Category Archives: Media

The Post Should Hire Andrew Metcalf Right Now

By Adam Pagnucco.

MoCo’s most feared man, former Washington Post reporter Bill Turque, has left to terrorize hapless local politicians in Kansas City.  In a rare moment of self-reflection, the newspaper’s bosses have come to realize that “our digital and print readers crave local news” and have posted an ad seeking a Turque successor.  (Let’s remember that this is the same company that killed the Gazette!)  We are sure they will get many qualified applicants, but there’s one name that’s a total no-brainer:

Bethesda Magazine reporter Andrew Metcalf.

Metcalf is a Young Turque.  Just like his older counterpart, Metcalf has been ripping off political band-aids since he arrived here three years ago.  He has covered nearly everything in the county, including budgets, taxes, term limits, legislation, last year’s Congressional election, the Purple Line and much, much more.  His coverage of the liquor monopoly has been second to none, especially his exposure of Delegate Ben Kramer’s conflict of interest as a county liquor store landlord.  He obtained video of Governor Larry Hogan accusing a judge who had ruled against the Purple Line of living at a nearby country club (an inaccurate statement).  He was the first mainstream news reporter to break the news that John Delaney was running for President.  Finally, Metcalf is the author of one of our favorite local stories of all time: “Supposed Nigerian Prince, Robert Lipman Imposter File Public Information Requests with County.”  African monarchs everywhere are writing him into their wills!

Perhaps even more important than his body of work is this fact: Metcalf knows us.  He knows our elected officials, their staffers, the activists, the players and lots of people involved with our political culture.  He knows the structure of the government at both the state and county levels.  He knows our issues: schools, transportation, crime, taxes, jobs, inequality, immigration, cultural diversity and so many others.  He has a deep source network.  And he is developing that combination of respect, trust and wariness that local reporters have with political establishments.  Politicians know they need to be ready when Metcalf calls!

All of these things take time for reporters to develop.  The problem is that we don’t have a lot of time in this county.  One of the most historic elections in our county’s history is approaching in less than a year – and that’s the amount of time it takes most decent reporters to get established.  If the Post hires a brand new person who knows nothing about our county, by the time that person figures out where the bathrooms are, the election will be over.  The obvious solution is to hire a good reporter who already has years of experience covering us and that’s Metcalf.

We understand that Bethesda Magazine publisher Steve Hull is preparing to fire mortar shells at our beloved Limerick Pub in retaliation for this post.  We can’t blame him!  But for the good of the community, the good of local journalism and the good of its own bottom line, the Washington Post needs to hire Andrew Metcalf.  Right.  Frickin.  Now.

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Politicians Rejoice as Bill Turque Leaves

By Adam Pagnucco.

The most feared person in MoCo politics is not an elected official.  He’s not a union leader, a developer, a big contributor or even a blogger.  He’s Washington Post reporter Bill Turque, who has covered the MoCo beat for over four years.  Happily for politicians and unhappily for the rest of us, Turque has stepped down and it’s unclear what the Post will do next.

MoCo officials did not fully understand what they were getting when Turque began writing about the county.  Among his many previous assignments, Turque covered former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a FAR tougher figure than any MoCo politician.  Turque’s battle for information from the school system escalated to the point when his own bosses tried to censor him.  Then there’s the story of when the Post allowed Rhee to use one of their conference rooms to hold a meeting.  Rumor has it that Turque quietly walked in with a notepad.  Rhee was about as pleased as a bride who sees a cockroach in her wedding cake!

Politicians in MoCo had it easy from the Post until Turque showed up.  His two predecessors on the MoCo beat were Mike Laris, who wrote one or two articles a month, and Victor Zapana, who was fresh out of college.  Neither knew a lot about the county.  Turque, in contrast, was a long-time resident who quickly learned the history and the players.  Before long, inconvenient stories began appearing in the paper.  Politicians began longing for the days of scanty coverage!

How to pick the Best of Turque?  There are so many articles to choose from.  There’s the time when he outed a union-linked operative as the author of an anonymous attack website targeting former Council Member Valerie Ervin.  Then there was the article in which he called out the County Council for violating its own law on Public Information Act disclosure in taking down email addresses from the county’s website.  Council Member Marc Elrich, who has long said he turns away developer money, was caught by Turque taking money from an attorney who represents developers.  Council Member George Leventhal has yet to recover from Turque’s posting a video of his berating budget director Jennifer Hughes from the dais which was cited in Bethesda Magazine’s coverage of his Executive campaign launch.  And then there’s the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco, the subject of countless Turque articles up to his flaying the county for getting fleeced by lawyers and experts.  Years ago, a Leggett administration official complained to me about Turque’s relentless coverage of the transit center.  Your author replied, “You can’t blame the wolf for liking the taste of meat!”

Perhaps no politician in the county will be happier to see Turque leave than David Trone.  Turque wrote a story on Trone’s political contributions early in his candidacy for Congress including the now-infamous Trone quote “I sign my checks to buy access.”  Trone’s campaign never got past that statement.  But there was more, including coverage of the Trone Spy and a Trone company’s payment of a fine for making illegal campaign contributions.  We think Trone should celebrate Turque’s retirement by instituting a blow-out sale at Total Wine.  Spread the joy, Mr. Trone!

The key to understanding Turque is that he’s an old-school, all-business reporter.  If you have real information, he’ll look at it.  If you have BS, spin or rumor that repeatedly doesn’t pan out, he sniffs it out lickety-split.  The worst thing one could ever do with Turque is tell him “there’s no story there.”  To Turque, that is proof that there actually IS a story and it will make him dig harder.  One more thing.  Your author has spent countless hours eating sushi with Turque and to this day I have no idea who he voted for.

The future after Turque is hazy at best.  The Post is searching for a successor.  It’s possible that the Post will bring on another newbie like Zapana or perhaps have its MoCo beat reporter take on work outside the county as its solicitation suggests.  Either of those possibilities would likely result in declines of coverage here.  Add that to the demise of the Gazette and the Examiner and, other than Bethesda Magazine and a couple online outlets, we could have a news desert at a time of historic change in county politics.

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Washington Post Looking for Turque Successor

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post has posted an employment ad seeking a successor to recently departed MoCo beat reporter Bill Turque.  We will have much more to say about Turque soon, but for now, we re-post the ad itself.  (Andrew Metcalf, do you see this?)

*****

The Washington Post’s Metro desk is looking for a reporter to cover government and politics in Montgomery County, Maryland’s largest and perhaps most powerful jurisdiction.

This is a crucial role, as our digital and print readers crave local news. We are looking for a reporter who can provide strong and authoritative coverage of county government and elections, which are unfolding in a new era of term limits and public campaign financing. As the Metro desk continues to try to redefine local news coverage, we are looking for someone who can spot trends in Montgomery and tell readers across the nation why what’s happening in Montgomery has resonance for them. Similarly, the successful candidate will be able to explain how national issues have real-world consequences right here in Montgomery County.

Covering Montgomery County is a great opportunity to write about issues facing 21st-century suburbs, including immigration, the growing importance of mass transit and the challenges posed by aging neighborhoods and infrastructure. It’s also a great place for accountability reporting, with a budget of $5.4 billion and thousands of employees. In addition, there are nearly a million people who live in Montgomery County, and there are human stories to tell.

We are looking for a reporter who can be a collaborative part of our Maryland politics team by helping to cover the upcoming governor’s race and Congressional mid-terms.

If you are interested, please contact Debbi Wilgoren (debbi.wilgoren@washpost.com) Monica Norton (monica.norton@washpost.com), Mike Semel (mike.semel@washpost.com) or Tracy Grant (tracy.grant@washpost.com) no later than Aug. 11.

 

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More Evidence Trump Tactics at Heart of Maryland GOP as Vogt Fires Fraudster Aide

As 7S reported previously, Trumpian tactics of flat out lies followed by more flat out lies are evident at the heart of the Maryland Republican Party. More scandal related to this approach to politics emerged yesterday:

A legislative aide to a Frederick County lawmaker was fired after he was revealed Wednesday in a New York Times article to be the mastermind behind a fake political news website.

Cameron Harris, an aide to Delegate David E. Vogt III, R-District 4, previously ran the website ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, according to the Times.

The website published fabricated articles about things like thousands of ballots pre-marked to vote for Hillary Clinton in an Ohio warehouse, complete with photos stolen from other sources.

I guess the ChristianTimesNewspaper lied about the character of a woman and voter fraud in Jesus’s name. Harris also worked for Change Annapolis, an organization aligned with Gov. Hogan’s Change Maryland.

Del. Vogt’s initial reaction to the scandal’s revelation seems appropriate at first glance. He fired Harris and declared that he could not support such “dishonesty.” How we handle mistakes says much about our leaders and this was a good response.

At the same time, Harris’s statement that he did most of his work at a local Starbucks and Vogt did not know stretches credulity. Harris was not only Vogt’s chief aide, he lived in Vogt’s home until November 2016. While Harris managed Vogt’s failed congressional campaign, he created another defunct trickster website called delaneyforgovernor2018.com.

Harris issued a classic non-apology apology. This man who willfully misled people under the guise of religiosity wrote:

I apologize to those disappointed by my actions, and my wish is that I will be allowed to contribute my informed experience to a larger dialogue about how Americans approach the media, tough issues, and the manner in which we, collectively, will inform our decisions going forward.

Rather than taking real responsibility and saying it was wrong, Harris shifts the problem to “those disappointed.” If he really wants to “contribute,” he could start by owning his mistake and acknowledging that he is the problem, not the solution.

Such a statement makes it even harder to accept the claim by Harris, a serial liar, that Vogt knew nothing about Harris’s activities. It means that Vogt had no inkling that someone who he saw at work and lived in his house was undertaking dishonest activity that resembles that done on behalf of his own campaign and is a central thread of his character and work.

For now, I’ll give this ex-marine the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t look ideal–and appearances matter in politics–but that’s not the same as it happened. And Vogt’s response, at least once the information went public, was the right one.

Just don’t ask me to give much credence to Vogt’s claims in future on national security or other issues. Not only did Del. Vogt support Trump, a man who seems ready to align our foreign policy with the authoritarian leader of a declining mid-rate power opposed to the U.S., but he failed in assessing character–or the total lack of it–in his own office.

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Governor Trump

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the reasons why Donald Trump was elected President is that he made things up out of thin air and the press, for the most part, let him get away with it.  Now Governor Larry Hogan is doing the same thing.  And so far, it’s working.

We refer of course to the Governor’s all-out campaign to repeal this year’s transportation transparency law.  The law, passed over the Governor’s veto, would require the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to rank transportation projects according to a variety of numerical criteria to bring transparency into what has been an opaque funding process.  The Governor claims that it would require him to kill most state transportation projects.  But in fact, the plain language of the law lets the Governor have final say over which projects get funded.  It states, “Nothing in this Act may be construed to prohibit or prevent the funding of the capital transportation priorities in each jurisdiction.”

So just like Trump, the Governor is making things up and trotting them out to the press.  How did the press react?  Erin Cox of the Baltimore Sun got the facts right, quoting both the law’s language and an advisory letter from the Attorney General’s office to demonstrate that Hogan is wrong.  A reader had to review the article carefully to glean these things, however, as it also included lots of back-and-forth between politicians.  The Washington Post and the Capital Gazette also quoted the law’s language, though only in passing.

Other press outlets got suckered.  The Hagerstown Herald-Mail, Frederick News-Post, Ocean City Today, WMAR (Baltimore), WJLA (Washington), Bethesda Magazine, Afro-American, WMDT, WTOP and Montgomery Community Media (MCM) never mention what the law actually says, depicting the issue as a he-said-she-said dispute between politicians.  Ocean City Today, WJLA and WMDT never bothered to quote any Democrats, giving the Governor free rein.  WJLA, WMAR, MCM and the Afro-American stated falsely that certain transportation projects either “were,” “will be” or “have been” canceled.  Again, the law says no such thing and a simple fact-check could have uncovered that.

The real story here is that one side is accurately characterizing state law and the other side is making stuff up.  No one in the press wrote that story.

Even more incredibly, the Governor said in his press conference about the law that the General Assembly “rammed it through without hearings or any public input.”  You can see that in the video below at the -10:40 mark.

In fact, video of the hearings in both the Senate and the House are available on the General Assembly’s website.  Pete Rahn, the Governor’s Secretary of Transportation, attended both.  This is a pants-on-fire lie that no press outlet exposed.

rahn-testimony

Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn testifying at the Senate hearing that Governor Hogan says never happened.

For a person who is known as not being a fan of Donald Trump, the Governor is remarkably quick to embrace his tactics: make stuff up, ignore the truth and bully anyone who disagrees.  Most of the press is letting him get away with it.

Will the Democrats?

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Josh Kurtz Raising Money for New Media Venture

By Adam Pagnucco.

Legendary Maryland politics writer Josh Kurtz is raising money for a new independent media venture.  He has partners and he has an angel investor, so this could be for real, folks!

Kurtz, whose statehouse and local political reporting led to the Gazette’s Politics and Business edition twenty years ago, is regarded by many as Maryland’s best political columnist.  Over the last few years, his columns have been published weekly by Center Maryland.  But Kurtz is not content with his current gig.  Like many in the state, he has identified a void in state and local news coverage as we described in our Politics After the Gazette series.  And now Kurtz and a team of supporters are actually doing something about that: they are starting a new independent news site called Maryland Matters.

The concept of Maryland Matters is to have a lean, online news operation that would provide objective reporting and, eventually, commentary.  Kurtz would like to have five full-time reporters, a couple of editors and a few business and technology people when the site is fully built out.  Revenue would come from contributions that would be matched by a family foundation (more below).  Other journalists who are connected to the project include former Post reporter Miranda Spivack, Bethesda Magazine reporter Lou Peck, former editor of Charles County’s Maryland Independent Angela Breck and University of Maryland journalism professor Adrianne Flynn.  One or more of these folks might eventually provide content to the site.  Kurtz has a steering committee featuring MANY prominent names from Maryland political circles.

Kurtz is holding a fundraiser in Annapolis on October 24 featuring the Post’s superstar national political analyst Chris Cillizza.  If you follow Maryland news and politics, you should consider supporting this venture.  Josh Kurtz’s credentials are beyond question and if this new site succeeds, it could be a turning point for state news coverage.

Following is the blast email promoting the fundraiser.

*****

maryland-matters

Dear [ ]:

Want to hear from one of the nation’s premier political prognosticators just two weeks before Election Day — and support a great cause at the same time?

Then you’ll want to join us at a fundraiser in Annapolis on Monday, October 24 for Maryland Matters, an independent news website intended to be a one-stop shop for government and political coverage in Annapolis and in local jurisdictions around the Free State. Chris Cillizza, author of “The Fix” column at The Washington Post, will be our special guest.

For the past year, several journalists, as well as concerned citizens from business, communications, law and the public sector, have been working to launch Maryland Matters. It’s modeled on other excellent nonprofit online publications — from California and Texas to Connecticut and Vermont — created to ensure the survival of the type of “accountability journalism” that, for more than a century, was largely the province of the nation’s newspapers.

I don’t have to tell you that the resources devoted to state and local coverage by such institutions as the Post and The Baltimore Sun have shrunk dramatically in recent years. Other publications that once did an excellent job covering the State House, like The Gazette and The Examiner, are gone completely.

We aspire to fill this void by establishing the largest news bureau in Annapolis during the three months of the year when the General Assembly is in session, as well as providing year-round coverage of the executive branch and state regulatory agencies, major local jurisdictions, and the Maryland congressional delegation in Washington. Our plan is to launch Maryland Matters in 2017.

We’re happy to say that our idea has met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region has created a fund for Maryland Matters, which enables us to solicit and collect tax-deductible contributions. Needless to say, it will cost a significant amount of money to pull this off.

But as we say in the news business, I’m burying the lede here: Just a couple of weeks ago, we got a financial angel — a family foundation has informed us that if we can raise $250,000, they will match it. This is exciting news and puts a lot of wind at our backs. Every contribution we receive is now essentially doubled.

So we are inviting you to our first Annapolis fundraiser, to be held from 5-7 p.m. onMonday, October 24, in the upstairs room at Stan & Joe’s, at 37 West Street. We’re honored to have Chris Cillizza joining us. We can’t think of a better person to talk about this crazy election year — and we hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to chat with him.

The suggested contribution is $250. We welcome donations both larger and smaller. Checks may be made out to: Maryland Matters Fund/Community Foundation. They can be brought to the event at Stan & Joe’s or mailed to the community foundation at 1201 15th St. NW, Suite 420, Washington, DC 20005.

We hope to see you on the 24th, so you can be more fully informed about our plans and spread the word to others. If you are not able to make it, I hope you can send along a contribution anyway — and tell your friends and colleagues about what we’re trying to do.

As a journalist, I’m not used to asking others for contributions. But all of us involved in this venture believe that nothing less than an informed public — elected officials, political activists, and voters at large — is at stake. So please be as generous as you can.

All the best,

Josh Kurtz

 

Maryland Matters Steering Committee Includes:

Hon. Michael Barnes

Angela Breck

Hon. Bill Bronrott

Bonnie Casper

Thomas Dennison

Adrianne Flynn

Andrew Friedson

Keith Haller

Ed Holzinger

Curtis Johnson

Hamza Khan

Joel Kirkland

Josh Kurtz

Hon. Terry Lierman

Len Lucchi

Hon. Connie Morella

Tyler Patton

Lou Peck

Hon. Steve Silverman

Hon. Jeffrey Slavin

Miranda Spivack

Hon. Chris Trumbauer

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Politics After the Gazette, Part IV

This post concludes this week’s series by Adam Pagnucco:

For politicians, operatives, advocates and basically everyone seeking to get out a message, the new era without abundant mainstream media has both good news and bad news.  Let’s start with the latter.

The Bad News: You have to work a lot harder to get your message out and be noticed.

For those of you who long for the days when legions of press would show up to hear about your new office furniture, those days are forever gone.  Consider one of the most infamous figures in recent Montgomery County political history: Ruthann Aron.  The trials of this former politician and planning board member who was accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband transfixed the County in the late 1990s.  Recently, Aron called a press conference to trot out her new book in which she alleges betrayal by her defense lawyer.  Only one reporter from Bethesda Magazine showed up.  Horrified, Aron squealed, “Where’s the Associated Press, where’s The Washington Post?”

There are 188 members of the General Assembly and many more city, county and municipal elected officials in Maryland.  In its current shriveled condition, the mainstream media might have fewer than a dozen reporters who regularly cover government and politics in the entire state.  There simply aren’t enough reporters to go around.  Unless they are doing something extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad, elected officials below the statewide or executive levels are unlikely to get much attention from the mainstream press unless they work hard to get it.

The Good News: You have more control over the content of your message and who receives it.

For those elected officials, operatives and candidates who are prepared for the new world, the absence of mainstream media is not so much a problem as it is an opportunity.  An unprecedented number of tools are now available for direct communication with the public: email, Twitter, Facebook, blogging and digital ads, to name a few.  Many of these tools can be targeted to very specific audiences.  None of this was possible fifteen years ago when politicians had to rely on newspaper reporters to get out news about their activities.

The gatekeepers to the public are almost gone.  In a way, it has never been a better time to be a politician.

The key to truly excelling in this new environment is to understand how the remnants of the old regime and the tools of the new world interact.  The old regime was top-down: politicians and the press at the top sending news down to the public at the bottom.  The new system is more organic, interrelated and even amoebic in form.  Everything affects everything else.  There is little structure.  Unpredictability is the rule.  What used to be big might have little impact now.  What used to be small can become big VERY quickly.

Consider the following alternative scenarios for how information can flow in this new world.

  1. An article about Politician A and an issue he is working on shows up on Bethesda Magazine’s website. It circulates on Facebook and Twitter.  Politician A blast emails it and gets an advocacy group to do the same, which gets the attention of the reporter.  This generates a follow-up in Bethesda Magazine.  A gets a two-fer.
  1. Politician B is working on another issue but can’t get any reporters to pay attention to it. So B takes out a Facebook ad on the issue and gets hundreds of likes and dozens of supportive comments.  A blogger also covers it and B tweets and reposts it.  B goes back to the reporters and says, “See?  It’s hot!”  Stories are written and reposted on Facebook with more ads to beef them up.  Now the issue is starting to move – and so is B.
  1. Advocacy Group X is all over Issue Z, starting up an online petition and Facebook page to push it. Politician C finds out and gets on board.  Boom – Group X lets their supporters know that C is their hero, and C gets both supportive Facebook posts and good press.  Other politicians get jealous and jump in to grab pieces of the pie.
  1. A group of politicians decides to team up against a common rival. The rival has a larger social media presence and official communications staff than any one of them.  But the group has regional diversity, many Twitter and Facebook followers between them, several blast email lists and a willingness to coordinate.  Each of them puts up social media posts that take on the common enemy.  The rest of the group then retweets and reposts, rotating between lead and supporting roles.  Coordinated blast emails carrying the content go out.  The group members take turns buying Facebook ads and digital ads promoting their statements.  Particular issues get hashtags.  Helpful activists, party sites and other groups pitch in and spread the messages even further.  The official media picks up on it and spotlights the campaign, amplifying it further.  Soon enough, the T-Rex is surrounded by velociraptors and the pack closes in.

Dealing with reporters is still necessary since they haven’t (yet) entirely disappeared.  But success in the new era depends on integrating the old tools with the new, amplifying the effects of both and building communication scale.  Those who master these arts will inherit the new world.  Those who don’t will fade away with the old, just like the ill-fated T-Rex above.

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Politics After the Gazette, Part III

What are the consequences of the disappearance of the Gazette and much of the local media?  Here are a few.

1. An Information Vacuum

This is the most direct and obvious consequence: there are fewer objective news stories produced about state and local government.  Many things happen now without any public attention.  That’s a challenge for both elected officials and the public.  Here are a few comments from our sources about this new era of media darkness.

Elected official: “I think the lack of local coverage creates a huge disconnect between state and local elected officials/government and the governed.  It is particularly problematic in our area where there is such attention paid to the federal government.  I believe the lack of coverage is affecting voter turnout because people don’t know who their councilmembers or legislators are or what they do, so they don’t care enough to vote.  It is also difficult to publicize good initiatives or issues with no press coverage.”

Elected official: “The most immediate impact is the simple fact that our constituents, particularly the less social media savvy folks, simply don’t know what’s going on in Annapolis and what we’re doing here as their elected representatives, good and bad.  This is particularly problematic in the DC media market. The Sun still has some meaningful coverage of Annapolis, the Post does not.  The Gazette was helpful in bridging that gap to some extent. If folks don’t even know what we’re working on, the ability to have any meaningful political dialogue with the community takes a big hit.”

Elected official: “An already opaque legislative process is becoming even harder to follow. To be sure, The Baltimore Sun still provides political coverage, and websites like Bethesda Magazine and Maryland Reporter are filling some of the void. Even so, there are fewer media eyes on Annapolis these days, and so lots of important legislation dies without any discussion and bad legislation advances without scrutiny. This also means that lobbyists who are paid to closely follow legislative activities have new advantages, especially if the bills they are working on are relatively low key. The upshot is that all this puts a premium on legislators directly talking to constituents through social media and other means.”

Advocate: “The State Highway Administration recently pulled the RFP for the construction of the Watkins Mill Interchange. This is a road project that has been on the books and fully funded for many years and the number one road priority of the County. This would have been front page news for the Gazette and at least one letter to the editor.”

2. Less Accountability

With fewer stories produced, there are fewer opportunities for voters to read about eyebrow-raising activities by public servants.  Stories like the Gazette’s report on tax liens against County Council Members, an allegedly secret contract circulated inside the council and a questionable, high salary job in county government are less likely to be written.  What’s going on now that we don’t know about?

3. The Rise of Government Media

The Montgomery County Government now spends over $5 million a year on County Cable Montgomery (CCM), its in-house cable channel, and Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit providing public cable access.  CCM’s full-time equivalent employee count (15.9) likely exceeds the size of Bethesda Magazine’s reporting staff.  Both of these outlets provide a mix of public information and what are essentially public relations pieces for county elected officials.  Neither of them would dare to undertake the investigative reporting described above for fear of funding cuts.  While they provide some useful information to the public, they are no substitute for an independent press.

4. Falling Voter Turnout

Voter turnout declined in MoCo gubernatorial general elections in both 2010 and 2014.  Turnout fell in the primaries too, from 138,914 in 2006 to 113,173 in 2010 to 110,602 in 2014.  The latter year had contested primaries for both Governor and Executive.

Could declining state and local news coverage be contributing to this?  There are probably several factors responsible, including increasingly targeted election campaigns.  But if voters don’t know their elected officials, don’t know what they’re doing and don’t know their rivals, they are going to be less likely to show up at election time.  Or if all they hear are negative things spread through social media and attack websites, they could react by passing term limits.

5. It Might Not Be All Bad

One journalist who covered the county many years ago told us this.

“Hmmm … I guess it could go either way: 1. There’s a reason it’s called the fourth estate. The media is there to keep politicians accountable and make sure they are being truthful, etc. 2. Without all of the grandstanding and manipulation of the media that I witnessed in MoCo, things may actually run more efficiently!”

And you thought we were spreading doom and gloom!

We’ll discuss how to adapt to this new world in Part Four.

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Politics After the Gazette, Part II

The following post is by Adam Pagnucco:

When I used to work for a Montgomery County Council Member, there were three beat reporters on county government – one each for the Post, the Gazette and the Examiner.  They were competitors.  Each wanted to scoop the others.  One of them would glance at another’s laptop at the press table to see what the competitor was writing – an act that was decidedly unwelcome!  I dealt with them all.  And now the Gazette and the Examiner are gone.

Bill Turque of the Washington Post is the sole survivor.  Turque is an experienced pro who is respected and feared by those he covers.  Recent articles of his that had significant impact include one exposing an operative connected to the county employees union as the source of a website targeting a Council Member and one about campaign finance late in the 2014 election season.  But as skilled as Turque is, there is only one of him.  Fifteen years ago, the Post assigned multiple reporters to cover various aspects of Montgomery County.

Bethesda Magazine is the other outlet that regularly covers the county.  Lou Peck is a veteran political reporter who writes highly detailed articles about local elections.  Andrew Metcalf and Aaron Kraut are prolific local reporters.  Despite its name, Bethesda Magazine covers subjects in many parts of the county.  Its close attention to the county’s Department of Liquor Control has been outstanding.  But let’s remember that the Gazette used to have dozens of reporters in and around the County and Bethesda Magazine does not have that kind of scale.

That’s about it.  WTOP has occasional local coverage, though they are a regional outlet.  Local papers like the Sentinel and Takoma Voice have small audiences.  Patch came and went quickly.  MarylandReporter offers statehouse reporting but not much in-county coverage.  Center Maryland has the great columnist Josh Kurtz but no staff reporters.  The Sun does not pay much attention to Montgomery or Prince George’s Counties.  The local TV stations focus more on crime and weather than on detailed reporting of state and local governments.

Then there are the blogs.  Whatever you think of them, there are several features that distinguish them from mainstream news outlets.  1.  They tend not to have clear and consistent standards for publishing.  2.  Most are driven by opinions, sometimes with facts to back them up and sometimes not.  3.  Many posts are derived from mainstream news articles, which act as original sources of content.  4.  None of them have the reach of news sources like the Gazette, which once dropped hundreds of thousands of papers in front of doors around the region.

The hierarchy of the past is gone.  Yes, Bill Turque and Bethesda Magazine are probably at the top of the heap – but there is no heap.  There are no longer dozens of reporters patrolling the county for stories on civic events, restaurant openings and closings, local sports, transportation projects, school programs, politics or anything else.

We will examine what that means for state and local politics in Part Three.

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Politics After the Gazette, Part I

The following post is by Adam Pagnucco:

Quick.  Name a key difference among the following local congressional races.  Connie Morella vs Stewart Bainum.  Chris Van Hollen vs Mark Shriver.  Connie Morella vs Chris Van Hollen.  Al Wynn vs Donna Edwards.  And the current races in Congressional Districts 4 and 8.

The latter two are the only ones not covered by the Gazette, because the Gazette no longer exists.

The Gazette has been gone since the Washington Post, its parent company, killed it in June 2015.  It’s worth remembering what it was in its heyday.  The Post’s 2001 annual report summarizes how extensive its operation was in the time of Josh Kurtz, its statehouse bureau and its paid spin-off, the Gazette of Politics and Business.

The Company’s Gazette Newspapers, Inc. subsidiary publishes one paid-circulation and 35 controlled-circulation weekly community newspapers (collectively known as The Gazette Newspapers) in Montgomery and Frederick Counties and parts of Prince George’s, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland. During 2000 The Gazette Newspapers had an aggregate average weekly circulation of approximately 554,000 copies. This subsidiary also produces 11 military newspapers (most of which are weekly) under agreements where editorial material is supplied by local military bases; in 2000 these newspapers had a combined average circulation of over 200,000 copies. The Gazette Newspapers have approximately 125 editors, reporters and photographers on their combined staffs. The Gazette Newspapers, Inc. also operates a commercial printing business in Montgomery County, Maryland.

That same year, the Post bought eight community newspapers in Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties and consolidated them into Southern Maryland Newspapers.  Those papers added 40 employees and tens of thousands of copies to the Post’s local media empire.

But a decade ago, financial pressures led the Post to start trimming the Gazette.  The newspaper endured several rounds of layoffs.  It withdrew from Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Frederick.  It ended its paid Gazette of Politics and Business, consolidated local editions, dropped most of its statehouse coverage and dismissed its political columnists.  By the time the paper finally shut down, it was down to just twelve reporters and two photographers.

Twenty years ago, the Gazette was one component of a large, official local media.  Montgomery County had its own daily newspaper (the Journal).  The statehouse was jammed with four full-time reporters from the Sun, three full-time reporters from the Post and countless more reporters from local papers.  The Montgomery County Council building had a press bullpen in which legendary Doug Duncan operative Jerry Pasternak would trade tips with reporters over games of darts.  Print drove television and radio coverage.  Reporters had a career path leading from small local outlets to medium newspapers to the big guys, the Sun and the Post.  An official network of veteran reporters and long-time editors would judge what was newsworthy, and stories that didn’t pass muster went unreported.  There was no other way for them to get out.  But those that did were circulated to hundreds of thousands of readers, viewers – and voters.

Almost all of that is now gone.  The Gazette was one of the last vestiges of the old world.

What is left?  And how does that affect local politics and government?  We’ll have more in Part Two.

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