A More Urgent Question than Ever: Who Will Cover the News?

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam and the 2020 General Assembly has engineered one of the greatest assaults on the middle class in Virginia history. You would never imagine that from reading the coverage by Virginia’s news outlets, whose reporters and editorial writers are so in sync with the new Democratic majority that the only controversies worth noting are intramural skirmishes within the liberal/progressive movement. (Well, the media did get around eventually to taking note of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, but only after it had spread to all corners of the state.)

The current generation of journalists literally cannot imagine any other way of looking at the issues. The topics highlighted here on Bacon’s Rebellion — the tax hikes and clawbacks, the heaping of new costs onto electricity ratepayers, the institutionalization of identity politics in schools and government — barely make it into the news articles, much less the headlines. Virginians may have elected a Democratic majority, but they did not vote for a revolution in governance. They have no idea what is about to hit them. And they likely won’t know it until it actually does hit them, because they won’t read or hear about it in the dominant media outlets.

Against this backdrop, we learn that the Virginian-Pilot, once the strongest voice in Virginia journalism, is consolidating offices with the Daily News. The shriveled Pilot news staff now will cover news for the 1.1 million inhabitants of Hampton Roads south of the James River from the Daily Press office north of the river. (See Kerry Dougherty’s column today for details.) This development follows the relentless decimation of newsrooms in other newspapers across Virginia. Their ultimate demise seems inevitable.

I have asked this question repeatedly over the years: Who will cover the news? The only thing worse than journalism dictated by social justice warriors is no journalism at all. At least Virginia’s shrunken, ideologically blinkered newspaper staffs report some of the news, so the public has some notion what horrors the political class is inflicting upon them.

The emerging alternative model of journalism is philanthropically driven. Thus, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos showers millions of dollars upon the Washington Post, Virginia Public Media (National Public Radio) supports a cadre of reporters through an endowment, and the Virginia Mercury lives off foundation grants. Commercially funded journalism is being supplanted by tax-privileged philanthropic journalism. While all three entities do contribute some useful reporting, they explore only a narrow range of perspectives — center-left perspectives.

Outside of Bacon’s Rebellion, a couple other blogs, and the stray op-ed piece in newspaper editorial pages, conservative and libertarian perspectives are almost entirely absent from the public discourse in Virginia. There’s always talk radio, but let’s not confuse that with journalism or in-depth commentary. The tiny talk radio staffs have no resources to do their own reporting or analysis.

There is a greater role for Bacon’s Rebellion in the emerging news-gathering ecosystem. Virginia desperately needs a credible conservative/libertarian editorial voice. But it doesn’t need a publication that becomes captured by the right-wing echo chamber. Virginia needs a conservative/libertarian voice that is grounded in reality and subjects its reporting and commentary to critical scrutiny. One of the greatest strengths of this blog, in my humble opinion, is the participation of moderates and liberals willing to engage in civil discourse. Conservative as most of our contributors are, I appreciate it when our liberal friends challenge our assumptions, point out inconvenient facts, and call out our biases. Such engagement sharpens everyone’s thinking all around.

I am persuaded that there is a vast, under-served market in Virginia for a source of news and commentary that (1) is informed by conservative/libertarian perspectives, (2) is grounded in careful reporting and fact-checking, and (3) is tolerant of a wide range of views, including views different from our own. I also have faith that there is a sustainable business model to support such a publication.

Indeed, I would contend that Virginia desperately needs such a publication in the new era of Democratic Party dominance in state politics. Neither the commercial nor philanthropic media have shown the slightest inclination to push back against the leftward surge in policy. Someone has to challenge assumptions, point out inconvenient facts, and call out the biases of the ruling coalition. I guess that job falls to us.

I am winding up a book-writing project that has consumed much of my energy for the past two years. When that project is finished, hopefully by mid-year, I will have more time to devote to making Bacon’s Rebellion a more powerful journalistic voice. In the meantime, loyal readers, you can help by spreading the word — forward our content to your friends, post our articles on Facebook, chip a few bucks into the tip jar, and give us your feedback.