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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The view from Room 456

Deval Patrick begins his first full week in office today and Adam Reilly has some interesting thoughts on how the governor will deal with the Fourth Estate. But while the analysis is sound, it misses one key perspective: how time, technology and industry adjustments have changed the role of the Statehouse press corps.

Recent readers may not know that I'm a recovering political reporter, someone who traipsed around Statehouse corridors in search of "the story." But that was literally a long time ago -- when the Globe, the Herald AND the major Boston TV station maintained a regular presence under the Golden Dome.

That all changed after the election of Bill Weld. Consultants who long argued that readers and viewers didn't care for stories about government finally won the day in cash-strapped media management suites. Technology -- principally the rise of the Web -- also gave politicians the tools to do what they longed to do, go over the heads of reporters and directly to the public.

I'm guessing that the first reporter quoted by Reilly -- who declared "I think Patrick’s goal is to let as many people as possible decide what they’ve seen. What that does is, it diminishes the role of the media as interpreter" -- is a product of the same era. Because governors, mayors and selectmen long ago learned to do that.

They have been aided and abetted by slow-moving newsrooms. To this day, boston.com fails to take advantage of the enormous resources available to the Globe to cover state government -- which after all, is all about making decisions on how to spend tax dollars. But state government has a major impact on a person's day from the time they take out that Charlie Card or drop dollars into a Mass. Pike toll basket.

Today, Google is the best tool to find out what the the governor Legislature are doing. Blue Mass. Group and Hub Politics are where the issues are debated -- not the editorial pages and the letters to the editors column.

Talk radio initially filled that role too, although I would argue Howie Carr's predictable rants are far less effective in moving public opinion than Jerry Williams was in his prime. And its interesting that Reilly doesn't raise an eyebrow in allowing NECN's Jim Braude -- founder of the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts and one of the best advocates around -- to use the word "us" in describing today's media.

So, it's also interesting to see all the fall-out from Patrick's speech to the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association last month where he urged attendees to "put their cynicism aside" and embrace the new spirit of hope created by his election.

Perhaps the only foolishness was Patrick's belief that reporters could -- or should -- ever put aside their cynicism. What he accomplished with that speech was an extremely short honeymoon.

Almost on cue -- abetted by political operatives like state GOP executive director Brian Dodge -- reporters began calling out Patrick on things such as the length of his inaugural festivities and who is paying for it. Without evidence of an misdeed or potential misdeed.

But the Statehouse press corps should not be fretting about attempts by the new governor to manipulate them. They have been manipulated for more than a decade now -- taken in by Bill Weld's charm and marginalized by Mitt Romney's machine

So let's just say I'm skeptical of Herald editor Joe Sciacca's spin, especially a suggestion that a 50-60 percent favorability rating is fragile when the previous occupant of the Corner Office had a 50-60 percent unfavorablity:
“It seems like he’s kind of pouring the foundation for a media strategy that essentially marginalizes the press — that says the people are on Deval’s side, and it doesn’t matter what the cynical press corps says. That’s a risky strategy. I think Deval comes into office with a relatively fragile favorability rating — his numbers fluctuated between 50 and 60 percent favorable in polling done in the final weeks of the campaign — and we’ve seen his favorability slip pretty quickly when he’s under intense scrutiny.”
Patrick is certainly to "blame" for raising expectations and has a heavy burden on his shoulders to deliver. Maybe there was a certain (if foolish) calculation made to rouse the sleeping lions of the press from hibernation.

We learned during the campaign and its aftermath that however well-intentioned bloggers might be, they are not journalists. We will all benefit if the real journalists start doing their thing again -- which is comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And that seems to be Patrick's goal too.

UPDATE: As if on cue, Howie Kurtz offers an example of how far the candidates are ahead of the media when it comes to offering views unencumbered by media "interpreters."

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Blogger Margeware said...

Kudos to you for telling the truth. The flack about the inaugural affairs was unbelievable. And now that DP is taking on the real powers that be, it will continue, because contention is always more interesting than consensus. We have to keep the faith.

January 08, 2007 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, bloggers are not reporters, but the state house reporters are often really lazy. It is their own fault if they are ignored.

January 09, 2007 5:54 AM  

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