By Ken Krayeske • Posted 10:30 PM EST
The Bill of Rights - it works as an illustration for every speech and rights based column.
As the for-profit model of news collapses, envisioning and effecting new models of news and information delivery becomes essential, an activity of the highest priority.
Educational models hold some promise, and merit consideration. Historically, they have worked to provide communities daily news, like Kurt Vonnegut's high school newspaper, the Echo, served as the local daily newspaper for Indianapolis, Indiana. He was on the Tuesday staff at the Shortridge High School paper.
American history holds other models of well-funded newsgathering organizations, such as the political party organ. I'm not certain that this is the answer to our woes, but our nation's past shows that political parties are stable institutions.
The dangers here are many. Just as the quest for profit taints the independence of certain news voices, the quest for power could destroy the credibility of a newspaper run by a political party.
Yet the idea is hardly far fetched, and the benefits could be great. The Courant at one point was so pro-federalist that Thomas Jefferson sued it. While American newspapers seemingly grew away from their roots political party mouthpieces, other former British colonies maintained a press connected to political power structures. Nothing prevents a resurgence in America towards openly political newsgathering operations.
While in the United States we profess that our First Amendment press remains independent, a fourth estate of government, as it were, the clear truth is that both right and left wing press flourish in the mainstream dialogue today, though they may attempt to camoflauge their leanings with labels like "objective."
Every news gatherer has a subjective approach. They may try to approach the story with detachment, as the hypothetical reasonable observer who has judged a million tort cases.
Those who acknowledge their political bias up front make it easier to process the speaker's message. Knowing that the Waterbury Republican-American comes from a Republican point of view very much tells us what to expect in terms of their opinion, and on some level, their newsgathering philosophy in what deserves coverage.
Waterbury used to be a two newspaper town, the Democratic party rag didn't survive. But voices from the left are flourishing on the web. Imagine if the Democratic Party decided to begin to pay Myleftnutmeg.com to produce information, instead of relying on volunteers.
What stops Connecticut Democratic party chair Nancy DiNardo from hiring reporter refugees to investigate and FOIA to pain the executive agencies under Gov. Rell's control? Turning over every stone with credible staff gives an opportunity to really dig into self-governance.
Connecticut Republicans are poking at the door, too. Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healy posts regularly on his blog, and Gov. Rell twitters thanks to her amazing staff of zen masters, who say nothing in 140 characters or less. But both the GOP and Democratic Party websites scream partisan hackery.
But suppose Gov. Grandma pushed Healy beyond blogging, and into hiring a few reporters and editors to start a daily website with a weekly or monthly print edition with statewide distribution.
What if the political parties started a news war? What if the well paid communications staff at the state capital, from each delegation, instead of fax-blasting press releases like former Democratic party chairman Ed Marcus used to do, they turned that energy into a news website?
Take the e-mail press release, and modify it into a news story. It would be good for democracy. Seasoned reporters would likely not be able to work for a party organ and freelance for the New York Times, but there would be plenty of other refugees from the collapse of the for-profit news system who would flock to such a new outlet. (Money talks.)
So long as the information the websites presented was credible, linked to real research and backed by actual fact, the GOP or the state Democratic party could create a regular stop on the browsing button of the state cognoscenti.
It would be an effective way to communicate in-depth policy platforms without relying on reporters like Christopher Keating to mediate the discussion. It could help fill a gap in newsgathering, and it could provide a deeper discourse on the policy issues of the day. Plus, those communication staffers in the LOB know where the best information is - why wait for the Courant to break the news?
Imagine if Barack Obama's much vaunted website sold more honest policy than p.r.? Suppose he used the website to study the need for additional funding for child welfare? Or suppose he used that billion dollar war chest to fund some national media to investigate administrative agency capture in the Bush Administration?
An opponent who can uncover a governing power's weakness is formidable. Now of course, sources in government would refuse to talk to reporters because they worked for the other side. It could lead to a polarization of our country. The tone of Ed Marcus' faxes of yore were hyperbolic, bordering on hysterical rantings about Rowland's shortcomings.
In hindsight, he may have been right. At the same time, a reasoned presentation could not be slanted so hard to the party line. A well-researched and appropriately toned news website by the Dems or Repubs could lead to a gold mine of accountability and community and stability. It might even attract more people to political parties.
Political parties in this country are vast organizations with diverse points of view under one tent. Corrupt? In some cases. Worth perpetuating? Perhaps, perhaps not. But they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. And as we look to perpetuate our style of self-governance, we need to find ways to present information to voters that they can rely on.
Maybe this is how a new political party develops - around a newsgathering mission.