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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gazette a Government Watchdog? Not Even Close

The Sunday edition of the Janesville Gazette contained an editorial about our need for newspapers and the important role they play watchdogging the government. The editor also used the recent L.A. Times article about Bell City (CA) officials granting themselves huge salaries as an example of good newspaper work. I agree, but good newspapers also have sharp investigative and analysis reporting and are not beholden to their advertisers, socio-political environment or economy. That leaves the Gazette out.

Genuinely good newspapers are the ones suffering or folding because subscriptions aren't enough and local officials, businesses and corporations will not financially support anything that might run counter to their own propaganda. That means market-based tabloids like the Gazette, with all of their deliberately disjointed information, the regurgitation of local government responses without challenge, anonymous rumor columns and propaganda in defense of the local establishment players, will go along to get along and continue to do well profit-wise despite the internet's competition or the poor economy. Of course having a pure monopoly on local news doesn't hurt either.

For the four years I've been blogging, what the Gazette has mistaken for government watchdogging is nothing more than their version of chasing down a few troubled individuals, school teachers and other non-elected workers in the public sector along with digging into the personalities and private lives of local democrats. They want to dig through HR computer e-mails after a public-sector worker has either been disciplined or fired - but not before. That's it.

What the Gazette does not do is exactly what L.A. Times did to blow the lid off of Bell city officials salaries. The L.A. Times open records requests were not part of a mission to carry out the death wish from an anonymous tipster or a political operative. Instead they were made as part of a broader investigation looking at public pay in the region. Secondly, the L.A. Times followed the money - instead of targeting an individual. That gives great credibility to the L. A. Times and their story.

In a previous post about our watchdog newspaper, I suggested (not like I thought they would actually take them) that the Gazette drop their vendetta style of watchdogging and instead look for fraud and criminal activity in all departments of local government - not just one individual or one department, and report the findings. I also suggested the paper should connect all the individuals and private interests working behind the scenes in local government to their political and personal business activities - find out who's who, connect the dots and follow the money. Start with members of the Rock County 5.0, get into Forward Janesville and work out from there. You'd be amazed at what you might find. Report all discoveries regardless of party affiliation.

Obviously, those suggestions didn't go over too well simply because the Gazette is a passive player in much of the local activity and they willingly turn a blind eye towards associates AND they are afraid to offend and lose advertisers. Any which way, the newspaper is part of the problem.

I'm not bragging here folks. In fact this is more a sad testament to our captured local media than anything else, but this blog is the only citizen/blogging source in the Rock County area that challenges local reporting and in doing so I have uncovered nearly a dozen very problematic events if not outright scandals involving the city, the county and the local media over the past several years. Nearly all of them were discovered by using basic reading, comprehension and observation skills reviewing newspaper articles, television reports and public meetings. No staff and no funding. Unfortunately, I may have missed dozens more.

So yes, good newspapers do keep a watchful eye on government. But what does that have to do with the Janesville Gazette?

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