A few weeks ago, Axios ran an article that supposedly exposed partisan media sites pretending to be local news. The sites are part of David Brock’s extensive network of progressive organizations that include American Bridge and Media Matters. Axios acted like they are a new development on the news scene. They’re not. They’re following the path that conservatives have been traveling for decades. If anything, they’re trying to play catch up.
From Gannett publishing conservative papers to Sinclair dominating midsized media markets to pervasive talk radio shows on AM stations, conservative news outlets have been suffocating opposing views for decades. The tenacles of the conservative and right-wing media ecosystem reach into communities across the country, sometimes spreading disinformation and often ignoring or downplaying Republican missteps . So of course Axios would pounce when a handful of progressive news organizations popped up.
To be fair, Axios focused on Brock’s network. Brock is a former conservative who attacked Anita Hill and made allegations of infidelity against Bill Clinton. At some point, he switched sides, taking his sensationalist form of journalism with him. Since then, he’s set up numerous organizations that attack Republicans and conservatives, usually in over-the-top ways that appeal to the base but do little to move the political argument.
However, at the national level, the Washington Post decided to weigh in and threw the Courier Newsroom in with the Brock network. Courier Newsroom is an attempt to even the playing field with the clearly dominant conservative outlets. They’ve never hidden their mission and have hired real journalists to provide news. They are trying to provide an alternative to the news presented in underserved areas where people often only have conservative outlets conveying information.
In North Carolina, the Courier News outlet is called Cardinal and Pine and led by veteran journalist Billy Ball. They’ve hired real reporters and covered stories either ignored or under-covered by more traditional outlets. Ball is a native North Carolinian whose reporting has won awards when he was at Indy Week and Policy Watch. His reporting of the shooting death of Andrew Brown, an African American man shot by deputies as he tried to drive away, offered a perspective that no other outlet delivered. It was more personal and reached into Brown’s community to get a profile of the dead man.
North State Journal, a mouthpiece for the North Carolina GOP funded by wealthy Republican donors, has long been attacking Cardinal and Pine as a partisan outlet. In “the you can’t make this shit up” category, North State Journal says Cardinal and Pine is “political activism masquerading as journalism.” One of NSJ’s lead reporters is a right-wing blogger who started her career as an anonymous Twitter troll. Their opinion page reads like a clipping services for conservative commentary. As far as I can tell, they’ve never written a story that even remotely criticizes the GOP leadership in Raleigh unless they’re whining that they’ve done something too liberal. They wouldn’t know investigative journalism if it bit them on the ass.
No, North State Journal’s criticism is not surprising. However, the Washington Post op-ed is both irresponsible and naïve. The editorial board admits “that hyperpartisan liberal ‘local news’ sites were dwarfed by their conservative counterparts,” but they offer no distinction between what Courier Newsroom is doing and what Brock and blatantly conservative sites are doing. Instead, they bemoan the deterioration of local news markets, saying, “Democracy, in the end, becomes a casualty twice over. Readers are sucked in without knowing who’s paying — or even that someone is paying at all. And trust in the sputtering engine of local news fades even further.”
While the Post still does some great journalism, they’ve done little to build the trust in local communities or provide news to the people who live there. Bash Brock, but don’t throw Courier Newroom under the bus, too. Regardless of where the money may originate, they are trying to establish a bulkhead in underserved communities where news is drying up and political grifters are trying to get an underinformed electorate to vote against their own best interests.