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Signs Of Journalistic Hope On The Right

Feedback to my column last week about “The Future Of Conservative Journalism” has included news about a couple of developments I wasn’t aware of when I wrote it. One involves an investigative team in Colorado, and the other is about one nationally known conservative writer’s quest to find funding for his investigative efforts.

The Colorado venture, ranked among “the best state political blogs [1]” by the Washington Post political blog The Fix, is called Face The State [2]. Here are the details from an e-mail interview I conducted with Brad Jones, managing editor of the site.

What is the mission of the site? Are you trying to fill a gap in coverage?

Face The State was created to expose government waste, fraud and corruption in Colorado state and local government, and to provide breaking and in-depth news on politics and policy. Given our small size, we can’t expect to cover every politically relevant story in the state, but we do try to add to the body of available news especially given the recent period of media contraction.

FTS was conceived as a way to cover Colorado politics from a center-right perspective but to do so fairly. We work well with blogs and other alternative media, but there was and still is a great need for serious investigative journalism here.

What topics have generated the most interest?

Some of our most popular/influential stories have included:

— An report revealing the chairman of the state House education committee wrote an e-mail saying school choice supporters deserved a “special place in hell.” He resigned his chairmanship shortly thereafter.
— A series exposing the governor’s plans to unionize the state workforce. After our report hit and was picked up by other media, their strategy changed to a less aggressive proposal pursued by executive order.
— After FTS reported an Aurora state House member had exposed himself to a female lobbyist after a fundraiser last year, the lawmaker in question resigned his seat within 24 hours.
— An undercover investigation revealed a petition circulator for a 2008 initiative campaign was lying to voters in order to obtain petition signatures.
— A report revealed the contents of leaked confidential memos [about] the inner workings of the Colorado Democracy Alliance, including a proposed campaign for unions to “educate the idiots” (defined as people with general equivalency diplomas, dropouts, and minorities.)

How large is the staff, and what kinds of stories are you pursuing?

We have three-person full-time staff. We also regularly feature work from contract writers, particularly our humor columnist and political cartoonist.

Colorado’s legislature has a fixed-length session beginning every January, so for roughly five months we are immersed in legislative issues. In the summer and fall, we try to take on a mix of short- and medium-term investigative projects and campaign/political coverage. Our goal is to have at least one well-researched staff report per day.

How are you funded?

FTS is a private, for-profit Colorado corporation. We have a small number of investors who cover our operating losses while we grow. We also sell an increasing amount of advertising both online and on our two syndicated radio programs.

What is your operating budget? Have you sought grants from journalism or other foundations?

Our budget is less than $250,000 a year. We have not sought foundation or grant funding, but may do so in the future.

Do you have any distribution deals with newspapers, wire services, etc., for your content, or are you pursuing them?

We have a number of ad-hoc and regular content-sharing agreements with small publications around the state. The most recent is a new startup effort hosted by Denver-based Circuit Media (Law Week Colorado, StateBillNews.com) to share stories [3] among area publications, including suburban weeklies, free dailies, and niche online and print trade publications.

The existence of a center-right investigative team in Colorado is encouraging because Colorado is one of the target markets for the Center for Independent Media [4], which is funded [4] by George Soros’ Open Society Institute [5] and other donors. The Colorado Independent [6] produces investigative reports in addition to covering the news.

Writer Michael Fumento [7] also contacted me after seeing my essay to share his own thoughts about the future of investigative journalism by conservatives. His goal is to be among them, and he recently completed a grant proposal to seek funds for his investigative work.

Here’s part of what Fumento had to say:

[E]ven at its performance peak the mainstream media often left crucial areas uncovered or poorly covered for various reasons, including a herd mentality, a widespread lack of analytic ability, and not least a strong liberal bias.

Unfortunately, the legions of right-center opinion writers and talk show hosts must usually rely on this same press for their raw material. Professional journalism also cannot be replaced by a so-called citizen media, including bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, “tweeters,” and those who write for and publish any number of “e-zines” that pay only in exposure. For all the myriad faults of the mainstream media — bias, sensationalism, laziness and sloppiness — the citizen media suffer the same problems and then some.

The citizen media are also weakest in the area of investigative reporting because it requires training, experience, money and often tremendous time.

I see great value in the citizen media concept, so I don’t entirely agree with Fumento on that score.

True, most citizen journalists lack the training to be good investigative reporters. But if conservatives are to counter the work of the growing “pro-am” journalism corps on the left, they will need a well-trained army of citizen journalists to complement the work of the few full-timers currently capable of doing the job. The right is so outgunned in the journalism game that it needs donors who are willing to fund both established journalists like Fumento and newcomers like those at Face The State.

Train the watchdog wannabes and give them a fair share of the investigative money, and they will contribute quality journalism. They also will be ready to serve as media mentors to the next generation of conservative investigators.