Who’s watching the Richmond Media: A Theme with Two Variations

A few weeks back, the Richmond Times-Dispatch was the subject of several unflattering portrayals at the hands of Richmond leading alternative weekly paper, Style Weekly (owned by Media General Competitor Landmark Communications). Sensing blood in the water, opponents of the venerable daily gleefully jumped upon the anti-RTD bandwagon. Though it contained some intriguing insights, especially about the “gag order” that RTD reporters operate under, the Style piece presented in a somewhat conspiratorial manner what would actually be a rather typical occurrence in any other industry. With the RTD having a new senior management team, a number of changes are in motion producing shifts in corporate culture.

Though I am not a journalist (but I do play one in the blogosphere), I dare say that when other major corporations (think GE, Wachovia, Home Depot, etc) undergo significant leadership changes against a backdrop of shifting industry dynamics and emerging competition from unforeseen corners (like blogs), life gets a bit hairy for the worker bees (those would be the journalists). As the RTD is basically the biggest dog in the local media kennel, what inevitably happens is that the smaller dogs like Style Weekly, Richmond.com, Richmond Magazine, Richmond Free Press, Chesterfield Observer, and various bloggers nip at their heels from time to time. Such is the nature of competition in a market economy.

With only passing knowledge of the internal operations of the RTD (and most other newspapers and media companies for that matter), I frankly had no pressing need to discover any of the “dirt” over there. Still knowing that journalists with media outfits constantly endure an existential crisis with respect to practicing their craft inside a bottom-line oriented business concern, watching the cannibalistic feeding frenzy that emerged from the Style pieces and the general changes afoot at the RTD have been fascinating. With my own community paper joining in the hit parade, renewing its call for a media monitoring entity – or news council – it seems like a good time to do a little poking and prodding around the periphery of the local media.

What emerged is a lengthy, two-part series – which will be featured on both South of the James and Bacon’s Rebellion – about watch-dogging the Metro Richmond media market that will run starting, tomorrow, Tuesday, September 12, 2006.

Despite my best efforts to cut them down into more bite-size kernels, the quotes, comments, and insights that I gleaned from talking with various people from the area’s community media and blogging worlds all deserved their day in the court of public opinion. Limiting the universe somewhat helped keep it manageable.

As journalism legend Charles Kuralt once noted, By contrast with the Yankee, the Southerner never uses one word when ten or twenty will do.” The article that follow are the end result of what happens when a selected group of Richmond-area bloggers and alternative media types are given free reign to make open-ended commentary on the subject of local media bias and what actions can and should be taken to correct it. Of course, because this is the blogosphere, these articles are not the end of the line for this subject by any means. As this is a recurring theme for both South of the James and Bacon’s Rebellion, expect to see more on this subject, just maybe not as wordy! Feel free to make comments on either or both sites, and as always, if you want to chat off-line, holler at me via conaway@gmail.com.

— Conaway

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4 responses to “Who’s watching the Richmond Media: A Theme with Two Variations”

  1. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    Why can’t the Richmond Free Press post their paper online? They could scan it to PDF for all I care. I’d like to be able to access it…

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    No offense, but your spiel is wrongheaded on its faceL Journalism is not at all like other professions you have listed.

    You don’t find it hypocritical that reporters will be going out and “getting dirt” by asking questions of politicans and public figures while, at the same time, refusing to answer basic questions themselves?

    No offense, but this completely misses the point of what good journalism is supposed to be. These are the people who are supposed to be the watchdogs. They shouldn’t also be watched?

  3. Conaway B. Haskins III Avatar
    Conaway B. Haskins III


    This was an introduction to a piece on that very point – the need for the media itself to be the subject of watchdogging. My point about the “dirt” at the RTD was that *I* personally felt no strong inclination to know the inside baseball except to the extent that it affects coverage. If others want to dig it, have at it.

    The griping about the “profession” is merely a reflection of the constant tension between the business of journalism and the craft of being a journalist. The media isn’t special.

    Feel free to disagree with my entire effort before reading 3/4s of it. Maybe if you come back tomorrow and read the rest, you’ll get a better sense of what I’m getting at. If not, so be it.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    No, no – please: No censorship here. Write what you want. And I’ll read it with an open mind. But when your premise seems inherently flawed (that journalism is the same kind of business as the examples you cited), you are operating under a real disadvantage going in. Maybe I misunderstood your intro here.

    Here’s what will help: In your piece, will you let us know what you think is snippy “inside baseball” and what are legitimate questions? I mean: please provide specific examples in the coverage of the recent Times-Dispatch controversies.

    I think questions about a newspaper’s own media policy (and the way it treats its employees) is more than fair game for the rest of the media to report on. For instance, do you think a newspaper is obligated to report news to its own readers that is reported nationally and that casts a critical eye on the newspaper’s management. If not, why not?

    How about when the town’s daily newspaper sends out a public notice that would seem to indicate that the mainstream media in Richmond sucks? Aren’t they kind of indicting themselves, since the newspaper represents the mainstream media? And is that public notice and public admission fair game as news — especially when the public notice is suddenly pulled without explanation?

    I look forward to the piece. I just want to make sure you don’t think journalism is the same as making toaster ovens.

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