There was an item in the news recently that caught my attention. Masslive.com reported that Only in the Republic of Amherst blogger Larry Kelley complained about not being allowed to film an event at a public building, thereby violating his First Amendment right.
The article didn’t mention anything about what school officials had to say about it, however.
As is often case on Masslive, anonymous posters chimed in on the topic. One caught my eye because it characterized the author of this blog as an “insane agitator and provocateur” who is hated by the public and public officials for his “confrontational manner”.
It went on to characterize this blog as an “anti-democracy screed” and relegated it to the “right wing paranoid luny (sic) bin”.
I don’t always agree with Larry, but I proudly advertise on this blog regardless. Allow me to explain why I advertise, why others should advertise, and why those who don’t agree with him should read his blog.
While I can appreciate why liberal-minded folks like myself may disagree with Larry’s opinions, it is undeniable that his blog provides a service and fills a void. It would be a mistake to compare what he does to Fox News, a so-called “news organization” that I would characterize as an actual right wing paranoid loony bin.
Larry has broken stories that were later picked up by more mainstream publications like The Republican/Masslive.com and Daily Hampshire Gazette. He also reports items that aren’t covered by either organization that should be covered.
The press is supposed to challenge public officials, even if it requires a confrontational style to get the answers.
The Masslive/The Republican reporter should have “confronted” school administrators about Larry not being allowed to film a public event in a public building and included their response in the article.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution enumerated free press protections in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights because they knew that an informed electorate was essential to democracy.
They knew that voters need to know the who, the what, the why, the how, and the when of what their public officials are doing in order for a democracy to function.
Today’s press is failing voters miserably in more ways than one, and what follows are just a couple of the many reasons why―and why the citizens of Amherst should be happy to have another source of information.
Today’s press is too reliant on “official” sources and press releases. They don’t investigate the facts independently as the Fourth Estate should.
I published a news site of my own in Belchertown. It was called Belchertown-News.com. I know it is a lot of work to cover and promote the news. (My appreciation for what Larry does is another reason I support this blog with advertising.)
While I was unable to make it sufficiently profitable to quit my day job, I still get press releases all the time. Because I receive press releases, I can tell you that too many of them are simply paraphrased and published by mainstream news agencies.
Sometimes they just get their information from a police agency’s Facebook status. They don’t investigate the facts for themselves. They don’t try to find out if there is more to the story. This includes press releases from organizations, town officials, businesses, and everyone else.
They just take it for granted that what they received was true and distribute it to the masses for consumption. How is that good for democracy?
I post Belchertown-related stories from other news agencies at Facebook.com/BelchertownNews. As such, I contribute to the problem I just discussed by distributing said stories further. I still post my own scoops on occasion, as well.
Another way our press fails us is through media consolidation. There is too much synergy and not enough energy in news reporting. Most of our press, both locally and nationally, is owned by just a few media conglomerates.
These media conglomerates have their own interests that sometimes conflicts with that of the public they are supposed to serve―whether it is their own interests or the interests of their advertisers.
Just look at Comcast-owned NBC News and their lack of coverage of net neutrality, a topic that could potentially have a very significant impact on our democracy.
And when the media are making millions on political campaigns, well, the conflict is self-evident and especially egregious.
Two of our local television media outlets―WGGB (Channel 40) and CBS3 Springfield―are owned by just one corporation: Meredith Corporation. The Republican/Masslive.com is owned by Advance Publications. Even Daily Hampshire Gazette and its family of newspapers isn’t locally owned. It is owned by Newspapers of New England.
Media consolidation dilutes the news.
One perspective is portrayed across multiple venues, thereby limiting the number of news items that the people of the cities and towns of the Pioneer Valley actually need to know.
I watched CBS 3 Springfield a few times, and it seemed that too many of their stories began with, “According to our media partners Masslive and The Republican...” What’s the point of multiple news sources if they all report the exact same thing?
Isn’t the point of a robust press to provide multiple perspectives and allow for more news stories to be reported? How is media consolidation good for public?
As someone who ran his own news website for one town, I also know that there are a ton of stories not being covered that should be covered. Think about it. Every single town has a regular schedule of selectmen meetings, school committee meetings, planning board meetings, zoning board of appeals meetings, and more. Each of those meetings has multiple items on their respective agendas.
Think of all the potentially important news stories not being covered because there aren’t enough resources to cover them.
The public can’t do anything about what they may not want their public officials doing unless they know about it beforehand, and the public not finding out something until it is too late happens more often than you think.
Of course, we shouldn’t dismiss the fact that more of the public needs to take an interest in what is happening. I’ve seen people stand up at Belchertown’s Annual Town Meeting and ask questions about things that were widely reported in the news.
The more people paying for news would go a long way toward improving news coverage.
The community should embrace Larry’s efforts for all these reasons, at the very least. He is just one local guy helping to fill a large void to serve the public interest.
You don’t have to agree with everything he writes to do so. The news shouldn’t be consumed to validate one’s worldview. It should be consumed to help inform it. That’s why multiple perspectives are essential.
Those perspectives shouldn’t just be limited to the same story, either. Different perspectives are also offered in the types of stories that are covered.
If it is true that the public and public officials hate Larry, as the anonymous Masslive commenter claimed, then it is likely because the public and town officials have forgotten what a free press is all about.