Sins of Omission

One of the reasons that Red Maryland was formed over seven years ago was to provide a conservative perspective on news and opinion here in the state of Maryland. While the media market was dominated by the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, there were still other independent newspaper outlets that provided news coverage on our state, particularly the General Assembly and State Politics.

Over the last few years, that trend has been changing thanks to consolidation and the changing of the business practices of some publications:

  • The Baltimore Examiner and both went out of business
  • The Gazette newspapers stopped providing as much political coverage in Annapolis;
  • The Baltimore Sun gobbled up the Annapolis Capital, Carrol County Times, and the City Paper.
It is hard to argue that these machinations have not impacted political coverage in the area. It’s even more apparent when you considered that five of the seven most widely circulating newspapers in Maryland are now owned either by the Baltimore Sun or the Washington Post:

When you have this level of media consolidation, you invariably run into the more reporters fighting for the same pool of resources and, invariably, stuff falls through the cracks. There are fewer and fewer reporters covering the same beats, a trend that was noticed as far back as 2009

Maryland now has only 12 full-time State House Reporters according to the Pew Research Journalism Project

Prior to the purchase of the Annapolis Capital by the Baltimore Sun company, the Capital had (due to its proximity) one of the more robust State House staffs in Annapolis. At the time of the purchase, both sides of the agreement said that there would not be any change in staffing or coverage in either paper and that the Capital would remain a mostly independent entity. But the winds of change don’t take long to start blowing, and the recent website redesign of the Capital to more mimick the Tribune Company corporate look, as well as stories by Baltimore Sun staff writers appearing on Capital websites and a Baltimore Sun Media Group veteran being named as publisher start to show that the walls of independence are starting to be chipped away.
Soon enough, the Capital will likely be just another local outlet like other Baltimore Sun properties, further degrading the amount of state government and political coverage.
Media consolidation is something that just naturally happens with the market, and we as free market conservatives understand that. But in this era of short attention spans, media consolidation becomes more and more problematic. The more voices and outlets that are owned by one organization, the more those outlets are able to shape public policy and shape the public discourse. It is one of the reasons why recent at Red Maryland we have been talking about the stories that are being covered and comparing them with the stories that are not being covered, something discussed at length on both The Conservative Refuge and Red Maryland Radio this week.

The @baltimoresun won’t cover @BrownforMD‘s failures, PAC coordination but they’ll cover this nonsense: #mdpolitics
— Brian Griffiths (@BrianGriffiths) September 13, 2014

Trending: Red Maryland Radio: The Final Episode

Some of the stories that are being covered include:

Some of the stories that they haven’t written about, however, have tended to show up only on alternative media sources. Stories like:
And those are just recent stories. We have seven years worth of archives that we could pull from as examples. And this kind of activity has not been limited to coverage of Hogan, Brown, and O’Malley (just ask Dan Bongino) nor is it limited to the big papers (as Streiff noted with his damning piece about the Hagerstown Herald-Mail). But it is prevelant through the mainstream media, especially the papers owned by the two largest companies.

The editorial decision making in the newsrooms of the papers owned by the Sun and the Post have a direct and distinctive impact on these elections and the direction that they take. The problem with these editorial decisions is that every decision to cover or not cover a story has a distrinctive impact on the informaton that is presented to the electorate. While not every voter gets their information from the daily newspaper anymore, a lot of them use that as their primary source of information. And while newspapers are not the only source of information, they are the source most equipped to provide detailed analysis to the masses; television only has so much opportunity to present information and online sources (even well-read ones like Red Maryland and Maryland Reporter) are limited in the audience that they reach.

Because of that, every time that the Baltimore Sun reports on Larry Hogan’s current weight instead of Larry Hogan’s tax plan or Anthony Brown’s failure to lead our state on health care implementation is a decision that ultimately impacts the election, These editorial decisions impact the information that is presented to average voters and informs their decision when they go to the polls. And the lack of detailed analysis and deep investigative journalism on state level issues from the big newspaper companies does a disservice to these voters who aren’t regular readers of online sources like this one, or don’t start paying close attention to elections until after Labor Day.

There are a lot of great investigative journalists in these town. The problem is that none of them get their stories in front of enough eyes or have enough time to get into the detailed analysis necessary to get their point of cross. Jayne Miller, David Collins, and the folks at the I-Team on WBAL are damn fine investigative journalists. And we already know that they can make politicians squirm when they call them on the carpet:

Same goes for the folks over at WBFF as well. But there is only so much detail and so much of the story that you can present in a 3-5 minute TV news package.

Written word journalists have plenty of time and space to tell their stories, particularly of the online variety. The leading sources of stories regarding issues or deep analysis of politics and issues can often be found here at Red Maryland, on Baltimore Brew, or over at Maryland Reporter. But again, despite high readership, the stories only reach so far, even accounting for social media shares.

The one print outlet in town that was getting into the weeds (no pun intended) was the City Paper. But they are another outlet that was recently gobbled up by the Baltimore Sun, leaving it questionable how long that practice will continue.

The most damning part about the Sun’s lack of coverage on these issues themselves. An editorial from Thursday’s paper lamented that the Brown campaign was in a race to define Hogan and that their view was “Hogan needs to flesh out his platform, lest his opponent do it for him”:

Mr. Hogan’s entire platform, in so far as he has described it, is to cut spending and taxes and to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses — and he hasn’t even been particularly specific about any of that. Granted, we agree that issues of taxes, spending and Maryland’s economic competitiveness are crucial and deserve to be front and center in this campaign. But there’s more to being governor than that. What Mr. Hogan needs to realize here is that if he doesn’t clearly define his positions on the wide range of issues that matter to Marylanders, the Brown campaign is going to do it for him, and in the most unflattering terms possible.

Of course the Hogan Campaign has been doing this for months, taking every opportunity they get to talk about the O’Malley-Brown record, taxes, and how things would be different on day one as Governor. The only problem is that the editors in the newsroom at the Baltimore Sun aren’t giving those stories nearly as much ink (or any ink at all) when compared to stories about the RV, about weight loss, etc. Just look at the September 17th story about the Hogan campaign call for an investigation in Brown’s Super PAC Coordination and compare it with the story I wrote on the issue September 12th, which actually contained some analysis of the facts and included campaign finance information from the Brown campaign and the Super PAC. 

The lack of ability for the Hogan campaign to get their message out is closely related to the sins of omission that News Editors at the Sun and other papers are making by choosing to focus on other things. The Sun’s slogan may be “Light for All”, but it’s proven to be anything but. 

That’s something that the Sun can get away with in a one newspaper  town like this one. Back before 1986, there were three newspapers in town; The Sun, The Evening Sun, and the News-American. With the three papers (The Sun and Evening Sun were run separately) there was competition in the marketplace and reporters would, by necessity, have to dig deep to find the stories that were important to their readers and provided their paper with an edge up. But with the closing of the News-American in 1986, and the end of the Evening Sun in 1995, we’ve been pretty much a one newspaper town since. Even the Baltimore Examiner, during its time, never seriously challenged the Sun’s hegemony.

The problem, in today’s times, is the fact that there really aren’t good solutions available yet to create competition and counteract this problem. We’re working on them, I assure you, as are others. We are looking for new ways to spread our stories, and our pieces, and try to bring them to more eyeballs. That’s what a lot of our affiliation with the Liberty Alliance is about. But as far as widespread distribution of the news, your choices right now are television and newspaper. And circulation numbers (particularly with the Baltimore Sun) will show you that the daily newspaper business is dying.

With the Baltimore Sun still for sale, there is hope that a new buyer will be found for it who will bring in new leadership that will change the focus of the news room toward printing more actual news and leaving the nonsense for other folks. Because short of somebody starting a new daily newspaper in this state and focusing on the issues that matter, we’re stuck with what we’re stuck with. All we can do is encourage leadership at the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post to fix the mess they’ve created, and to continue working alongside our fellow online journalists reporting the stories that the big boys seem reticent to report. 

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