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Analysis/Commentary: Media Monday, er, Transparency Tuesday for 5/24/2011

May 24, 2011

Each Monday, we’ll bring you a wrap up of the following week’s media coverage related to Shenandoah County, as well as a wrap up of transparency news and commentary from around the country. Except for this Monday, we were late, so, TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY! Be warned: in this project, we will provide a little bit of commentary, but not about local politics but rather the media that covers it. Note that we don’t intend to criticize here–rather we hope to provide a critique that inspires local media to do a better job of covering the subject. Each week we’ll offer each outlet a grade on their coverage. The three outlets we’ll focus on are the NVD, the Free Press and the Valley Herald. We’ll highlight others, but frankly, the other outlets don’t report enough on local politics to make it fair for us to grade them. This time we’ll include a bit more background then other times, hence the lengthy post. Now on to the show!

Media Coverage

The Northern Virginia Daily: They do a great job of covering local politics……in other localities. Ok, that’s a little harsh, and admittedly, Front Royal’s politics of late has been far more exciting than that in Shenandoah County, where the Daily is published. It can be disappointing at times to not see stories on important issues like redistricting. That said, they did feature a number of stories last week relating to local government. On Tuesday, that featured coverage of a Strasburg Town Council session discussing the establishment of an advisory panel to further flesh out the town’s historic district guidelines. This comes on the heels of a rowdy Town Council meeting where a number of citizens spoke out about the Architectural Review Board. On Wednesday, the paper ran an article about the School Board passing its budget…..nearly a week after the fact. A fairly good wrap-up, though, with some other meeting highlights. Finally, on Saturday they ran an interesting article highlighting the outcome of the School Board’s recent Human Capital survey. It’s the only coverage we’ve seen, so kudos there. Kudos are also in order for the coverage of local flooding and contacting local government officials. Overall, we’re a little disappointed that they’re coverage is not as deep as it could be, but they do pretty good highlights. Thanks to them, also, for posting the entirety of their articles, although we think they could do more with their web presence by posting the full text of government documents, or at least providing links. Our grade for this week: a solid B.

The Free Press: As always, a plethora of stories from them, but, also as always, we can’t provide you the full text. However, we have a bit more respect for them, as theirs is a small paper and the coverage is at least available if you subscribe (for a relatively small fee). Two stories were on the schools, one covering the Superintendant’s vision of revamping the old Edinburg Middle School as a regional special needs facility, and the other on the passage of the school’s budget. The third story focused on tomorrow’s board hearing on a bond issue for a sewage project. Here’s where we take issue with the paper’s coverage. As usual, they used the article to highlight what they called a local spending spree. Agree or not, such language is problematic because it indicates a bias. We like to see media report just the facts. In the case of the Free Press, they’re the “only real newspaper in the county” or a “slanderous rag”, depending on who you’re talking to. Still, something is better than nothing, and hey, if they want to support a certain position, more power to them–we just wish there was a place to go for just the facts. Or, just the facts but with a platform for opinions from both sides, as we hope to be. But again, we respect what they do over there. Our grade for this week: a B+.

The Shenandoah Valley Herald: Boy, this one’s a toughie. We had mad respect for the paper back in the late 90s and early 2000s when they had a string of editors and writers with deep ties to the community. Times change, though, and so has the paper, declining from its solid four sections to its present two, and relying more and more on professional journalists from outside the valley just starting their career. They also have a tendency to rely on articles from other papers in the Byrd chain (Warren Sentinel, Page News and Courier). This week, though, was fairly solid with articles on New Market’s street project, an article on the School Board budget that featured the superintendent’s “disappointment,” and an article on the Warren County Planning Commission’s thumbs-up on a site for the Regional Jail. We’d like to share that with you, but alas, it wasn’t posted to the Sentinel’s website (which we think is richer than the SVH’s). We’re disappointed by the fact that the Herald doesn’t do a ton of stories on local government, including no coverage on redistricting. They did, however, do a top notch article last month on the electoral intentions of the current constitutional officers. Kudos, though, to them for publishing a list of upcoming government meetings and issuing a call for letters to their (sadly missing) editorial page. Our grade for this week: a prohibitive B-.

(Sorta) New Kid On The Block This site has actually been around for a while, but their coverage has sorta been in and out–they haven’t posted a new article since mid-April. In 2009 they published a few print editions, but, as we realized when we started out, they found out that’s not where the action is (and definitely not the profit). We think they have a great deal of potential, as they were one of the few outlets to discuss redistricting way back in February and had some good (if possibly biased) coverage of the regional jail debate in 2009. We detect a bit of a, if not left leaning, anti-establishment bias, but that’s alright–again, we welcome anyone who wants to discuss county issues. Still, we won’t hold our breath for them to get rolling. Our grade for this week: C- for right now.

Government Update

The Board of Supervisors (finally) released its April minutes. They can be found here. A comment: we know minutes aren’t official until they are approved at the next meeting, but it would still be nice to have the drafts, or as in the past, a review of meeting actions with vote totals and the names of speakers.

Transparency Round-up

Some interesting finds on the topics of government transparency and political communication, plus a few other things we just find intriguing:

Five Things Every Police Website Should Have from

Government can’t solve budget battles? Let citizens do it. from

Charitable Contributions by Localities: Is It Legal? by Black Velvet Bruce Li

Hacking Your Hometown by SD Sayler (on a project in Washington County, VA by a citizen to make better tools for citizens to access government data)

3 Ways Government Could Save Time and Money by Using Social Media by

When Disaster Strikes, Social Meets Local by

The Growth of Hometown Hacking by

The Political Map of Virginia by ProjectVirginia (originated by Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics)

A note about this map: each county has been rescaled relative to its proportion of the state’s population. Note Shenandoah county’s size, plus the fact that it’s neighbor, Warren, is considered part of Northern Virginia.

Sherando Students: Stephens City can benefit from social media by

Social Media: A Guide for Local Councilors (written for a UK audience, but much applies across the pond here as well)

LocalGov 2.0 (Again, focuses on the UK, but plenty of news from here and elsewhere too)


Comments? Questions? Concerns? Uncontrollable rage and anger? Use the comments below.

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