Category Archives: Media

WAMU Staff Forming a Union

By Adam Pagnucco.

The content staff at WAMU has announced on Twitter that they are forming a union. Their petition to management is reprinted below.


WAMU Union

We, the undersigned WAMU employees, have come together to form our union.

As public media professionals, we are committed not just to reporting the news and creating entertaining and enriching content, but to building and serving a community that trusts us and values the work we do. Our audience expects transparency and integrity from us as content staff. We are committed to meeting that high standard.

At WAMU, we are grappling with deeply ingrained internal racism, high turnover among women of color, disparities in compensation, a reliance on temporary staff who lack job security, and allegations of sexual harassment by a former staff member. Indeed, we have exposed some of these issues in our reporting and in internal discussions that have resulted in positive actions. We are organizing to ensure that our colleagues are compensated fairly and transparently for all the hours they work. We must honor our mission statement to be a respected and trusted voice by eliminating these injustices and inequalities. Together we seek to establish an inclusive workplace that our audience will enthusiastically support for years to come.

We know that as a union, with a seat at the table with management, we can work to ensure that all employees – especially those who have historically endured systemic oppression – feel empowered, valued and safe where they work.

We are proud to unite as a community and form our union.

We therefore choose SAG-AFTRA as our union for the purposes of collectively negotiating our pay, benefits and working conditions.

We request that you recognize this petition as a demonstration that SAG-AFTRA represents a majority of employees in a unit appropriate for collective bargaining, and that you meet and confer with us in good faith to begin the collective bargaining process.

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In MoCo, Public Media are Replacing Private Media

By Adam Pagnucco.

The disappearance of local media has been a worrisome trend around the nation for years.  MoCo is not immune.  In the last year, three local media outlets – the Town Courier, the Montgomery Sentinel and Germantown Pulse – have all gone dark.  That follows earlier closures of the Montgomery Journal (2005), TBD.com (2012), the Washington Examiner’s local print edition (2013) and the Gazette (2015).  Many remaining media outlets are strained by over-stretched staff and frequent turnover.  Long-time MoCo government reporters like A.J. Metcalf (formerly of Bethesda Beat) and Bill Turque (formerly of the Washington Post), both of whom worked their beat for more than four years and developed extensive source networks, are becoming rare. Even rarer are private media start-ups like Maryland Matters.

All of that is widely known.  But here is something that has attracted less notice: with the decline of private news media, the fact is that the largest, best-financed entity now covering county government is the county government itself.

Montgomery County’s government, like the huge majority of local governments, has always had a communications capacity.  That’s a legitimate governmental function as residents have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used.

But the county’s communications system has become larger, more sophisticated and more ambitious as the private media have become smaller.  Ten years ago, the county government had little social media presence.  Now, the county has multiple feeds on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram along with several blogs.  County Cable Montgomery (CCM), which is part of county government, describes itself as “the local cable station you’ll want to turn to for local government news, public affairs programming, live Council sessions and County Executive press conferences.”  Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit that receives more than 80% of its funding from government, describes part of its mission as being “a valued, trusted, ‘go to’ source for news, information and programming relevant to Montgomery County.”  Both outlets pump out hundreds of professionally produced videos that look much like the work of private media outlets.  The lines between government communications, government-provided “news” and promotion have been blurred beyond recognition.

Unlike private media, government communications and media outlets are subject to funding decisions made by elected officials.  The table below shows budgets and full-time equivalent positions for five county government communications and media entities in FY15 and FY20.  These are only partial totals as they exclude communications positions in county government outside the Office of Public Information and funding for the television channels run by MCPS, Montgomery College and municipal governments.

While local private media have been shrinking, funding for MoCo public communications has grown by 45% in just five years.  More than 60 communications staffers work for the county and MCPS and that excludes employees of MCM.  With a combined budget of nearly $12 million, the county almost certainly dwarfs the private sector in its production of communications and local “news.”  Revenues for these public entities are derived from tax dollars and cable franchise fees paid through cable bills, meaning that private media entities are essentially required to fund their public competitors.

There is nothing inherently bad about the county government having a voice.  However, when the government’s voice is not balanced by vigorous private media, problems arise.  For example, many statements made by the county go unvetted and unchallenged for two reasons: the private media lacks the resources to do so and the county’s posture is to present its own view, not necessarily the views of others.  News stories by professional reporters often present multiple perspectives on an issue.  But when a county official expresses an opinion on County Cable Montgomery, the county government’s flagship “news” channel, how often are other people with different points of view interviewed and allowed to disagree?

County Cable Montgomery “news” program County Report This Week promotes the county liquor monopoly in an interview with Alcohol Beverage Services Director Bob Dorfman.  Monopoly critics were not interviewed.

Furthermore, consider that what the county wants you to know is not always what you need to know.  Government-controlled outlets are unlikely to do a lot of reporting on stories such as tax liens filed against County Council Members, ethics commission investigations of senior government officials, credit card abuses by school board members, elected officials pushing secret no-bid contracts, construction failures on huge county construction projects, epic failures of the liquor monopoly and massive outflows of taxpayer income.  If they did, they might offend the elected officials who fund them.  Without private media, such stories might never see the light of day.

Finally, think about what this means for political competition.  How are challengers supposed to defeat incumbents when the incumbents effectively control the dominant media entity in the county?  Is this one reason why no county-level incumbent lost reelection to his or her current seat in either 2014 or 2018?

Public media are here to stay but they must be balanced by private media.  If you agree, please patronize and financially support any private media outlets that you believe offer quality local news coverage of the county.  It’s in your own self-interest to do so.

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Why Does the Capital Publish this Guy?

Normally, I view the Annapolis Capital as a good paper with often a fine bead on state politics due to its location. But after reading Brian Griffiths’ column, you have to wonder about their judgement.

Griffiths, the editor-in-chief of the Republican blog Red Maryland, writes regular columns published in the Capital. In his latest oeuvre, he argues that Gov. Larry Hogan is unbeatable. OK, so far. That’s a matter of opinion–I happen to disagree–but a perfectly legitimate position.

The way Griffiths goes about making his case through a series of ad hominum attacks and utter falsehoods is not.

Regarding Ben Jealous, Griffiths writes the following:

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, darling of Bernie Sanders supporters, who has yet to propose a policy that would not be fully endorsed by the Communist Party.

It’s like Griffiths feels bad that that he missed out on the Red Scare of the 1950s or has watched Red Dawn far, far too many times. Reviving McCarthyism, however, is not a serious attack but a smear. Surprise, surprise but Jealous is not a Commie pinko who hates America and does not advocate for Leninism or gulags.

Instead of making a serious attack based on Jealous’s advocacy for policies he views as failed, reheated old-style liberalism, Griffiths goes for the reheated, old-style smear. No editor at the Capital saw this and said this is unserious and over the top?

Griffiths goes on to do the same to Rich Madaleno:

Ultra-left-wing state Sen. Rich Madaleno, infamous for being a flip-flopping fabulist — but most famous for personally insulting first lady Yumi Hogan.

The idea that Madaleno insulted Yumi Hogan is practically the definition of fake news. Madaleno wrote the Governor a letter asking him to ban travel to Indiana because of its endorsement of rank discrimination in its so-called Religious Freedom law. In the letter, Madaleno had the audacity to compare the Hogan’s family to his own by pointing out that the law would allow discrimination against Hogan’s family because of the First Lady’s divorce and against his own because he is married to man.

Griffiths can only think this an insult if he thinks either divorce is shameful and unmentionable in polite society or that Madaleno had no right to compare his own marriage to that of the Governor’s. In other words, Griffiths and others who mindlessly mouth this ridiculous, false attack are really just smearing Madaleno for being an uppity gay guy who thinks that he’s normal.

And I haven’t even gotten to “ultra” and “flip-flopping fabulist.” Again, why does the Capital turn itself into a smear machine?

Good debate and strong views are healthy in opinion columns. But what value is the Capital adding through publication of regurgitated smears? Are there no Republicans available who can make a positive argument for Republican policies and critique those of Democrats without basing it in lies and smears?

If you want a serious analysis of the unworkability and upper-class bias of Jealous’ free college proposal, go check out Barry Rascover because you won’t find it–or anything else that passes for thoughtful analysis–in Griffith’s column in the Capital.

If Griffiths wants to keep publishing this dreck on his blog, he should feel free. I suppose the Capital can too but they can do better and should be held to account for publishing lies and smears.

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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 and wedding gown!

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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