Sixteen years ago, as a building and remodeling editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine in Des Moines, I desperately wanted to get my opinions heard – not the ones about the latest kitchen remodeling or home addition, but about the hot political debates of the day. I had little political standing, so I had no choice but to pester a handful of mainstream publications to print my stuff.
The liberal Des Moines Register eventually published a number of my columns and I eventually left BH&G and went on to an editorial-page editor job in Ohio, then out to the Orange County Register to serve as a columnist and editorial writer. Last week, I launched a new Web site – www.calwatchdog.com – that’s the centerpiece of my latest career move, as director of the Pacific Research Institute’s journalism center. I share these boring career stories because they closely track a dramatic transformation of media in an unbelievably short period of time.
I would never have believed the current state of the newspaper industry, or that in a few years that so much of the nation’s journalistic energy would be found in non-newspaper sources. Not only am I leaving an established newspaper to start a new Web site, but this big announcement of it is coming here on Flashreport – itself a testament to the vitality of the online world. It is indeed a brave new media world.
No longer are reporters and editorialists dependent on a handful of gatekeepers. The old media still are relevant. I don’t completely buy the doom and gloom and I’m still happy to print my columns in the Orange County Register, a great newspaper with a grand libertarian traditions. But newspapering isn’t what it used to be. Newspapers and network TV, for that matter, are no longer THE sources of news. They are among the many sources of news. I’m astonished how frequently bloggers and online writers have broken major stories. They’ve also succeeded in prodding newspapers into more activist, watchdog roles. It wasn’t that long ago that navel-gazing (newsroom diversity, community journalism, etc.) dominated newsrooms rather than the more traditional zealous pursuit of breaking news – the desire to be the first to uncover waste, fraud and abuse.
As a free-market guy, I know that competition is a wonderful thing and that’s as true in the journalism business as in every other enterprise. My goal is to see our small band of calwatchdog writers enhance the competitive environment in Sacramento and strike fear in the hearts of misbehaving or wasteful politicians and bureaucrats.
As I wrote in a past Register column, “This is the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation for the media, where every man can become his own pope, or in this case his own publisher. There is virtually no cost of entry into the Internet news world, although it’s not easy to garner enough readers to have an influence on the debate.” The nation may actually find itself in a journalistic heyday – the equivalent of people hawking newspapers on the corner, although instead we’re hawking Web sites available on laptops and cell phones.
Calwatchdog is the latest in a new wave of non-profit-funded journalistic endeavors that seek to pick up some slack in declining newsroom resources. It’s no secret that newspapers have cut back on their state Capitol coverage, and Calwatchdog is one of a number of new projects that hope to fill a void. We’re a small operation – two full-timers, a part-timer and stringers – but there’s so much to cover in Sacramento and we’re not trying to be all things to all people. We think of ourselves more like guerilla fighters!
PRI is a free-market think tank, but we are engaging in fair-minded journalism. In my view, there’s no need to purposefully slant news stories to achieve a desired end. Honest coverage of Sacramento politics and state government – with a focus on waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars – will naturally make my point that government is too big, wasteful and out of control. The point is not to make my point or anyone else’s point, but simply to cover important overlooked stories, although we have more latitude to analyze the news than traditional, staid publications. Those of us who are libertarians or conservatives have long been frustrated by liberal-slanted news coverage in the mainstream media. The answer isn’t conservative-slanted journalism, but good journalism.
We just got up and running last week, but so far we’ve looked at whether the governor has done anything with his much-touted California Performance Review (read the story, but the answer, no surprise, is “no”), we’ve analyzed the likely outcome of the pork-laden package of water bills, have reviewed the governor’s State of the State, reported on the possibility of repealing AB32 and we will soon be launching a series on an organization that gives ACORN a run for the money. You’ll have to check in later in the week for that one.
Katy Grimes (pictured left) is our news reporter. You’ve seen her work on Flashreport, in the Sacramento Bee, Townhall.com and the old Sacramento Union. Anthony Pignataro, formerly of the OCWeekly and Maui Time Weekly, is our investigative reporter. We all write blogs and columns as well as news reports, but the focus is original news reporting and in-depth reports. Contributors include my former Register colleague John Seiler.
Send me your ideas, comments and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org and please regularly check out our site.