Partisanship in local media
Our friend Russ Stresing thinks the Batavia Daily News is pushing a Republican agenda, largely because the paper didn't publish a recent letter he wrote.
After more than two decades in journalism, I tend to take all such charges with a grain of salt. Every paper I've ever been associated with has been blasted by both sides for either its liberal agenda or its conservative agenda - at the same time.
People tend to think the local media is pushing whatever agenda they don't happen to agree with. I think newspaper journalism has its inherent faults, and it no longer serves readers well, but overt partisan bias is rarely one of them.
The Batavian gets accused of pushing political agendas, too. To this day many local Republicans think this is a Democratic site, yet recently I've been hearing from Democrats who think we've shifted to the right.
Either charge is ludicrous. I've been open from the beginning about my own political positions -- I'm not registered with any political party and haven't been for at least a decade. I identify myself as libertarian, and I dispise partisanship in governing.
Both Republicans and Democrats have an equal opportunity to use The Batavian to promote, if you will, their positions, policies and candidates. If one side takes more advantage of that opportunity than the other, that is going to lead the other side to think The Batavian has taken up residence in the opposing camp. But for the partisan side holding that perception, it really has nobody to blame but itself. It simply failed to take the opportunity to be equally heard.
I believe in robust debate. All sides should be heard -- just don't get into personal attacks. On The Batavian, the rules are simple: Use your real name and don't get personal. Otherwise, you're free to pursue whatever agenda you wish. If community members don't think you're being truthful, accurate or are drawing illogical conclusions, expect disagreement (as they say, we should disagree without being disagreeable).
If Russ had submitted his letter as a blog post to The Batavian, it likely would have wound up on the home page -- not because I agree with his politics. (In fact, there are a couple of key points in his article that I disagree with.) But because it's a local opinion of local importance.
Republicans have the same opportunity to be heard, and there have been times recently where Republicans got a chance to be heard on The Batavian even though I disagreed with the particular positions taken.
In other words, the weight here isn't whether you're a Republican or Democrat, whether I agree or disagree with you a particular position, but rather is what you have to say relevant to our local audience and is your position is presented civilly.
I've been told numerous times that there is an unwritten rule among local Republicans: Don't participate in The Batavian. Why? "Because it's a Democratic site." It's a foolish mandate. The only people Republicans are hurting are Republicans.
The perception that this is a Democratic site arose early because Democrats discovered it first. Why? Because at the time, Democrats where much more organized online and more wired, even at the local level. When blogging first started, it was nearly exclusively a Republican/liberatarian activity, and then guys like Markos Moulitsas Zúniga came along and recognized progressives needed to be heard in this new medium. He was aggressive about promoting a progressive agenda online and nearly all by himself created what is called the Netroots movement. You could make the case that Obama would not be president today without it.
It was the local Netroots community that found The Batavian first. Thus, their voices were more often heard than Republican voices, but it is a complete misconception to conclude that the outcome was intentional. And in those early days, we were quite happy, honestly, to have any audience.
Now, I'm told, there's this notion among some Democrats that The Batavian has become more of a Republican site, but mainly because we publish so many press releases from Chris Lee, Ranzenhofer and Hawley.
Folks, they're our elected representatives, and if they send out press releases that seem relevant to Genesee County, I'm going to publish them.
When the local Democrats send out local press releases, and I've received a couple, I'll publish those, too.
Though in both cases, I wish more often people would just create a user profile and post under their own names. I recently rejected an op-ed piece from Steve Hawley's office because I thought it should be published under Hawley's name, not mine. It's one thing for me to write up a little summary of a press release under my name and link to the whole document verbatim, but it wouldn't be right to publish somebody else's entire opinion piece under my name.
Two days ago, Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Steve Hawley hosted a press conference about pending anti-gun legislation. I covered the press conference not because I favor Republicans, but because it was held in Genesee County.
Why was a press conference opposing possible anti-gun legislation being held in a basically pro-gun county? The perception might be that that's a bit like "preaching to the choir."
Without publicity beyond Genesee County, wouldn't the legislators' voices be muted, thereby limiting their ability to sway voters? But Ranzenhofer made the valid point that with digital media, their views can be known to voters statewide.
In other words, they picked Genesee County for the press conference because we have robust online media. If they had gone to Erie or Orleans, The Batavian wouldn't have covered it. We care most about what happens in Genesee County, without partisan considerations.
If we have any overt agenda, it's to promote localism, to promote the local community. We're all about Genesee County. We're parochial and proud of it.