Several non-traditional outlets have popped up to fill this void. Most have an online-only presence; while some focus on insider audiences of lobbyists and government executives; others can nominally be called “non-profits”.
The biggest of these “non-profits” is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity promotes coverage of statehouse affairs specifically from a conservative point of view, according to another Pew study. The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch.
The group’s editors claim that their “professional journalism” work is walled off from the organization’s political operations which include seminars and webinars promoting conservative journalism coverage with staffers from The Daily Caller and TownHall.com, claiming their “pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective” doesn’t compromise their accuracy or independence.
Most of their funding comes from Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, who have raised more than $500 million from various organizations and individuals, including the Koch Brother. Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or “pass-through” money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker ”the dark money ATM of the conservative movement.”
Editors Note: this has been modified from a July 2105 post, and is now in Archives.
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