My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

25 thoughts on “My piece for the Brookings Institution

  1. Doug Ross

    “That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. ”

    Do you not see that the reason The State has floundered more than some other papers recently could be related to it failing to live up to the watchdog responsibility? I would suggest that The State’s dislike of Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley caused it to become more of a barking chihuahua than a watchdog. Bobby Harrell’s demise didn’t start with The Nerve. The rumors of his questionable behavior had been out there for years prior to that. Why didn’t The State push harder on that? The same goes for Hugh Leatherman.

    The internet may have killed the media star, but The State hasn’t done enough fast enough to respond to a changing world and it dropped the ball on being a watchdog a long time ago.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The State actually broke the story that Mark Sanford was not hiking the Appalachian Trail.

    2. Brad Warthen

      Doug doesn’t see that standing up to governors and arguing against the bad things they want to do IS being a watchdog.

      Doug speaks of “dislike,” as though it were some sort of personal animus. He misses the fact that I, and I think my colleagues as well, got along very well with Mark and Nikki — BEFORE they became governor and started pushing bad ideas on our state…

      1. Doug Ross

        You will never understand that what you see as “bad ideas” are what got Sanford and Haley elected twice each easily. You will also never admit that a governor’s bad ideas need a legislature to approve them. The State focused too much energy on the governors while the legislature was doing whatever it wanted to do. The State as a newspaper was and continues to be out of touch with its readership.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Doug, you keep conflating whether or not an idea or person is good with whether people voted for him/her/it. You can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

            1. Doug Ross

              Must you bring Rand Paul into every discussion? You’re as obsessed with him as Brad is with Sanford and Haley.

              Are you working under the misguided notion that I am voting for him?

                1. Doug Ross

                  I didn’t say I wasn’t voting for him. I will wait til I hear what he says on the campaign trail. If he shifts too far to the hawk side, I won’t vote for him. I’ll vote Libertarian.

                  He’s certainly not the same as his father. I wouldn’t expect him to be.

          1. Doug Ross

            My points remain the same. The State spent to much time focused on Sanford and Haley and not performing the watchdog role Brad claims a newspaper should perform. They dropped the ball and lost readers who don’t have the same level of animosity toward the last two governors. The definition of “bad idea” depends on the biases of the person analyzing it. I think Obamacare is a very bad idea. You don’t. Is it still a bad idea?

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              I truly doubt they lost many readers b/c of animosity to Sanford/Haley. Do you have any actual data to support this?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                He doesn’t, and he can’t. And again, he’s describing it wrong, as “animosity.”

                I wish I had kept stats, though, on all the people who believed that the newspaper was obsessed with something THEY didn’t want to hear about (such as the bad ideas of David Beasley, Jim Hodges, Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley, or the flag, or government restructuring, or ethics reform, or video poker, or tuition tax credits, or comprehensive tax reform, or what have you). THOSE numbers might be impressive.

              2. Mark Stewart

                No, of course he doesn’t. The State has actually done an admirable job of trying to affect change by increasing the awareness of the citizenry. Doug sees the “watchdog” as the menacing guard dog who attacks and snarls in the night. But the watchdog is actually the little alert dog with the friendly demeanor and perky ears who raises the general level of understanding of what is going on around.

                It isn’t always about adrenalin and fangs. Amiability and intelligence carry the day far more often – and avoid the need for many an alarm in the night. Not all, but many.

              3. Doug Ross

                A watchdog would have figured out Bobby Harrell was a crook long ago. The State is a wheezing, deaf, half blind bassett hound that occasionally sniffs a steak when it is placed in front of it.

                Will Folks breaks more news in a week than The State does in a month.

                The State is what it is – a paper for older white people who don’t like change.

            2. bud

              I have to agree with Doug on this one. The State has been far too narrowly focused on certain specifics for a long time now. It has blinded them to any contradictory facts. The whole power series was pretty much inoculated from ANY evidence that restructuring could ever fail.

              They have also stuck to the tired old cliché that both parties are equally to blame. Damn it take some kind of side rather than natter on constantly about the need for bipartisan support. The State has probably lost respect from all sides on most issues simply because it lacks any ideological focus. Cindy has done an OK job on the highway funding but I’m not sure if she’s ever laid out anything specific. (If so and I just missed it I’ll retract this part of the comment). Suggest something specific and throw it out there. No one likes reading endless milquetoast arguments all the time. Be bold, strident, controversial even. Just don’t harp constantly on the same tired out themes (restructuring is needed, accountability will solve all problems, partisanship is bad, ethics reform is good).

              Besides, what good is having a watchdog if no one reads it? If the dead tree version of The State writes an editorial in the forest and nobody hears it does it still make a sound?

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Is there a substantive criticism of the Brookings Institution that you’d like to share with the rest of the class, or are we just going with name-calling?

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, y’all…

    Next week at Capstone, we’ll have a debate on issues related to my Brookings piece, sponsored by the Policy Council. I’m on the panel along with our own Lynn Teague, Rick Quinn and Ashley Landess. Charles Bierbauer will moderate.

    I was invited to this by Barton Swaim, thusly:

    Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is:

    I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

    It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

    I hope some of y’all can come…

    Here’s the Eventbrite info on it.

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