Category Archives: Blogs and blog administration

National Mental Breakdown

The United States is having a mental breakdown. Two mass shootings in a single day is a sure sign that the polarization and viciousness of our politics is a reflection of a broader social sickness. Social cohesion is disintegrating. Mistrust is spreading. Rancorous rhetoric is displacing reasoned discourse. People are seeking refuge in tribal identities and wallowing in hate. Our national psyche is the most venomous it has been since the 1960s — the difference being that we don’t even have a massively unpopular war as an excuse for our divisions.

President Trump is part of the problem. The nation looks to its presidents to unite the country. Trump’s tweets are calculated to inflame his enemies and drive them to excess. And they succeed all too well. Democrats, shouting through their Mainstream Media bullhorn, depict Republicans and Trump supporters as bigots, racists, traitors, and xenophobes. Doubt me? Just watch MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which feeds its million viewers every day with two hours of invective and bile.

The economy is booming and we’re engaged in no major foreign wars. Americans ought to be feeling good about themselves. But we’re miserable. People have advanced a variety of theories for our increasing division. Gerrymandering, some say, is creating safe districts for extremists in both parties. The fragmentation of media allows people to live in information echo chambers. Those play a role, but I think the malaise runs deeper. Society is atomizing. Civic society is in decline — more and more people are “bowling alone.” More people are feeling disconnected and alienated. The ties that bind us are dangerously fraying. Mental illness is endemic. Continue reading

Expanded Roster at Bacon’s Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion is pleased to add two contributors to its line-up, one a familiar face… and one a familiar face but from a totally different context.

Long-time readers will recognize Peter Galuszka, a free-lance writer and researcher based in Chesterfield County. Peter, a frequent contributor to the blog at one time, has rejoined us after a hiatus of a few years. A former executive editor of Virginia Business magazine, reporter at the Virginian-Pilot and Richmond Times-Dispatch, and correspondent and editor for Business Week, he brings an in-depth knowledge of the Virginia political, business, and public-policy scene. Peter, whom I fondly refer to as the Rebellion’s resident “left-wing maniac,” will inject a left-of-center perspective into the blog.

Even longer-time readers will remember the name of Philip Shucet, known in Virginia public policy circles as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation during the Warner administration and as a turn-around artist for troubled transportation projects in Hampton Roads. Upon reaching retirement, the Norfolk resident began reinventing himself as a documentary photographer. He fits perfectly the Bacon’s Rebellion profile of a cranky old man (and the occasional cranky old woman) willing to contribute the fruit of his labors without pay. We look forward to publishing his photography on the blog.

Give a Warm Bacon’s Rebellion Welcome to Dick Hall-Sizemore

I am pleased to announce that Richard W. “Dick” Hall-Sizemore has joined the stable of semi-regular contributors to Bacon’s Rebellion. Dick has haunted the halls of Capitol Square for some 40 years, first as a legislative aide, then as a local government lobbyist, and in the past 25 years as a policy analyst with the Department of Planning and Budget. His knowledge of Virginia’s public policy issues has few parallels. He knows where the bodies — bodies of data, that is — are buried within the Labyrinth of Virginia’s state bureaucracy, and he has keen analytical abilities, which were on display in guest columns on this blog.

Dick shares Bacon’s Rebellion’s passion for probing deeper than the sound bites that dominate our political discourse and for engaging in a civil dialogue. Although his views are more centrist than other prominent voices on this blog (well, mine anyway), we welcome reasoned perspectives different from ours, and we look forward to hearing what he has to say. Continue reading

Passing the Digital Tin Cup

Dear Bacon’s Rebellion readers,

This is the beginning of a new year, the time when many online publications hit up their readers for donations (see the “subscribe” button in the upper left-hand corner). While we will gladly accept your contributions, which we apply to an upgraded hosting package and other services that improve our blogging productivity and your reader experience, but I hate to bludgeon you with annoying appeals for money.

Instead, there are better ways you can help. You can help us grow the publication.

The thing that keeps Steve Haner, Don Rippert and me pumping out in-depth news and commentary from a conservative/libertarian perspective is the hope that we might be making a difference. How do we tell if we’re making a difference? One obvious way is by the number of readers we reach.  Continue reading

Bacon’s Rebellion 2018 — Year of the Pothead

Other blogs publish a list of their most heavily trafficked posts of the previous year, so I guess Bacon’s Rebellion will succumb to peer pressure and do the same. If there’s any conclusion to be drawn from the 2018 list of the Bacon’s Rebellion Top Twelve stories, it’s that our readers — or perhaps random web surfers who stumble across the blog — have pot on the brain.

Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use? — by far the top story of the year, by a factor of four. Ranked extremely high in Google search engine results for “Virginia” and “marijuana.”

UVa’s $30 Million Raid on Tech’s Biocomplexity Initiative Continue reading

I’m Baaaack!

Announced in the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page this morning:

Earlier this month [James A.] Bacon briefly joined the Editorial staff of The Times-Dispatch, hired by Bob Rayner, who is editor of the Editorial Pages. When Rayner announced earlier this week that he is retiring from the newspaper business, Bacon decided to leave the paper as well and devote his energies to maintaining Bacon’s Rebellion as one of Virginia’s sharpest websites devoted to assessing public policy. We’re glad he’s still part of the civic conversation. We hope to be able to publish columns by Bacon on a fairly regular basis in the opinion pages of the The Times-Dispatch.

I had been looking forward to working with Bob, who was an excellent editor and an articulate voice for civil and principled conservatism. With his unexpected retirement, my calculus changed, and I have resolved to redouble my efforts to build Bacon’s Rebellion into a credible conservative/libertarian voice in Virginia journalism.

Big Changes for Bacon’s Rebellion

I am pleased to announce that I have joined the Editorial Department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Working on a part-time basis, I will contribute signed op-ed pieces and unsigned editorials to the newspaper. I will focus, as I have for Bacon’s Rebellion, mainly on state and local public-policy issues.

I will continue publishing Bacon’s Rebellion independently. Editorial Page Editor Bob Rayner and I are committed to exploring ways in which the Editorial Department and the blog can work together to create a stronger online editorial presence for both. We envision several avenues of collaboration.

First, the RTD has given me permission to re-publish op-eds I write for the newspaper on Bacon’s Rebellion (although unsigned editorials will remain the newspaper’s exclusive property) after a 24-hour delay.

Second, the RTD will link to Bacon’s Rebellion for expanded versions of the newspaper’s editorials and op-eds with additional commentary, tables, graphs and maps that the newspaper does not have space to print.

Third, we have discussed ways to further expand the RTD’s commitment to civic conversations on a wide range of issues affecting the Richmond region and Virginia as a whole. Recently, the RTD Public Square celebrated its 75th program and we’ll be looking to further promote civil dialogue.

In the meantime, I will continue to post commentary to Bacon’s Rebellion as time permits. Fortunately, the blog has two strong contributors in Steve Haner and Don Rippert, so readers can be confident that the blog will be as timely and incisive as ever.

I am hopeful that the new partnership between newspaper and blog will demonstrate one possible way to reinvigorate local journalism – so essential for our democracy – in the digital era.

— Jim Bacon

VPAP Baffled by Media’s Blurry Lines

The Virginia Public Access Project continues to struggle to define what constitutes news reporting worth of inclusion in its popular VaNews news digest — a daily e-letter with thousands of readers who actively follow state and local news. In the most recent iteration of VPAP policy, Bacon’s Rebellion ended up the big loser.

In a world of rapidly morphing publications with different mixes and formats of news and opinion, VPAP doesn’t have an easy job. It started out compiling headlines for Virginia newspapers only. But VaNews compilers have had to contend with the emergence of online publications that do real reporting: Bacon’s Rebellion, The Virginia Mercury, and the more popular partisan blogs. Founder David Poole knows that traditional print newspapers are in decline while online publications are in the ascendancy, and that for the long-run health of VaNews, which is a successful money-raiser for his organization, he needs to embrace online media.

The start-up of the Virginia Mercury precipitated a round of soul searching. Poole’s concern was that the online Richmond-based news outlet had an explicit politically progressive bias, and that it was funded by untraceable foundation money. By contrast, Bacon’s Rebellion has always been 100% up-front about where the money is coming from. Poole was bothered, however, by perception of bias on energy and environmental issues due to our sponsorship by Dominion Energy. So, when our Dominion sponsorship expired, Bacon’s Rebellion chose not to renew it, and we created a channel populated only by news articles for VaNews to draw from. Poole began incorporating pieces from Bacon’s Rebellion.

Then, as debate continued to buffet his board of directors, Poole decided that due to a continued taint by association he wouldn’t accept news reporting on issues associated with now-defunct sponsors, even though news articles written by Steve Haner and me — both knowledgeable, experienced journalists — met all the traditional criteria of a news story.

Now the wheel has turned again. This time dark-money Virginia Mercury makes the cut but transparent Bacon’s Rebellion — which has no source of outside funding whatsoever, other than some modest reader contributions — does not.

“Our goal, as it has been from the start, is to give readers a comprehensive look of reporting about Virginia government and politics,” said Nicole Riley, chair of the VPAP Board of Directors, in a press release Friday. “As providers come and go, we want to keep the focus on original news reporting.”

The latest changes to the VaNews criteria add specificity to the definition of “original news reporting” to include a requirement that an article present both sides of a debate and writers should be a commentator or a reporter – but not both.

“It’s confusing when someone expresses their opinion about an issue and the next day shows up to cover the same issue as a reporter,” Riley said.

VPAP also dropped its prohibition against “advocacy” publications, a term that had been added in 2016 and proved difficult to define.

“The Board debated this and determined that ‘advocacy’ is often in the eye of the beholder,” Riley said. “Take the Washington Post. There are people who believe the Post is part of a liberal media conspiracy while others think the Post is the savior of democracy.”

So…. Virginia Mercury may be an advocacy publication, but because its editor and staff writers stick to “news” and do not engage in overt commentary, they make the cut. Because Haner and I write commentary in separate posts, we don’t. Nothing against Virginia Mercury — the editorial team is good at what it does and I read the publication every day — but this new criteria seems totally arbitrary.

I get it — VaNews has to draw a line somewhere. I’m just skeptical that it’s possible to draw bright lines and stick to them. For example, Jeff Schapiro, the dean of the Capitol press corps, is known mainly for writing commentary but he also reports news from time to time. Are readers “confused”? Will VaNews exclude him from its clippings? That would be absurd.

Well, the world isn’t fair. The onus is on us at Bacon’s Rebellion to create such compelling content that VaNews has no choice but to treat us as an equal — or maybe grow to a point where we don’t care what it does. Let me take this occasion to thank our loyal readers who contribute to the quality dialogue on this blog. Thankfully, you don’t seem confused by what we do.

VaNews, the New Power Broker in the Virginia Media Landscape

When David Poole launched the Virginia Public Access Project’s VaNews digest of news articles about Virginia politics and policy, he had no way of imagining that things would get so complicated. As other news aggregators do, VaNews rounded up the top stories from Virginia’s newspapers, television stations, and selected online publications, excerpting headlines and lead paragraphs, and blasting out an early-morning email to thousands of readers — a highly influential audience of elected officials, government administrators, lobbyists, lawyers, reporters, trade association executives, and others involved in the formulation of public policy in Virginia.

As the free e-newsletter grew in popularity, it became indispensable reading. VaNews now claims 11,700 subscribers. With such an elite audience, it charges $200 daily for one-day sponsorships over and above what it collects in donations. Meanwhile, political and policy blogs clamor to have their content included. VaNews could drive hundreds of page views to their websites — pure gold to smaller publications seeking to expand their readership and influence.

Now Poole, a former state capital correspondent for the Roanoke Times and the Virginian-Pilot, finds himself in the position of being an arbiter of which publications count as a legitimate news source and which do not. Thanks to the popularity of VaNews, his judgment calls matter. A lot. Not everyone is happy with his decisions, and the issue has come to a head with the inauguration of the Virginia Mercury, an online news publication funded by the progressive Hopewell Fund.

Tuesday, Poole felt moved to write a letter to the VPAP board.

You may have noticed that we carried three news articles today published by Virginia Mercury, a new online news operation funded by progressive groups.

Some questions have arisen — Is the Mercury a nonprofit newspaper or is it an advocacy organization? Their editor Robert Zullo wrote this introduction, which takes a very clear anti-establishment position. But a lot of editors have preached, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.”

The real question for VaNews is: Who is funding the Mercury? All they’ve said is that they are funded by a large “progressive” foundation. I have asked Zullo for the name of their specific donor. Last week, Zullo said he needed to ask permission to release that information. I have not heard back from him.

Until Zullo comes clean about funding, we are going to avoid running the Mercury’s coverage of energy and environmental issues. We are making an assumption that the Mercury is similar to the Southeast Energy News, which is published by a clean-energy group. It looks and feels like conventional journalism, but it is advocacy in the same way an industry newsletter is.

We are entering a strange time of conversion, where the conventional press is withering away and being replaced with all sorts of experimental organizations. Thanks for your patience and support as we navigate these uncertain waters.

What once might have been a theoretical concern, easily dismissed, has become urgent as the news staffs of traditional news-gathering organizations shrink and the universe of news articles to draw from contracts along with them. The online publications springing up to fill the news void are seemingly infinite in number, and they vary widely in quality in their commitment to traditional journalism. Clearly, Poole cannot include them all in VaNews. But drawing a clear and objective dividing line is difficult.

My dog in this fight. I know from personal experience. I asked Poole several months ago if he would include Bacon’s Rebellion news articles in VaNews. While most of our content is commentary, we do publish articles meeting traditional journalistic standards. Poole said he was uncomfortable using our articles, however, citing the journalism sponsorships from Dominion Energy and Partners 4 Affordable Excellence that supported my reporting on energy and higher education. Even though the sponsorship agreements made it clear that I maintained 100% control over the editorial product and even though I was totally transparent about those sponsorships, Poole was concerned that the relationship with advocacy groups called the objectivity of my journalism into question. Dominion, of course, was a particularly controversial sponsor; Blue Virginia, a left-leaning, anti-Dominion blog, had made a big issue about the arrangement.

I asked Poole, what if I let the sponsorships expire? And what if I drew a clear line between news and commentary? Would he consider the news articles for publication in VaNews? He said he would.

The Partners 4 Affordable Excellence sponsorship expired in March, and the Dominion sponsorship in June. But Dominion had indicated a willingness to renew the sponsorship for another year. I had a big business decision to make. Thinking of the long-term future of Bacon’s Rebellion, I opted in favor of growing the blog’s readership by making it eligible for inclusion in VaNews, even though it meant losing significant sponsorship income. I let the Dominion sponsorship expire in June. (The company and I parted on good terms.) I then paid several hundred dollars to reconfigure the website and create a “news” page, where all news articles would be published — and easily spotted, and scooped up, by VaNews and any other news aggregator that wanted them.

In the meantime, Steve Haner joined Bacon’s Rebellion as a contributing editor. I’d known Haner since we’d worked together at the Roanoke Times more than 30 years ago, and even though he had worked as a GOP operative and a lobbyist in the intervening time, I knew that he knew how to keep his opinions out of his reporting. As he transitions away from lobbying, he has been attending various legislative hearings and public meetings, including most recently the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia meeting, and filing reports for Bacon’s Rebellion.

On the day we launched our news page, we were delighted to see that VaNews had picked up an article Haner had posted about the Virginia Retirement System. But the e-letter had excluded articles he had written about higher education and I had written about the convening of a solar- and wind-power stakeholder group. Whoah! What happened? Why was our straight news reporting being excluded? Continue reading

Report to Agitators, Bomb Throwers and Rebels

Many thanks to the readers who contribute monthly to Bacon’s Rebellion via the subscriber button atop the left-hand column. I want you to know how your donations have contributed to the blog.

First, we have migrated Bacon’s Rebellion to a new hosting platform that promises much faster page-loading speeds. If you found the blog frustratingly slow before, you should enjoy the new experience. I suspect that the lethargic download speeds had been discouraging people from visiting the website, and I’m hoping for an uptick in page views.

Second, we have created a mechanism for separating our news articles (based upon original reporting) from our commentary (opining upon the reporting of others) and posting the news on its own page, which can be accessed via the “News” button on the blog’s navigation bar. We don’t expect this feature to be particularly valuable to readers — you can read the same articles mixed with commentary on the home page as you always have — but it should increase the blog’s visibility for aggregators of news content. The result should be greater exposure for the blog.

No Bacon post would be complete without a bottom line, and the bottom line is this: Thank you, faithful readers, for supporting the blog financially. Your donations are making a difference.

New Chapter for Bacon’s Rebellion

Today marks the end of a three-year era at Bacon’s Rebellion — the final day of Dominion Energy’s sponsorship of reporting and commentary on energy issues in Virginia. Dominion and I are parting on excellent terms, but I have decided to let the sponsorship expire in order to take the blog in a new direction. One option I am considering is creating a new business model that will allow the blog to become a bigger force in Virginia journalism.

It’s a sad fact that shrinking news staffs and editorial holes in Virginia newspapers are leaving vast gaps in journalistic coverage. Sponsorships over the years gave me the freedom to cover important state boards such as the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, whose activities would have gone largely unreported otherwise. I have reported in-depth about transportation, land use, smart growth, public health, higher education, and the electric grid.

The one-man-blog model allowed me to make a comfortable living doing what I loved to do, but it was impossible to grow. For a long time, I really didn’t care if Bacon’s Rebellion grew — it did what I wanted it to do. But now I worry that Virginia’s newspapers are in meltdown mode. The press corps covering the Governor’s Office and General Assembly is a shadow of its former self. Increasingly, state government agencies are operating in the dark. A handful of statehouse reporters are still doing yeoman’s work, but it’s not clear how long Virginia’s newspapers can continue to employ them.

If newspapers continue their meltdown, who will report the news? Who will hold government accountable?

An emerging model of journalism is based on funding by non-newspapers — conservative government watchdogs or liberal environmental advocates. Agenda-driven journalism is better than no journalism at all, but… it’s agenda driven.

All reporters have biases, conscious or unconscious. I freely acknowledge that I am favorably disposed to limited government and free markets, and I am unfavorably disposed to social engineering. However, I firmly believe that you can’t understand one side of the argument unless you also understand the other side of the argument. Ironically, under my Dominion sponsorship, I felt an obligation to give greater voice to anti-Dominion environmental groups than I might have been inclined to do had I remained an unsponsored commentator. As an aside, while Dominion would pitch stories to me as it did to other reporters, the company never tried to control what I wrote. I question if the backers of agenda-driven journalism will be willing to take the same hands-off approach.

Beginning with the “Big Bacon Fry” event late last year, I have been holding conversations with a variety of people about the future of Bacon’s Rebellion. I have concluded that there is a viable business model for a non agenda-driven publication focused on covering the Virginia statehouse. Such a venture would re-conceptualize reporters from people who report to editors and publish articles in newspapers into people who create a nexus for the flow of information on a chosen topic, such as the future of the electric grid, innovation in transportation, productivity in health care, or something similar. Content would run the gamut of written journalism, commentary, white papers, video presentations, networking luncheons, seminars and conferences.

Another possibility is to reinvent Bacon’s Rebellion as a platform for cranky old men (and women). At 65 years, I’m in a financial position to do whatever I want in “retirement,” and that might include doing what I’ve been doing all along — without the necessity of focusing on subject matter aligned with sponsorships. Steve Haner, who has reached a similar stage in life, already has made a tremendous contribution to Bacon’s Rebellion, adding his valuable perspectives as a former journalist, political operative and lobbyist. Perhaps there are others who would enjoy blogging as a serious retirement activity.

I have some personal decisions to make about how to allocate my time over the next couple of years — I do have a major commitment writing a corporate history — so I may or may not have the bandwidth to oversee a full transformation of the blog. But I am open to talking to and partnering with others. If anyone has thoughts to share, I would love to talk to you.

A Newer, Bigger, Shinier Command Bunker

Bacon’s Rebellion is moving its hidden underground command center to a new, undisclosed location today. This massive logistical effort will entail a temporary diminution of insurgent activity. But have no fear, the blogging of the rebellion will resume shortly.

Welcome Steve Haner to Bacon’s Rebellion

I’m pleased to announce that Stephen D. Haner is joining the ranks of Bacon’s Rebellion contributors. An occasional guest columnist in the past, he will become a more regular presence on the blog.

Steve brings a unique perspective to public policy in Virginia. He started his career as a journalist. When I first met him at the Roanoke Times in the early ’80s, he was a dogged reporter covering the Roanoke County board of supervisors in. He moved on to partisan politics as a Republican Party operative, worked in the Attorney General’s Office, and rounded out his career as a lobbyist, most notably for Huntington Ingalls (owner of Newport News Shipbuilding). In other words, he has observed Virginia sausage making from both the inside and the outside and has few illusions about the process.

Winding down his lobbying practice, Steve has the freedom now to proffer opinions that he once considered prudent to keep to himself. I, for one, look forward to reading what he has to say now that the manacles are off.

— JAB

Still a Few Slots Open for the Big Bacon Fry

The political discourse in the United States just gets nastier. People in the other political tribe aren’t just misguided or informed by different values, they’re ignorant, stupid, lying, evil people out to ruin the country. If you’re a Bacon’s Rebellion reader, you’re probably just as tired of the hyperbolic rhetoric and personal vilification as I am. Fortunately, there’s an antidote — the Big Bacon Fry, the first-ever gathering of Bacon’s Rebellion readers and supporters. Our mission: to get Americans talking civilly to one another again.

Please join me in brainstorming ways to improve the quality of dialogue and debate. We’ll put a couple of concrete ideas on the table: (1) pulling friends together in monthly groups like Richmond’s own West End Eating, Drinking and Bloviating Club to discuss topics of mutual interest, and (2) forming stakeholder groups to tackle tough public policy issues of community and statewide import. But we’re open to ideas of all kinds, and we want to hear them.

The program starts 11:30 a.m., this upcoming Saturday (Dec. 2) at the Westin Hotel in Henrico County, just off Interstate 64. We’ll open with a mix-and-mingle just to get to know one another, and then we’ll get down to business. The meeting ends at 2:30, and you can be on your way. Or you can join me afterwards at the hotel bar!

We still  have a few slots open. If you can make it, please let me know — [email protected] — so I can notify the caterer.

Groupthink Leads to Polarization… Which Leads to Foaming at the Mouth