Who’s Watching the Richmond Media? Community weeklies diverge on news council idea

Part I of a Two-Part Series

Greg Pearson does not particularly care for the Richmond Times-Dispatch or NBC-12. Actually, Pearson is not a big fan of Media General or many of the corporate media conglomerates. The publisher and editor of the Chesterfield Observer, one of two community newsweeklies covering Virginia’s fourth-largest locality, Pearson believes that local news issues suffer a lack of coverage by such large media corporations. As a response, Person regularly uses his editorials and his “Media Watch” column to chastise the larger news outlets for what he considers to be shabby treatment of Chesterfield news.

In Pearson’s mind, the situation with Media General is drastic enough to mandate an institutional response. For quite some time, he has been beating the drums for the creation of an outside intermediary organization to serve as a watchdog for fairness and accuracy in coverage, especially of news in his hometown. Called a “news council,” this group would field complaints, conduct investigation and serve as a sounding board for citizen, business, and government criticism of the local press.

According to Pearson, “the news council idea is not an original one. I first inquired about it in 1997 when I heard about it and contacted the Minnesota News Council. I spoke with Gary Gilson (the Minnesota group’s executive director) who said it would be announced what markets are given a grant [by the Knight Foundation] to get a news council started.”

What Pearson is referring to is the Knight Foundation, a national grant-making institution founded by the men who started what the Knight-Ridder media empire. In June, Knight awarded two $75,000 grants to emerging news councils in Southern California and New England to assist with start-up costs. According to a Knight press release, “News councils are independent, nonprofit organizations that promote trusted journalism by investigating accuracy and fairness complaints against news outlets. They help determine the facts involved in these disputes, and provide open forums where citizens and journalists can discuss media ethics, standards and performance.”


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