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Media Monday for May 30, 2011 *UPDATED 5/31*

May 31, 2011

If its Monday, its Meet the Media. Ok, not the best line, but its that time again. But before we get to the show, I wanted to taken a moment to remember those individuals who gave their lives to ensure the freedom of press that we ourselves use here and we bring light to each Monday–our fallen soldiers. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that this noble experiment of the American Republic, where men and women are free to speak their minds without fear of governmental reprisal and to choose their own leaders, could continue to flourish. This, of course, has included many from our own humble region called the Shenandoah. Although today is the day we set aside to publicly honor their memory, we should, every time we utilize our rights, remember that some gave all to preserve these precious rights.

With that said, we continue our little quest to utilize these rights to hopefully improve the public dialogue here in Shenandoah County. Again, we bring you our views on how the three major press outlets handled county government this week, as well as a collection of interesting articles, blog posts and editorials from around the commonwealth and nation. Note that their inclusion does not indicate an endorsement on our part, merely that we think these are important pieces for anyone interested in the state of affairs in Shenandoah County and Virginia to read. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments below.

Media Coverage

Northern Virginia Daily: Things were once more a little hit and miss this week. Plenty, plenty of community events coverage, including pieces on RMA, MMA, the Relay for Life and the Great Train Raid, this kinda sorta happened but not exactly in this way but we think its still kinda neat even if a historical debate still continues over the lack of primary sources indicating that it happened as the reported event, er, Reenactment. Not much, though, in the way of local government coverage. The week kicked off with with an article announcing a public workshop on the National Forest plan for June 22nd (although strictly speaking, this is federal news, but still of interest to locals). On Wednesday, the Daily had an article about the Board of Supervisor’s acceptance of an unsolicited PPEA proposal for the County Courthouse and the Edinburg Middle School. A nitpick here–the title of the article was “Board OKs proposal to rehab buildings.” This would lead casual readers to believe that the Board has locked itself into the project at this point–it hasn’t. The Board has only accepted the proposal and must now under PPEA advertise for competitive proposals. It selected competitive negotiation as the method of procurement, meaning that the county will go back to the table and pursue an agreement with numerous factors, not just price, being used to weigh the offers. At that point the county may either elect to go with the original proposal, an offered proposal, or not to choose any of them at all. So again, the county has not agreed to anything–only begun the process. Again, a nitpick, but headlines matter. To their credit, the Daily got the details correct in the body of the article.

Moving on, there was another article not directly related to Shenandoah County but of interest to citizens, this one announcing the upcoming public hearing before the Warren County Board of Supervisors for a conditional use permit for the regional jail project. This meeting will be held on June 21st at 7:30 p.m. at the Warren County Government Center. As I understand it, this is the last step before groundbreaking on the project. The Planning Commission earlier recommended approval for the permit. We’re still working on coverage for that, so stay tuned. And then….well, that was it. I had to stop and think a bit while writing this wrap-up–is it reasonable for me to expect every paper to cover every issue? No, its not–we need different perspectives and stories, and simple copycatting doesn’t help that. UPDATE: There was one other story I initially missed, this one again not directly about county politics but about the schools, which are, after all, largely funded by county taxes and governed by an elected school board. So you should know that the Daily reported that cracks have been found at Signal Knob Middle School around the gym and ag shop. Note these come on the heels of cracks at North Fork Middle School–they actually led to part of the school being closed for a while and are contended to have occurred due to work by the original construction company. The gym at Signal Knob is also out of commission the cracks there are not as severe. This was a fairly important story, and kudos to the Daily for being first out of the gate with it.

That said, it nags me that the Daily has yet to do an article on redistricting in Shenandoah County. For starters, the Daily is, well, a Daily, and has a larger web presence and circulation than the other two papers. As the sole speaker at the public hearing pointed out,  there are quite a few people in Fort Valley who have no idea they’re about to switch Supervisors Districts from the Fourth to the Third, which means that they’ll be voting for a Supervisor this year two years after narrowly voting for write-in candidate Cindy Bailey over Republican incumbent Sharon Baroncelli (who prevailed on her strength in Woodstock and absentee ballots). This go around they’ll be voting for….well, Republican incumbent David Ferguson has yet to announce his intentions and likely won’t until the projected final passage of the resolution on June 14th. One could make the argument that there’s no real story here until the deal is done, given that the Board seems to be headed to passage (only Supervisor Dick Neese has publicly voiced any misgivings), but there’s a problem with that–The Daily has given multiple articles to the process in Warren County and Winchester. We think redistricting should be open and readily observable by the public, and the press has a role to play there. With that, our grade for the Daily this week is a B-, with room for improvement in terms of breadth of coverage. UPDATE: We’ll upgrade to a B, given that their coverage was a little outside the box, but still with a warning that some important stories are being missed.

The Free Press: Again, another well rounded week for the Free Press, and again, some more bias on their end. Above the fold was an article touting passage of a $1.3 million bond issue for the landfill septic project. Two exceptions here: one, they couldn’t resist a little snark with this golden line “How long it will take to recover $1.3 million by eliminating one employee and a truc has not been discussed publicly.” But that’s why we love you, Free Press–at least somebody’s out there starting a dialogue. Also, they stated in the article that the Board approved a hike in the commercial tipping fees at the landfill. This is incorrect–only a public hearing was held. The vote will not take place until June 14th. The Board has not given any public indications of where its members stand, but I expect passage. To give credit where credit is due, the Free Press did suck it up and printed a correction to its story last week regarding the price of the septic bond and the share of the regional jail project. Of course, this came of the tail of a public rebuke by Sharon Baroncelli at the Board meeting (the paper was mentioned only as “the paper”, but hey, that’s pretty much how the Free Press is known in certain circles). However, we feel credit is due–it takes guts to admit when you’re wrong, and bully for them for doing so. They also had a fairly balanced article that summarized action on the PPEA proposal as well as two grants for projects involving People Inc, one at the Toms Brook School and the other at the old Alms House. One quibble in this article–it states that the Board agreed to pay $56,000 in line of duty benefits to local paid and volunteer emergency staff. This isn’t exactly correct–there was only a discussion held. Beginning this year, that benefit is shifting from the state to the localities, so the county is deciding whether to directly pay its share or to seek self-coverage through the VACO liability. No word on when we’ll see a vote on this.

One last note–the Press also ran an article on the Teacher of the Year, Annmarie Noonan. It took pains to point out Ms. Noonan’s seminar last summer regarding mountaintop coal removal and a subsequent trip by her students to Washington, D.C. to lobby for an end to the practice. This February article in the NVDaily shines a bit more light on the effort–it should be noted that this was a voluntary effort funded entirely by donations, but that for this summer’s offering it received a Helen Moore Grant. The Moore Grant Program is funded by Mrs. Helen Moore’s 2002 gift of her $3 million estate to the county school system. More information on the program can be found here, and a complete list of this year’s recipients is here. By contrast, the Herald’s story on her honor made no mention of the seminar. I’m not going to delve into the story of the grant–again, that’s not what we’re here for, though as always, readers are free to weigh in. My point here is to highlight the distinct difference in how the Press and the Herald handle such events. Overall, we give the Free Press a B, with credit for breadth but deductions for a bit of sloppy reporting.

The Shenandoah Valley Herald: *le sigh* Always something weird going on with them, and this week is no exception. The above the fold article this week was on the resolution of a local emergency for the April Tornadoes. Much coverage has already been given, and really, this was just a rubber stamp that allows the county to officially seek funds. However, it did go beyond the immediate story to give some interesting details about just how the state’s local emergency funds process works. On A2 there was brief on redistricting, and how brief it was. No mention of the Fort’s switch, nor the noticeable effects of precinct closures in Columbia Furnace and Mt. Olive on the overall district lines. On A7 there were briefs about the Endurance Run Week resolution, the line of duty act discussion, and the approval of the cell tower in the Fort. The big missing piece: no article on the PPEA proposal. If I am not mistake, the Herald’s reporter left before the meeting came back into session, despite the fact that it was announced there very well could be (and was) action after the closed session. I know this is a long process, but it still just seems like bad form, particularly when the county had printed materials on the proposal available for them. A marked improvement for the Herald in terms of breadth, but they still dropped the ball a bit, earning them an improved B.

Must Reads

Editor’s Note: Inclusion of articles in this list in no way indicates endorsement by Shenandoah Sunshine. We simply present this list as group of articles that caught our eye this week on issues related to government transparency and state and local government from around the Commonwealth and Nation.

Virginia legislator’s salaries lower than most
In San Francisco, Open Government becomes a campaign issue
Trend Watch: Cops and Communities Talk Traffic Data
The Congressman from Joplin Tweets
What Private Lives Tell Us About Public Leaders
Why Implementing the Plain Writing Act will Take Decades
Crowdfunding Dissent
When the Tin Standard is Enough: Social Media Engagement vs. Broadcast
Negotiating records requests
Open information may mean more errors get published
Magna Carta 2.0: a transparency research agenda
Paper or Digital: Poll on Preferred Book Reading Modes
Vermont transparency bill means governments withhold fewer records, towns upset
17 State and Local Governments awarded for Web 2.0 and Social Media
Should Government Regulate Employees’ Personal Social Media Use?
So much for collaboration….
How do local governments “reconstitute” when under duress?
Open government, transparency, or something else?
More training needed as counties roll out electronic pollbooks
State and local budgets: an opportunity for innovation?
Building a scalable open government process
Is Maryland Becoming the Open Government state?
Web Filtering in One Virginia County’s Schools “Gets Better”
Why government should be like Disney
Social Media Usage is Local Government
Winners, Losers: 2011 American State Litter Scorecard
Spitball a Serious Crime!
Do Away with the Standard Diploma?
When Private Lives Become a Public Problem
Judge Orders UVA to hand over Michael Mann’s emails

UPDATE: I looked through my files and noticed a few stories I missed. I could wait til next week, but they’ll be pretty stale by then (plus some are follow ups from above). So for now, enjoy these.

Change Agent
UVA Recognized for Free Speech Culture
Virginia Court Upholds Student’s Spitwad Expulsion
S.L. County Agrees to Make e-records open
Va. gay rights group seeking protection at local level
Education: Comparing Schools
A troubled program
Crime on the Decline
Virginia State Police say violent crime declined nearly 5 percent in 2010
Leglislators want statewide CSA scrutiny

As always, feel free to discuss any of the above articles or our media rankings in the comments below.

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