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WWL: The Vanishing Capitol Press Corps
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Aired:
03/09/2009
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What's the future of the Capitol Press Corps?

 

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48:52 minutes (41.05 MB)
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In the last round of layoffs, the Hartford Courant let go of a Capitol reporter in Hartford and its Bureau Chief in DC.

A recent report in the American Journalism Review says more than 40 Washington regional reporter positions have vanished in the last 3 years. And the cutbacks are being felt at statehouses around the country as well.

As the newspaper industry rapidly dissolves – what can we expect when it comes to coverage of local politics? Will we be counting on bloggers to hold our local leaders accountable?

Today Where We Live, we’ll talk about the future of the Capitol Press Corps – and the shrinking role of the government watchdog with former Courant reporter Mark Pazniokas and Greg Hladky, the capitol correspondent for the New Haven Register who lost his job one year ago.

Join the conversation!  Add your questions, suggestions and comments below. 


 
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Listener Email from Sean

I would like to add a couple of points regarding newspaper downsizing, the subject of your show today, and the rise of the blogs.  First, I am constantly amazed at how traditional journalists steadfastly refuse to note the connection between their own industry's relentless decline and the increasing readership of blogs.  I've been an investment professional for many years, and have visited literally thousands of times with hundreds of corporate managements in dozens of industries.  Yet I've never come across an industry so out of touch with its customers and so contemptuous of its customer base as the newspaper industry.  Newspapers simply do not take into account the opinions and tastes of their readers, and when those readers desert those papers, newspaper managements profess to be baffled.

Let me offer a couple more examples of that lack of connection with readers from which newspaper managements suffer.  Connecticut Post is the newspaper of record for the state's largest city- Bridgeport, which happens to be strongly African-American and Hispanic- and poor.  Yet ConnPost's editorial board is 100% white and male.  I'm not certain whether the newspaper employs any minority reporters to cover life in the city's slums.  And while its all-white, all-male editorial board endorsed Chris Shays and John McCain for office this past autumn, four out of five Bridgeport (and probably ConnPost readers) voted for McCain's opponent, while seven out of eight voted for Mr. Shays' Democratic opponent.  Hartford Courant, the newspaper of record in the state capital, has endorsed just two Democrats for president in its history, and only one until last autumn's endorsement of Barack Obama.  Yet those editors cannot seem to connect their declining readership with their out-of-step political endorsements and reporting.  Is it any wonder that the citizens of this strongly progressive state would become fed up with that sort of conservative pitch from their newspapers' editorial boards?

Furthermore, it is stunning that traditional media steadfastly refuse to recognize that many of their number simply aren't professional and aren't very good at their jobs.  Take Ken Dixon, for example: is it any wonder that Democrats in this part of the state would be angry at him for sliming Jim Himes as a "forty two year-old blank slate", when the truth is so obviously the reverse?  Would any Democratic reader want to pick up another newspaper with Dixon's articles in them when he so inaccurately and offensively stated, "if you like this current (state) fiscal crisis, thank a Democrat"?  Yet is there any responsiveness on the part of management?  If the newspaper business were like any other industry, i.e., one that was responsive to its customers, would Mr. Dixon still be writing today?  Probably not.  His Sunday column certainly wouldn't be spread to every Hearst publication in the state, as it has been.

And let's keep in mind that the blogs do, indeed, perform original reporting.  Take the example of progressive and popular local columnist Sarah Littman, who wrote for Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time until last July.  At that time, Sarah, who is Jewish, was increasingly frustrated at what she believed was the sanitized coverage accorded to Lee Whitnum, the Democratic candidate against Jim Himes for congress.  After Whitnum put out what Sarah believed was a clearly anti-Semitic press release, she questioned why her newspapers didn't highlight those egregious remarks.  She was rebuked by editorial assistant David Keyes and told, in effect, not to interfere with reporting.  Then, after she used her next column to call out Whitnum for her anti-Semitic and anti-Israel utterances, she was quickly fired from her post.  It should also be noted that just a few days after she was fired, Stamford mayor Dan Malloy was also appalled by Whitnum's remarks and called a press conference the day before the congressional primary at which, flanked by three prominent rabbis from Stamford and Fairfield County, he denounced Whitnum, calling her "anti-Semitic" and "disturbed".  Greenwich Post, a small weekly, posted an article about the news conference on its website, but Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate, the latter the daily newspaper of record in Stamford, didn't carry a single word about Mayor Malloy's remarks, even though their political reporter Neil Vigdor was there and the press conference was held well before their publication deadline. 

The traditional press barely mentioned Sarah Littman's firing, and GT/Advocate refused to print a single word of explanation or even post a notice that she had been let go.  To the many people who called in and emailed in to complain, the management refused to offer any explanation.  I mention this because the blogs did, indeed, cover her firing, and went in depth about the reasons she was given and debunked, again in depth, the explanations she was given.  The blogs, particularly My Left Nutmeg, kept the issue alive, and early this year Littman was named by Connecticut Jewish Journal one of the "Jewish Movers & Shakers of the state of Connecticut for 2008" for speaking out about Whitnum's anti-Semitism and for paying the price for her courage of losing her position as columnist.  Just this month Greenwich Time/Stamford Advocate reversed themselves and asked her to return to her column, telling her they made a mistake.  But would they have reversed themselves if the blogs had not publicized what had happened?  Not likely.   And where was the traditional press when this was going on?  If it were not for My Left Nutmeg and Daily Kos, no one would have had any way of finding out what had happened.  Her reinstatement was highlighted in My Left Nutmeg, but again, not a word of explanation was printed in either GT or Stamford Advocate.

I would also like to point out that while the professional journalist Mark Pazniokas was being let go, Laurence Cohen's "point/counterpoint"-style column with UConn's Professor Barreca was kept intact.  If you read that column you will see that Mr. Cohen's writings are so bizarre, so sexist and so bigoted that one wonders how in the world any newspaper could print them.  Indeed, in a recent back-and-forth, Professor Barreca herself referred to Mr. Cohen's remarks, with some understatement, as "blathering idiocy".  Yet Mr. Cohen was invited to appear on your program several weeks ago as a political pundit to comment on the November election results.

While you and Mr. Pazniokas both remarked that the blogs are largely dependent on the reporting of traditional journalists, that is only partly true and misses a major point.  First, there is a great deal of original reporting in My Left Nutmeg from people who show up at political appearances and report on the politicians' remarks.  Former congressman Chris Shays' numerous appearances in the district were largely ignored by the newspapers and when they were reported on, the articles were invariably short and superficial.  A few of us actually asked probing questions and took the time to report in depth about his remarks and the issues associated with them.  You just never got that from the local press.  And Mr. Pazniokas' remarks ignore the important factor that the blogs have the space and the time to research the background of politicians' remarks and votes and to analyze them carefully.  I wrote a number of opeds and blog postings in which I compared Mr. Shays' remarks with his votes on the issues, going back over several years, sometimes, of votes and speeches in the congressional record.  When have you ever seen that sort of detail in a local newspaper?  When Shays attempted to assert that he never really advocated privatizing social security, I was able to dig up the facts showing that he had, indeed, been a leading proponent of privatization for many years.  Again, did any local reporter or, for that matter, a Washington-based reporter for any of our newspapers ever take the time to do that?  I cannot recall an instance of it.

A point about bias, if I may.  I'll give you an example from this part of the state of journalistic bias.  When Ned Lamont was running for the Senate, Greenwich Time/Stamford Advocate political reporter Neil Vigdor referred to him unceasingly as "a political neophyte" and a "Greenwich millionaire".  The latter label was simply false, since Lamont had served seven years in elective office, including the finance board (board of estimates and taxation) of the town of Greenwich (the state's eighth largest municipality), and as a selectman on the board of selectmen, and he also ran for state senate against Bill Nickerson, the Republican nominee.  He was indeed a millionaire who lived in Greenwich, so that part was accurate.  But when Republican L. Scott Frantz, also a Greenwich resident, began his run for state senator from the 36th district, not once did Vigdor refer to him as a "political neophyte", in spite of the fact that Frantz hadn't served a single day in elective office and had never even offered himself as a candidate for elective office.  And despite the fact that Frantz is most assuredly a multi-millionaire who manages Haebler Capital Partners, a hedge fund created with the inherited wealth of his mother's family, not once did Mr. Vigdor refer to him as a "Greenwich millionaire".  Now as a professor of journalism, I think you will readily understand that that sort of differential treatment of a Democratic candidate for higher office and a Republican candidate from the same reporter in the same publications is inexcusable and clearly biased.  Yet it took the blogs to point it out.  Mr. Vigdor's publications certainly never tried to correct that practice.

Last point about the blogs' bias.  Though My Left Nutmeg is certainly a progressive blog, assertions of fact are almost invariably supported by links (electronic footnotes) to the supporting article, YouTube clip, or research study.  So far from simply spewing out opinion, in that blog one is given the supporting facts that one can look up on one's own, something that the print media cannot offer its readers.  And in marked contrast to right-wing blogs, readers of MLN and Daily Kos regularly demand links to supporting documents if they are not included in blog postings.

I would suggest, Mr. Dankosky, that it would behoove you recognize the importance of blogs and the increasingly critical role they play in our state's social and political life by inviting on some of the most prominent and able bloggers onto your show on a regular basis.  You might find that you are tapping into the real voice of the majority of people in this progressive state.  You might like to bring on Sarah Littman to talk about her opinions and her experiences as well, as she has been both a columnist for newspapers and a blogger. 

A recent survey found that about an equal percentage of Americans now say they get their news from blogs as from newspapers.  Perhaps your show could recognize that fact by including those sources, instead of relying on the shrinking pool of newspaper reporters.

Sincerely,

Sean B. Goldrick

 

Excellent letter - and

Excellent letter - and absolutely true. To get my Connecticut news coverage Myleftnutmeg is the first place I go to. Being familiar with the faces allows me to publish diaries about some of the issues you mention. Anyone can publish a diary, and of course it is an unpaid task. 

Thanks for stating the obvious; blogs are becoming increasingly popular, much to the detriment of the newspaper. Paul Bass wrote an editorial in the Courant saying as much:

"A presidential candidate swept through Connecticut the other day, seeking to build support for 2008. (Never too early!) He didn't make time to meet with editorial boards. He didn't make time to pow-wow with the great pooh-bahs of the water buffalo lodges known as Democratic town committees. There was no slot in his schedule for a press conference with TV and daily newspaper reporters. The candidate, Democrat John Edwards, did squeeze in one private meeting with perceived powerbrokers. In a Yale medical school cafeteria, Edwards glad-handed, praised and answered questions from Connecticut's local bloggers.

Meanwhile, the mainstream press and politicians waited in a courtyard outside. Finished with the bloggers, Edwards emerged alongside Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont to make a speech at a rally in the courtyard, then scoot away.

This wasn't a scheduling failure. This was deliberate. Edwards was well aware of what happened in Connecticut on Aug. 8. The nation's political establishment got a glimpse of how centers of power are shifting on the ground in election campaigns."

P.S. I was a member of the blogging group that met Edwards and Lamont at the conference.

http://www.myleftnutmeg.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=3079

 

 

 

 

Facebook Comment from Steve

Will anybody acknowledge that journalism failed because it stopped supplying reliable information to pander to its audiences and its sponsors?  Did these guys get fired in spite of their competence or because of it?

Facebook Comment from Shawn

In a legislative session like this, losing Paz is just so out of the box that I can't even begin to understand it.  How are we supposed to follow the lack of leadership and the shell game that's being played out at our expense in any critical and meaningful way?

Listener Email from John

I sympathize with your guests' job loss. 
 
Unfortunately, the decision makers in the newspaper industry, as well as other popular media, created their own demise.  The newspapers, along with most popular media, lost considerable credibility during the George W. Bush administration.  Most of the few media resources that challenged the legitimacy of Bush's policies were on the Internet, not in the newspapers.  All popular news sources are losing audience and their complicity with the previous administration is coming back to bite them.  Not unlike US auto industry workers, your guests are victims of short sighted decision making that has rendered their product irrelevant. 
 
John from Bolton

Listener Email from Robert

I have been in the newspaper business for more than thirty years - the demise I have seen in recent years in the quality on newspapers has stemmed from the hiring of bean-counters over news people. Much the way Hollywood looks to make thier film profit in the first week of release (before the film is panned) - people ONLY interested in profit cannot delivery a quality news product.

Thank you,
Robert
Warebury, CT