Thursday, June 9, 2011
Notes on Politics: Jon Stewart, Anthony Weiner & Bill Clinton; Plus Local News on Decline
How is it possible to laugh at this sad, sad Weinter-Gate situation that's so patently and bizarrely insane?
Watch The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart take a stab at what his staff is calling, “The Wangover,” and place the hullabaloo into its surreal context. (Note: Stewart was once a quasi-roommate of Rep. Anthony Weiner's, actually Stewart shared an apartment with Weiner’s then-girlfriend.)
Measly Local News Coverage = More Gov’t Power, Potential Abuses
On a more serious note . . . When I was but a mere cub newspaper reporter and was assigned to cover a small town, I was given this advice: Get to know the people who work in the various departments in the town, particularly the administrative assistants, back then called secretaries. So I routinely checked in with departments and chatted folks up. I made sure to find out what happened at all the public meetings the boards/departments had if I hadn’t been able to attend them in person. In essence, I covered any given town to which I had been assigned, like the proverbial blanket.
That’s no longer the case for newspaper reporters as their staffs shrink and resources are pulled away from local newsgathering. Plus, many local newspapers have shied away from having their reporters write stories about government meetings because they don’t think it makes for interesting reading in a hyper-competitive, 24/7 media landscape.
The result? People don’t necessarily know what the heck is going on inside Town Hall any more. Local elections get barely any coverage and information about candidates for elected offices is sparse while local newspapers’ space for news stories contracts. We, the voters, are left largely in the dark as to what our local elected officials are doing. Think about what happened in the city of Bell, California where, until a Los Angeles Times story last year, its city officials were receiving oversized salaries, like $100,000/year for part-time City Council positions and nearly $800,000 for the city manager. And this was in “one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County,” the Times reported. If a local news reporter had been covering that city on a regular basis -- scouring proposed municipal budgets and attending budget hearings like reporters used to do -- the public outrage about what officials were proposing would've likely prevented those salaries from being approved in the first place.
Which brings us to a new study from the Federal Communications Commission which found, “Coverage of state governments and municipalities has receded at such an alarming pace that it has left government with more power than ever to set the agenda and have assertions unchallenged,” the New York Times reported.
The paper quoted the study’s author as saying, “The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism – going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy – is in some cases at risk at the local level.” The FCC report cited the Bell, California case as an example of what happens when regular local reporting is cut.
I heartily concur that the dearth of local reporting will result in an ill-informed electorate and unchecked government power. Maybe folks like a local blogger I know -- who covers her hometown much more thoroughly and in depth than the local newspapers -- will step in and do the job that trained journalists used to do: Providing updates on what’s transpiring at Town Hall.