Our national print media is, generally speaking, hopelessly left-wing. The same is often true of the local press in many places, and the public rarely has recourse to an impartial alternative.
Take, for example, the struggling Pioneer Press in suburban Chicago, owned by the Sun-Times. Its affiliates are the main news sources in many communities in Illinois’s 9th congressional district, where I challenged incumbent Democrat Jan Schakowsky.
Throughout the 2010 election–and in its aftermath–the Pioneer Press did all it could to instruct readers to support Schakowsky. The Evanston Review, which is distributed in Schakowsky’s home town, was particularly bad. In July, for example, the same article that appeared in other papers as “Campaign cash flows for Schakowsky and Pollak” appeared in Evanston under the headline: “Campaign cash flows for Schakowsky, foe.”
Elsewhere, Pioneer affiliates provided gushing coverage of Schakowsky’s appearances, while ignoring Pollak For Congress events entirely. We held large town hall meetings in Evanston, Skokie, and Park Ridge (twice) with a combined attendance of nearly 1,000 people. Though my campaign made great efforts to invite and accommodate local print media, the only coverage we received was a solitary article in the Chicago Jewish Star.
By contrast, Schakowsky’s smallest and most insignificant appearances enjoyed lavish and excessive attention from Pioneer Press affiliates.
In April, the Skokie Review published a long article about Schakowsky’s visit to a local school. In addition to the picture that ran with the article, the editors ran a staff photograph of the incumbent speaking to children in another section of the paper normally reserved for photo submissions by readers.
Both candidates submitted answers to questions, which the Pioneer Press published over several weeks prior to Election Day. Yet Schakowsky’s answers always ran on top in the print edition, and only her answers were published online.
The Pioneer Press’s post-election coverage has continued in the same vein. In its most recent article, the Evanston Review cites Schakowsky’s camp falsely accusing my campaign of personal attacks, “screaming and bluster.” The author made no attempt to obtain a comment from our side.
Other local papers were almost as bad. On September 1, 2010, my campaign held the single largest Republican fundraiser in the history of a Chicago congressional race, at the famous Four Seasons hotel. Our featured guest was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), one of our America’s most brilliant and exciting future leaders. That same day, Schakowsky visited a vacant lot in Evanston, promising a federal earmark for low-income housing.
Guess which received more coverage?
Schakowsky’s vacant-lot story ran on the front page of area papers for three weeks, while every reporter who committed to covering our fundraiser canceled on us. (We received some creative excuses: the Sun-Times reporter wrote to say that he had locked himself out of his garage and couldn’t make it.) Over the next two months, only the suburban Daily Herald – read in a small part of the district–gave the race fair attention.
There is a severe gap in fair, balanced local print coverage of politics–which is why a new outlet, Patch.com, has a bright future.
Run by AOL, Patch uses local stringers/bloggers to provide “hyperlocal” coverage within a national network. Aside from the conservative local bloggers who showed up at all of our events, Patch correspondents provided the only consistent campaign coverage.
Patch writers devoted equal time to both major candidates, and almost always asked each for quotes in response to the claims of the other. They generally kept their news reporting separate from their editorial views, and focused on the basic task of informing the public about the choice voters would enjoy in November.
In 2010, the Patch stringers were more professional than the professionals. As local presses falter, Patch may provide a long-overdue alternative to replace them–not just because of its cost-effective online format, but because it is faithful to the journalistic ethic that the local media establishment has abandoned.