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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The great divide

Check out the Boston dailies on a regular basis and you will see their Beacon Hill focus locked on the friends of Sal DiMasi, the political maneuverings of Treasurer Tim Cahill or those nasty pols double dipping at the pension trough.

But read the suburban papers and the view is quite different. Readers are worried about the cost of gasoline and home heating oil, the quality of their schools and the safety of their roads and bridges.

The divide becomes more apparent still when Beacon Hill ventures into the cities and towns -- and the journalists shift from old and cynical to young and earnest.

Case in point? Deval Patrick's "town hall meetings."

Check out this report from yesterday's Patriot Ledger, a daily that once upon a time had a very highly regarded Statehouse bureau that turned out reporters who established national credentials.

But here we have a local reporter -- complete with video camera, an alien concept to most Statehouse reporters -- covering Patrick's most recent town hall, which happened to be a short drive away from his Milton home.

The Globe has paid short shrift to these local forums -- I think they may have actually covered one. The Herald, hard pressed to cover Boston, hasn't ventured forth at all to the best of my recollection.

The general consensus has been these are part of the Patrick political effort and just another stunt by a politician looking to shore up sagging popularity. And to be sure, gubernatorial communications guy Joe Landolfi was present -- standing out like a sore thumb in a white shirt and tie in a crowd wearing shorts and sitting on lawn chairs.

But just because Patrick's advisers were with him doesn't make it a farce. Listen to the questions: when are our bridges going to be fixed? How will be we able to heat our homes and get to work this winter?

The pension question was raised too: by a teacher wondering about their own ability to retire. As the Ledger headline writer noted "no softballs" from his neighbors.

This isn't a screed against Statehouse reporting -- it is important (and remains a fond memory of my own career). And it's not to say that community journalism is better. It's where I learned, which of course means it's where I made my mistakes.

But the cynicism that has washed over American political life in the last generation finds itself on display in media coverage of government and politics that focuses on the gaffes, personality conflicts and polls. Coverage of public policy, when it happens at all, is usually clouded by political cynicism.

Is it any wonder that people are turned off by politics and politicians, particularly those who promise 'em everything and say taxes are a mere nuisance we can eliminate?

There will be no Pulitzer Prizes won for the coverage of Patrick in Milton. Yes, he could pick up a few votes from his visit. He was among friends after all.

But who knows, there are no doubt a number of Republicans in Milton who may have turned out, realized the Patrick they heard from that night is not the caricature that appears in the Boston media and is capable of giving straight answers to straight questions.

So here's hoping that the same malaise that is affecting newspapers trafficking in community journalism doesn't silence their occasionally imperfect but always important voice.

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