The Wheeling Alternative Awards for 2017
In November, the local "newspapers" (especially the afternoon News-Register) carried a number of editorials criticizing Democratic Representative John Conyers for sexual harassment. The earlier editorials told us why Conyers should be investigated and removed if guilty. Even after Conyers resigned, the News-Register still wanted him investigated. At the same time, both papers ignored very similar charges against Representatives Blake Farenhold and later Trent Franks. (It should also be mentioned that the local papers carried 23 news articles on Conyers while printing only one highly-edited story on Farenhold during the period.)
Conyers' actions certainly deserved criticism but the amount and intensity of the coverage was excessive particularly when compared to the lack of coverage afforded Republican congressmen with similar ethical violations. In my write-up, I speculated on possible reasons for the disparity:
Despite similar stories, what could possibly be the difference between Conyers and Farenhold that could justify major coverage for one and no coverage for the other? How about that Conyers is a black Democrat and Farenhold is a white Republican?
Note -- a couple of anti-Hillary editorials on the same day last May were a very close second.
This one won easily. It's possible that the Intelligencer had used up their supply of Clinton/Benghazi editorials or "it's-all-Obama's-fault" essays. I don't know. What can you say about a news source that thinks an editorial chastising a B-List comedian is serious food for thought? Maybe more importantly, what should we think about a newspaper chain in which six of its newspapers thought this was worthy of re-publication. Yes, googling the editorial yields six additional Ogden newspapers that published it. The Intelligencer has the earliest publication date -- so they receive the credit for this crap.
Worst Local News Article
It was tempting to give the award to a front page story bragging about how automation in local Murray coal mines had greatly enhanced "worker productivity" without once mentioning how this was a major cause of miner unemployment. While this was yet another example of how our local papers see everything from the owners' perspective, the problem was in the article's framing and not in its facts. On the other hand, this year's winner clearly claimed something that was demonstrably not true: that a West Virginia University study on ethane storage hubs had said that the hubs would bring billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs. This was reporter Casey Junkins lede:
West Virginia University researchers believe a Marcellus and Utica shale ethane storage hub could help create $36 billion in investment and more than 100,000 permanent jobs - some of which could occur at industrial sites left behind by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, Weirton Steel and Ormet Corp.
Except that the research conducted by WVU said no such thing since it was a technical study about possible sites. (Note -- other news sources did get it right.) And it didn't take long to find the source of the $36 billion and 100,000 jobs statistics -- it was the American Chemical Council, the chief lobbying group for the chemical industry. And so Junkins and the Intelligencer added the credibility of a West Virginia University research team to a biased study done by an industry lobbyist. But, the misuse of this study didn't end with Junkins. Later that week, a Mike Myer's column then referenced Junkin's terrible reporting. All done in service to the fossil fuel industry.
Reader statistics and favorites for the year
Google Analytics tells me that my 2017 numbers dropped slightly from the previous year. Plotting the numbers on a timeline provides a simple explanation -- they peaked in the month before the 2016 election and then dropped into the new year. Since then they have been slowly rising and are now approaching 2016 pre-election levels. Specifically in 2017: I had around 3,500 different visitors who looked at a total of 16,000 pages. Not surprising, 75% of those visitors were from West Virginia and half of that group was from Wheeling or Moundsville. The top three most visited posts were:
WV Republicans appoint Robin Capehart as counsel to the WV senate finance committee. West Liberty University's former president has always garnered good press from our local papers and his appointment as the lead counsel to the West Virginia Senate Committee on Finance was quite favorably covered by them. (Despite Capehart's guilty plea, the reason for his resignation (state ethics violations) was excused by the Republicans and later the paper itself.) I included additional information including a copy of his guilty plea. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that this post's popularity came primarily from social media posting from WLU faculty and staff.
Old columns, plagiarism, and Astroturf from a Koch group. While I think all three subjects are important, the likely popularity of this post probably had to do with the News-Register publishing a column by a former Republican state delegate and current state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Gil White. As the post pointed out, his opinion piece was exactly the same as columns by three other NFIB state directors that appeared in different papers. Media Matters later picked up the story and referenced the post which also helped the numbers.
Is this the end of locally-produced, small-market television news?. This one looked at the recent FCC ruling that ended the requirement of a main studio in a broadcaster's home city. I wrote how this might lead to the demise of small market radio and TV news. The post received numerous hits via Facebook and Twitter. My hunch is that this was widely shared by those who work in broadcast media -- especially from those in small markets where the new ruling may have major employment effects.
Note -- a special thanks for those readers who took this blog to social media.
Let's see: the WV legislature ("God's gift to bloggers") will soon be back in session, it's an election year, and Trump's still president with the full blessing and support of Wheeling "newspapers." Of course those papers show no sign of becoming anything more than what they are: the propaganda arm of the fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, and the state's moneyed interests. Yeah, "all of the above" should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble.
Sorry for the delay in getting this posted and a belated "Happy New Year!"