American Journalism: Back To The Future

Not that long ago, when many towns and cities had competing daily newspapers, one would be conservative and the other liberal…and were often specifically GOP or Democratic leaning. I believe in those days, The Milwaukee Sentinel (the morning paper) was Republican in nature while The Milwaukee Journal (the evening paper) supported Democrats. Later as papers disappeared or consolidated…they tended to move to neutral political stances…partly because that was the trend and partly to appeal to audiences across the board.

Well, with the advent of the internet and the decline in local print media, we are returning to that era…web sites that mimic print in their coverage or styles…are returning to holding a political bias of one stripe or another. And after having that field mostly to themselves, the right is now starting to see competition from new liberal voices. The irony? Media is coming full circle…partly because of the current economics of journalism…but also as a result of the continued splintering of the populace.

This was discussed a bit in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning. I’d like to share a few highlights with you…and the link is just above…but it is behind their firewall and only available to subscribers.

As battleground Wisconsin heads into an epic presidential race, liberal groups are taking a cue from the right and establishing online outlets that aim to help their side and hurt their opponents.

At least three groups have set in motion plans to offer articles on politics with a perspective from the left, similar to a path conservatives established in Wisconsin years ago.

Like their counterparts on the right, the liberal groups aren’t detailing the sources of their money in many cases.

The Wisconsin Examiner launched last month as part of an initiative focusing on state affairs. Its funding comes from the Hopewell Fund, which bankrolls a host of liberal efforts and keeps its donors confidential.

Coming soon is a website by For What It’s Worth Media, which is affiliated with the Democratic digital advertising group Acronym.
And liberal super PAC American Bridge is focusing on Wisconsin and other swing states with its American Ledger site as part of a $50 million plan to bash President Donald Trump.

With the renewed rise of outlets that lean left or right, the country now has a “hybrid system,” said Michael Wagner, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“What’s good about that is some organizations are upfront about their points of view,” he said. “What’s bad about that is not everyone is, and it’s really hard to tell the difference.”

Wagner said there is a risk readers will think they’re getting information from an unbiased source when they’re not.

“There’s always a worry that people who are just trying to learn what’s going on out there in the world run across a source that’s explicitly ideological without saying so and think that that is a legitimate mainstream news source that doesn’t have a set of political goals,” he said.

For years, Right Wisconsin and the MacIver Institute have catered to Republicans in Wisconsin. More recently, the Center Square has popped up. That site is run by the conservative Franklin News Foundation — previously known as the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity — which operated the conservative Wisconsin Reporter until it shut down in 2017.

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, said it’s not surprising that liberal groups are beginning to launch their own sites.

“This is not meant to be a criticism of you guys, or mainstream media, it’s just the world that we live in. More and more people are looking to nontraditional sources of information,” Healy said. “It’s the way that things are going. So I’m not surprised that there are more outlets coming online to fill that demand.”

MacIver doesn’t make public who funds it, although the conservative Bradley Foundation has disclosed giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the group.

“I think it will be difficult for the public to determine what to trust, and the citizenry needs access to reliable information to make informed decisions for our democracy to flourish,” Hall ( Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism) said. “News consumers — the people who see, hear and read news coverage — also have a growing responsibility to critically assess what’s being presented to them.”

What’s truly sad here is that we can find private secret money for pointed and biased reporting but not enough funds are available to maintain neutral and unbiased journalism in America.


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