The Gannett/GateHouse deal: diminishing diversity of thought in American media

killingjournalism

If you want to see how a multi-outlet media company can play politics, take a look at Sinclair Broadcast Group.

According to Acronym, a progressive organization focused on winning elections through innovative digital advertising and organizing programs, much of the spending by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign on Facebook + Google last week focused on the release of the campaign’s new red “Keep America Great” hats.  Right in sync, over the weekend, Sinclair, the conservative owner or operator of 191 television stations in the U.S., promoted “news” stories about the availability of the hats.

The planned merger of two other American media giants, Gannett and GateHouse Media, announced on Aug. 5, 2019, could bring more such coordinated propagandizing.

If the merger goes forward, it will not end well.

(UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review reported on Oct. 9, 2019 that GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.)

GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

  • GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

Completion of the deal would mean the creation of a massive media company with 263 daily media organizations across 47 states and Guam, plus USA TODAY and hundreds of weekly and community papers.

Newspapers across the country may be struggling, but this deal isn’t the best solution. It will lead to centralized editorial control, stifle local creativity, guarantee additional pressure to impose draconian cost cuts and bring brutal widespread layoffs.

Consolidation can also have major consequences in the coverage of elections.

horse race reporting research elections politics

A study published in the Journal of Political Communication found that corporate-owned and large-chain newspapers were more likely to publish stories that frame elections as a competitive game than newspapers with a single owner.

Researchers for the study were Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and Regina G. Lawrence, associate dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication Portland.

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s winning or losing — instead of on policy issues — voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research has found, according to Journalist’s Resource.

Denise-Marie Ordway, a writer for Journalist’s Resource, says academic studies find that horse race reporting is linked to:

  • Distrust in politicians.
  • Distrust of news outlets.
  • An uninformed electorate.
  • Inaccurate reporting of opinion poll data.

Ordway adds that horse race reporting:

  • Is detrimental to female political candidates, who tend to focus on policy issues to build credibility.
  • Gives an advantage to novel and unusual candidates.
  • Shortchanges third-party candidates, who often are overlooked or ignored because their chances of winning are slim compared to Republican and Democratic candidates.

 

GateHouse, owned by the private equity firm New Media Investment Group (NYSE: NEWM), already has a reputation for aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at properties it owns.

In Oregon, multiple rounds of layoffs have taken place since GateHouse took over The Register-Guard in Eugene on March 1, 2018,

“What’s happening with the Guard isn’t unique to the Guard,” Tim Gleason, former dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, told the Eugene Weekly.”It’s what’s happening all over the country as these venture capital firms buy newspapers and then largely gut them,”

In May 2019, Gatehouse laid off staff at a wide swath of papers it owns, including The Columbus Dispatch, the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette. the Providence Journal and The Beaver County (Pennsylvania) Times.  The Times newsroom had 60 staffers in the early 2000s; it is now down to 12 to put out a three-section paper six days a week.

Robert Kuttner and Hildy Zenger lay much of the blame for the evisceration of local newspapers on private equity companies like GateHouse.

“The malign genius of the private equity business model…is that it allows the absentee owner to drive a paper into the ground, but extract exorbitant profits along the way from management fees, dividends, and tax break,” they wrote in The American Prospect., a progressive political and public policy magazine.

“By the time the paper is a hollow shell, the private equity company can exit and move on, having more than made back its investment.”

It’s not a pretty picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camouflaged “news” outlets: Is Oregon next?

Fake news. Biased news. Slanted news. Real news. What’s the difference? It’s getting harder to tell them apart.

Maine knows that. Now Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin are about to confront the same confusion.

Maine became a test site for camouflaged news in 2018 when a “news” website of anonymous origin, the Maine Examiner, popped up.

Leaked Email: Ben Chin Says Lewiston Voters “Bunch of Racists”According to a legitimate news outlet, The Bangor (ME) Daily News, the website gained attention in the run-up to a December 2018 mayoral runoff in Lewiston, ME. when it posted several negative articles about the progressive candidate, Ben Chin. One article contained real, leaked campaign emails in which Chin said he encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning. Chin lost the election, partly because of the Examiner’s reporting.

(It later turned out that the emails were leaked to Chin’s Republican opponent, Shane Bouchard, by a woman working as a mole in Chin’s campaign who was having an affair with Bouchard. Bouchard resigned as mayor in March 2019 after the woman leaked some of his text messages. They included one in which he described elderly black people as “antique farm equipment”  and another in which he appeared to compare a meeting with his fellow Republicans to a Ku Klux Klan gathering. And you thought only states like New York and Illinois had juicy political scandals)

A top Maine Republican Party official later admitted to state ethics watchdogs that he was behind the Maine Examiner.

Progressive Democrats in Maine lambasted the Examiner’s deceptions, but national progressives and Democrats are apparently preparing to emulate the Examiner’s approach.

Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC, is planning to put $100 million into a project to flood swing states — many of which have lost their local papers — with stories favorable to the Democratic agenda, Vice News reported on July 24, 2019.

Four “news” outlets staffed by Democratic operatives will publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin, Vice News said.

Priorities USA Communication Director Josh Schwerin tried to gloss over the sabotage effort with a disingenuous statement that Priorities’ “news” was a necessary response to the sharp decline in local news outlets.

“This should be covered by local news, but local news is dying,” Schwerin told VICE News. “Our hope is that we can help fill that hole a bit with paid media…”

What’s not clear is whether the true sponsor of Priorities’ “news” coverage will be completely or partially hidden, as is the case with a conservative-leaning national “news” site called The Free Telegraph.

Only if a viewer clicks on a barely discernable “About” at the bottom of the site is it revealed The Free Telegraph “is a conservative news and commentary platform made possible through the generous support of the Republican Governors Association.”

Then there’s Virginia, home of the Dogwood, “your source for Virginia news.”

Home - The Dogwood

If readers click on “About,” they get this: “As the number of local news outlets declines in Virginia and across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, engaging, inspiring and motivating. We’ll bring you the story behind the story and explore how our readers’ lives are impacted by the news of the day. Our reporting is honest, to-the-point and in the service of our readers.”

If readers want to know who’s behind the news site, they can click on this: Owned by For What It’s Worth Media, Inc.. This will tell them something similar to Priorities USA’s stated rationale for its jump into the news business: “As the number of local news outlets declines across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, inspiring and motivating.”

What the Dogwood doesn’t say is it also wants to fill the gap with progressive-leaning “news” coverage. Nor does it say that progressive non-profit digital organization, Acronym, has pledged to invest $1 million in the Dogwood and says it plans to invest in other state-based news properties, which could include states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

If you prefer your news with a more conservative bent, there’s The California Republican. Here you can read a story about how the Washington, D.C. chapter of Antifa sent a message to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by chasing him out of a restaurant, telling the Texas senator that he is “not safe” or an item headlined, “In-N-Out boycott fails miserably in Central Valley.” You can even read about signings by Fresno State’s football program.

But you won’t know the identity of the site’s publisher unless you see the barely visible text at the bottom of the home page, “Paid for by the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee – FEC ID #C00370056.” Nunes is a Republican representative of California’s 22nd District in Congress.

With a steadily shrinking cadre of legitimate news staff and outlets and the rise of political actors willing to play fast and loose with ethics, could Oregon be far behind in this race to the bottom in camouflaged “news reporting”?

One step by Gov. Brown; one giant leap in thwarting democracy in Oregon

Dirty-politics........

 

Where’s the outrage?

Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill today that effectively cancels petitions signed by thousands of Oregonians calling for a public vote on the Democrats’ $2 billion business tax (HB 3427).

In Oregon, that’s called democracy in action. In the rest of the country, that would be called dirty politics.

In June, the Governor signed a $2 billion $2.6 billion business tax bill (HB 3427).  Distressed Oregonians responded by starting a referendum petition (Petition #301) that would have put the tax on the ballot. The Democrat supermajority in the State Legislature cut off the nascent effort at the knees by passing a bill (HB 2164) that retroactively changed the language and wording of the original tax, canceling out the petition to that point because it referenced the original text.

“HB 2164 is designed to look like a cosmetic language change to a 40-page tax bill, but it contains poison words designed to murder the voter campaign to pass petition #301 (the repeal petition),” the Taxpayer Association of Oregon said on July 17. “….it is borderline criminal to rob the people of their right to vote on matters they care about. Politicians should not be able to subvert and void the people from using their initiative process to petition their government.”

“This subversive tactic of changing the laws in the middle of the process while people are trying to change the laws has never been done before in modern Oregon political history,” the Taxpayer Association said today.  “This subversive and vote-canceling attack can now be used to stop ANY petition effort that the public might wish to bring to the ballot.” (bold in original)

Having achieved a supermajority in the 2019 Legislative session, the Democrats have ignored their ethical responsibility to Oregonians and abused their power

“What kind of fool do you take me for?”, asked one of the Three Stooges in Saved By The Belle. Oregon voters should be asking the same thing of Democratic legislators and Gov. Brown.

 

 

 

After adjournment, the deluge

stormcoming

I guess it wasn’t enough for Democrats to allow people in the country illegally to get Oregon driver’s licenses, ignoring voters who soundly rejected the practice in 2014. Oregon’s Democrat-controlled 2019 Legislature also voted to bury Oregonians in a deluge of tax increases.

“Only time will tell whether there will be political consequences for Oregon Democrats who enacted this tax hike, Patrick Gleason, Vice President of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, wrote in Forbes. “What is certain is that Oregon lawmakers are making their state a less attractive place to do business, create jobs, invest, and raise a family, and they are doing so at a time when other states are implementing reforms to make their tax and regulatory climates more welcoming.”

 At the top of the 2019 Legislature’s tax list is the gross receipts tax on sales inside the state’s borders that exceed $1 million, whether or not the business makes a profit. The tax, equivalent to a sales tax, is expected to raise $2 billion per biennium. The legislative revenue office says the tax will hit about 40,000 businesses. This less than three years after almost 60% of Oregon voters rejected Measure 97, a ballot measure that would have imposed a state gross receipts tax. 

Adding insult to injury, the Democrats passed SB 116 setting a particularly inconvenient election date if a tax repeal petition now seeking signatures qualifies for the ballot. Rather than having the vote take place during the general election in 2020, when there’s likely to be high interest and participation, the bill provides for a special election on January 21, 2020.

I guess they figured picking Christmas or New Year’s Day for the vote would be too obvious an attempt at manipulation.

Paid Family Leave legislation (HB 2005-B) is going to cost you, too. A 1% payroll tax will fund a paid family leave insurance program (FAMLI) to be administered by the Oregon Employment Department.  The tax will come on top of the business sales tax.

A Revenue Impact statement projected that employers will pay $542.3 million and employees $1,029.6 in 2021-2023. In 2023-2025, employers will pay $ 775.0 million and employees $1,471.5 million.

Then there’s the maneuvering with the kicker.  The collective “kicker” tax rebate Oregonians will likely receive when they file in 2020 is going to be $108 million smaller, thanks to HB 2975, a bill Gov. Kate Brown signed into law in April.

 And don’t forget SB 861, which provides for paying the postage for election ballots. It will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.7 million per election. Gov. Brown pushed for the law, figuring it would increase voter turnout. In a rather bizarre statement, given the widespread availability of stamps, Brown testified that low-income and younger residents don’t always have access to postage stamps.

There’s also HB 2449-B, a 50-cent increase in the emergency communications tax on our phones, which will bring the total to $1.25 per month.

Oregon’s minimum wage law is increasing employer costs, too.

According to the Office of Economic Analysis Department of Administrative Services, the law will result in a slowdown in job growth. “While the impact is small when compared to the size of the Oregon economy, it does result in approximately 40,000 fewer jobs in 2025 than would have been the case absent the legislation,” the office has reported.  “Our office is not predicting outright job losses due to the higher minimum wage; however, we are expecting future growth to be slower as a result.”

And next year, Oregon voters will get a chance to vote on an increase in yet another Oregon tax, this one on tobacco. If approved, the cigarette tax would increase by $2 a pack and E-cigarettes and cigars would be taxed at 65% of their wholesale price.

Whew, what a torrent!

As the humorist Gerald Barzan observed, “Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cap-and-Trade: Oregon Republicans are blowing it (Just like they did with last walk-out)

oregonC02Emissions

Oregon Senate Republicans stayed away from the Capitol Thursday, preventing a vote on HB 2020, a key bill for Democrats that would cap greenhouse gas emissions. The walk-out is a mistake, just as was another walkout in May.

Resolution of the last Republican walk-out in May 2019 involved an agreement by Democrats to sacrifice a bill that would have tightened vaccine exemptions and a gun reform bill that would have tightened gun restrictions.

The Republicans might have placated some of their anti-vaccine and anti-gun control base, but those voters were never going to switch political sides anyway. Moreover, the anti-vax crowd is actually pretty small. Just 17% of Americans believe that “parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults,” according to Pew Research.

Resolution of the May Republican walk-out also involved included a pledge by the Republicans not to walk out again for the rest of the 2019 session. The new walk-out compromises that commitment.

The Republicans claim that the agreement was conditional on them having opportunities to have a meaningful impact on HB 2020 as it moved forward. So much for that..

A key Republican goal is to get an emergency clause in the cap-and-trade bill removed. The clause would allow the bill to go into effect immediately after Gov. Brown signs it, preventing opponents from trying to refer the bill to voters for a costly and contentious fight.

Removal of the emergency clause could mean the Democrats would be facing iffy public votes on two major bills dear to their hearts, the cap-and-trade law and the Student Success Act, which will impose a gross receipts tax on Oregon businesses to fund $2 billion in education spending every two years.

A Senate agreement to remove the emergency clause would also mean sending the bill back to the House for another vote, a potentially time-consuming move that could mean no resolution before the Legislative session is set to end on June 30.

Frankly, the Democrats would be slitting their own throats if they agreed to remove the emergency clause. Oregon has a high environmental profile, but winning a public vote on the cap-and-trade law, with its projected cost of $550 million just in the first year and a sweeping progressive spending agenda, would be a heavy lift. The projected increase in gasoline and residential natural gas prices alone could turn off voters.

Knowing all this, the Democrats are unlikely to capitulate this time around.

The Democratic presidential candidates and Oregon: they could care less

Digital advertising is one of the key elements of the campaigns of Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Data show that some candidates are shouting, while others are barely whispering.

According to Acronym, a progressive non-profit that tracks political digital spending, the candidates are paying Facebook and Google millions for digital ads, but spending in Oregon is barely a blip, .

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the biggest spender so far.  She has spent $1,688,706 on digital ads (Facebook: $1,218,206; Google: $470,500) since launching her campaign.

WarrenLaunch

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during her presidential candidacy announcement event at the Everett Mills in Lawrence, MA on February 9, 2019.

The second biggest spender on Facebook and Google digital ads is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). She has spent $1,640,339 (Facebook: $1.2 million; Google: $438,000).

Altogether, the Democratic candidates have spent $12,805,165 on Facebook and Google digital ads since launching their individual campaigns.

digitalspending

Yes, President Trump has spent $9,080,994, outspending every Democratic candidate.

What states have been targeted with all that money?

If you look at the top five states targeted by each of the candidates with Facebook ads, California takes the lead. It’s one of the top five targets of 15 candidates. Then there’s Iowa, which has its caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020.  It’s in the top five lists of nine candidates. Next is Texas, one of the top five states of eight candidates.

Even though New Hampshire has its primary early on Feb. 11, 2020, it’s only in the top five spending list for Facebook ads of three Democratic candidates: Pete Buttigieg, John DeLaney; and Tulsi Gabbard.

Then there’s Oregon. Oregon’s not in the top five list of any of the Democratic candidates and it’s only in the top ten list of two, Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro. But even Sanders has applied only 3.3% ($41,502) of his Facebook spending to Oregon and Castro only 2% ($8,379).

The lack of digital attention to Oregon may well be because the state’s primary isn’t until May 19, 2020, real late in the game, and it has only 52 delegates. If a candidate is trying to harvest a lot of delegates, focusing on the states with earlier primaries, including Super Tuesday, March 3, when 1433 delegates will be at stake, makes more sense.

Sorry, Oregon. You just don’t matter.

 

Addendum, May 5, 2019

The Democratic National Committee announced in late April that 2020 presidential candidates will each need to hit 130,000 donors to qualify for the third and fourth televised debates in the fall. Vice According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Vice News’s David Uberti reported that the high threshold may force longshot contenders to spend more on Facebook ads than they get back in donations—limiting their resources for more traditional forms of campaigning. In all, political ad spending is expected to near the $10-billion mark in 2020, up from $6.3 billion in 2016. The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Bruell has the figures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching the Holocaust: a good idea, a bad bill

holocaust

Who would want to be accused of voting against teaching kids about the Holocaust?

Obviously not the members of the Oregon Senate. On March 12 they voted unanimously  for Senate Bill 664, which would require all of Oregon’s school districts to teach about the Holocaust and genocide beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The bill is now in the House.

Claire Sarnowski, a freshman at Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, came up with the idea of mandating Holocaust instruction after hearing Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener tell his story. Sarnowski approached state Sen. Rob Wagner, who agreed to introduce a bill.

It all sounds so simple and straightforward, but Senate Bill 664 is, in fact, an expansive progressive monstrosity that only a bureaucrat or lawyer could love. Like anti-terrorism laws, it’s a classic example of mission creep.

The 1338-word bill goes far beyond mandating that students be taught about the Holocaust and genocide. It declares, instead, that the instruction must address: the immorality of mass violence; respect for cultural diversity; the obligation to combat wrongdoing through resistance, including protest, and; the value of restorative justice.

Specifically, the bill says the instruction must be designed to:

(a) Prepare students to confront the immorality of the Holocaust, genocide and other acts of mass violence and to reflect on the causes of related historical events;

(b) Develop students’ respect for cultural diversity and help students gain insight into the importance of the protection of international human rights for all people;

(c) Promote students’ understanding of how the Holocaust contributed to the need for the term “genocide” and led to international legislation that recognized genocide as a crime;

(d) Stimulate students’ reflection on the roles and responsibilities of citizens in democratic societies to combat misinformation, indifference and discrimination through tools of resistance such as protest, reform and celebration;

(e) Provide students with opportunities to contextualize and analyze patterns of human behavior by individuals and groups who belong in one or more categories, including perpetrator, collaborator, bystander, victim and rescuer;

(f) Enable students to understand the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping;

(g) Preserve the memories of survivors of genocide and provide opportunities for students to discuss and honor survivors’ cultural legacies;

(h) Provide students with a foundation for examining the history of discrimination in this state; and

(i) Explore the various mechanisms of transitional and restorative justice that help humanity move forward in the aftermath of genocide.

Not only must Oregon schools tackle all this, but the State Board of Education, in consultation with a local organization that has the primary purpose of providing education about the Holocaust, is required to develop academic content standards for Holocaust and genocide studies that comply with the requirements of this section.

The bill is currently with the House Committee on Education which, hopefully will take a thorough look at it and narrow its mandate .

I doubt that Oregon’s already underfunded and overwhelmed teachers will welcome the addition of one more labor-intensive, complicated instructional mandate, no matter how well-intentioned.

And it’s hard to believe all this is what Claire Sarnowski had in mind.