Success and quality demand recognition, so congratulations to the folks at Virginia Mercury for one year of e-publication. It represents the future of journalism, which is nothing short of tragic.
Not that a deep progressive bent (or conservative for that matter) has been unknown in journalism. Most of the great early publications had political backers, and truly independent reporting has been largely mythical. Everything old is new again.
I remember years ago learning that the page layout mock-ups marked certain advertising blocks so, for example, no story would be placed about lung cancer on the page selling Marlboros, or the plane crash wouldn’t be reported next to the Piedmont Airlines ad. But with those ads for all to see, we knew who was paying the bills for the daily output of The Roanoke Times. We have no idea who is paying the bills and potentially pulling the strings at the new internet periodicals and dailies.
What is going on with the Virginia Mercury is part of a major trend, with the progressive groups apparently far ahead of conservatives. This account published by Capitol Research tracks the history and growth of the movement, a debatable account but impossible to just dismiss. If those who view any tax preferences as a “subsidy” are correct, then the 501(c) status enjoyed by Virginia Mercury and its financial supporters means we are all paying the bill for their messaging.
And it’s well done, often solid reporting by people who in an earlier time would be (and were) part of a commercial daily paper’s staff. But mixed in is plenty of commentary, and even in the “news” content the very choice of stories shows a clear pattern. Today’s home page includes an environmental commentary column by one of my fellow Dominion critics placed at the top of the daily list.
Her column will get far more readership than anything I wrote will, for one simple reason – VPAP. VPAP’s daily linked summary of Virginia coverage drives many readers to Virginia Mercury.
The way that Virginia Mercury’s news content is accepted and re-distributed by the Virginia Public Access Project, but news content from Bacon’s Rebellion remains blackballed, is not just a sore point but a lingering sign of partisan bias. My friends at VPAP are tired of hearing it. Well, they keep doing it, they will keep hearing it. Bacon’s Rebellion with its long comment strings is far more balanced than Virginia Mercury (if poorly resourced.) Our reporting is often solid, too (as evidenced by the many times our stories get re-done. It happened again today.)
A year in, the success of Virginia Mercury has failed to inspire a similar effort with a more conservative bent covering Virginia. The conservative blogs are dominated by reprinted party press releases, personal rants and the ancient and abiding internal feud between the two wings of the conservative movement, those who want ideological purity and those who like to actually win now and then. Reporting is not their goal. There is an e-journal, The Center Square, with one reporter writing occasional Virginia stories, but so far it hasn’t shown much enterprise. I haven’t seen VPAP pick up its content, either.
So only one team is really on the field, and since Virginia Mercury is not bat-crap crazy and filled with partisan hate like Blue Virginia tends to be on occasion, it probably continues to grow in readership and influence. Which is the American way. As the old joke goes, after the other team runs five unopposed plays and scores, the GOP might finally enter this new game.