Posts Tagged ‘Franklin’

COMMENTARY: Attacks on ALEC hypocritical and unfair

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

By Steven Greenhut | Vice President of Journalism

SACRAMENTO — A cadre of liberal groups has decided the scourge of the nation is a little-known conservative organization that provides model legislation to state legislators across the country.

Overheated criticisms of the American Legislative Exchange Council have been echoed throughout the media following the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Fla., because ALEC had advocated the “Stand Your Ground” laws that anti-gun-rights activists blame for the tragic shooting.

The public rap against ALEC is that, as the Atlantic magazine recently explained,  “[I]t’s a shadowy back-room arrangement where corporations pay good money to get friendly legislators to introduce pre-packaged bills in state houses across the country.”

Atlantic highlights ALEC Exposed, a group run by a former Justice Department official who created a wiki site spotlighting more than 800 bills that emanated from the supposed ALEC star chamber. Other groups, including a conspiracy-minded outfit that claims ALEC’s efforts to battle voter fraud are designed to keep black people from voting, have been strong-arming corporate sponsors into abandoning ALEC. Given the backbone-challenged nature of corporate America when it comes to political matters, it’s no surprise the scare tactics are working.

Even ALEC this week announced it is backing away from gun rights and social issues and focusing entirely on free-market economic and business issues. I agree with that decision and personally find “Stand Your Ground” laws to be misguided despite my strong support for gun rights, but it’s too bad these reasonable changes — ones that will bolster the organization in the long run — came across as capitulation. That will only embolden ALEC’s enemies. And those enemies have few good arguments, which is why they spin their conspiratorial yarns and try to make it seem as if ALEC is doing something unethical or unconventional. These leftist critics don’t like ALEC simply because ALEC advocates policies they oppose.

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Cuts are happening in newsrooms across the country. According to the American Journalism Review’s 2009 analysis of statehouse reporters, there were 30 percent less reporters covering government than when last compared to 2003. While there hasn’t been a comparable report since to prove the continuing trend, any seasoned reporter can attest to the continued cuts by walking in a newsroom or a press conference.

This is a threat to democracy.

Read more here.

COMMENTARY: Journalists Still Fighting Old Media Battles

Friday, April 13th, 2012

By VP of Journalism, Steven Greenhut

March 12, 2012

Several years ago, I appeared on a television news show discussing a local political issue with one of the reporters from the newspaper where I worked as a columnist. As our discussion turned to debate, the reporter said, “Steve, the difference between you and me is that I deal in facts and you deal in opinion.” I was stunned, given that she was as opinionated as I am, and my columns were as highly reported and fact-filled as her news reports.

I’ll never forget that encounter because it epitomizes an outlook that’s still common in the journalism profession, especially newspapers. Reporters believe they are professionally trained to be unbiased. They analyze an issue, speak to the interested parties, and produce a report that impartially presents the facts. That people on both sides of the political spectrum often criticize the final work only reinforces to journalists that they are doing their job fairly. But is it true that journalists can be free of bias and that those who admit theirs are not really part of the club?

That question was raised following a Society of Professional Journalists panel dealing with nonprofit news organizations at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association conference in Madison last month. Three of us who work for nonprofit news entities discussed our operations and answered questions. Bill Lueders, of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and Lisa Graves, of the Center for Media and Democracy, were fellow panelists. University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism ethics professor Stephen Ward moderated.

At the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, parent organization of statehouse news agency Wisconsin Reporter, we’re unabashed in our focus. We ask questions from a free-market, pro-taxpayer perspective. We provide all perspectives and follow traditional journalistic standards, but we focus on waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars — on questions that aren’t always asked in the newspaper world. Everyone has a voice. We simply admit ours, so readers can make their own judgment.

But last week, Lueders published a column in several Wisconsin newspapers, including many of the same newspapers that run Wisconsin Reporter content, arguing that not all nonprofit journalistic endeavors are equally legitimate. Franklin and Graves’ center, which focuses on corporate misdeeds, provide a valid function, he argued, “but it’s not what the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism does. We are not just nonpartisan but non-ideological, a distinction worth drawing in this brave new world of nonprofit news.”

This reminds me of the attitude expressed by the reporter I described above. Lueders’ operation does great work and is not partisan, but the stories are based on a clear left-of-center perspective. That perspective is so ingrained in newsrooms that reporters often can’t see it. It’s how almost everyone around them thinks, so their thinking must be unbiased. Lueders also took Franklin Center to task, because we do not reveal the names of our donors unless those donors have publicized it themselves.

There’s nothing nefarious going on and nothing that undermines the veracity of our journalism. Nonprofits typically protect the names of donors. Many donors are afraid of political repercussions. In California, even donors who provided $25 to one controversial initiative found themselves on the receiving end of protests. This scares people. Furthermore, donors often don’t like their donations revealed, because it makes them fundraising targets.

The journalistic integrity issue doesn’t revolve around the revelation of funders. It centers on whether the organization has a strong wall of separation between its funding and its editorial content. I’ve heard many stories from the newspaper world where advertisers made editorial demands. At Franklin, we maintain a strong wall. And we are not partisan, despite some common misconceptions.

“My state of Wisconsin is a testing ground for this partisan assault on journalism,” Ward wrote in an online article that references the Franklin Center’s Madison-based Wisconsin Reporter. “If this activist model works here, these groups are prepared to establish similar services across the country, as they prepare for a presidential election next year.”

Yet Franklin and its journalists don’t support or advocate for a particular party, and we can point to many examples of stories that embarrass Republican politicians. A philosophical point of view does not equal partisan activism. I used to work for a newspaper chain called Freedom Communication. The “Freedom” told readers the fundamental perspective from which the publications approached the world. There’s a reason so many newspapers are called theRepublican or the Democrat or the Independent or the Vindicator. Somewhere along the way, journalists embraced a false ethic of impartiality and many still cling to it.

That ethic often strikes readers as hypocritical. When I was in Madison, for example, I picked up a cover story in the Capital Times featuring the residents who started the recall effort against the Republican governor. It was an interesting read, but it was a glowing celebration of the activists. That story had a clear voice, but the mainstream journalism world still likes to pretend that such opinionated stories are objective.

Most reporters strive to be fair, but they all have a worldview, whether they admit it or not. They typically quote both sides accurately, but the bias comes in the story selection and the basic premise of the reporting itself. I knew many reporters where I worked and they almost always strived to be fair, but they often reminded me of that New York reporter who famously declared that Richard Nixon could not possibly have won the election. She didn’t know a single person who voted for him. Groupthink is common in all professions, including newspapers.

H.L. Mencken once quipped that freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one. Now anyone can own their own press, given the availability of inexpensive blogging platforms. The new media has changed the journalism world. Broadcast news has changed dramatically too, with the growth in cable news programming and myriad programs with distinct points of view. Yet many journalists are still trying to determine who is a “real” journalist and who is an impostor and impose a false standard of objectivity. Even worse than biased stories that pretend to be fair are those that strive so mightily to show no biases that they end up being boring or fail to provide the necessary back story and perspective that readers need.

At Franklin, we publish news stories and investigative pieces on our own Web sites and publish in traditional media sources. We love the old media and the new media. But we don’t hide from who we are. The emerging new media world is changing the face of journalism. Reporters should embrace this vibrant new world rather than try to fight the pointless battles from the past.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is based in Sacramento, Calif.

Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity: Wisconsin U.S. Senate debate Of Republican candidates utilizes social media to engage citizens

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity: Wisconsin U.S. Senate debate Of Republican candidates utilizes social media to engage citizens

Contact: Mary Ellen Beatty, (224) 381-9459
[email protected]

Citizens asked to submit debate questions to candidates via social media platforms

WAUKESHA, WIS. – As more and more citizens turn to social media and online resources to gather information and news, the Wisconsin U.S. Senate Debate of Republican candidates scheduled for this Wednesday will feature questions submitted by citizens via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Starting today and leading up to the debate on April 11, citizens can submit their most pressing questions to U.S. Senate candidates Jeff Fitzgerald, Eric Hovde, Mark Neumann and Kip Smith. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson declined the invitation to participate.

“If we want citizens to be engaged in public debate, we need to meet them on their own terms,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. “The way citizens consume news and information is trending toward social media outlets, and journalists need to make an effort to incorporate these changes or risk losing the very audience they claim to serve.”

Read more here.

Will Swaim Joins Steven Greenhut To Expose Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Friday, April 6th, 2012

OC Weekly Blog

Can two past journalism enemies join together in common cause?

The answer is yes based on the relatively new union between Will SwaimOC Weekly‘s founding editor, and Steven Greenhut, the longtime lead editorial writer and columnist for crosstown rival Orange County Register.

Greenhut is nowadays vice president of journalism at the Virginia-based Franklin Center for Government & PublicIntegrity and Swaim is now the managing editor of the organization’s nationwide news operations.

Greenhut, the nemesis of public employee labor unions, works from Sacramento; Swaim works from Irvine.

The Franklin Center–which was established in 2009 and is run by former North Dakota Republican Party executive director and Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign operative Jason Stverak–aims to provide “fresh, original, hard-hitting news content” that focuses on investigations of local, state and federal government.

Read more here.

Socialism Won’t Fix California’s Struggling Public Utilities

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Golden State activists want the government to take over the water companies.

Orginially posted on

By Steven Greenhut, Franklin Center’s VP of Journalism

Faced with rising water rates, some politicians and community activists in Southern California are revisiting a fundamental question that most of us thought had been answered by the collapse of the Soviet Union: Is government the most efficient way to provide services?

We know of the poor quality of products and services provided by government monopolies. Yet officials in Stanton and Claremont think otherwise. They have discussed spending tens of millions of tax dollars to “buy” their water systems from a private water company that doesn’t want to sell them. To make matters worse, their efforts would require the use—some would say the abuse—of the power of eminent domain to acquire the properties by force. Taxpayers will be on the hook for all of this.

Read more here.

Pew state pension, retirement crisis update shows $3 trillion sneak-a-tax

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

By FRANK KEEGAN – Look past Page 1 of the latest Pew Center on the States’ update of retirement promise shortfalls, and you will get an idea how huge it really is. Right now citizens are on the hook for at least a $3 trillion sneak-a-tax increase that is getting bigger fast. Leaders must be honest with the people, or we are doomed to eternal debt.


Happy 20th birthday Web, grow strong and free!

Monday, December 20th, 2010

By Frank Keegan – Twenty years ago on Christmas Day the World Wide Web was born on the desk of its father, Tim Berners-Lee. While the father is known though by few the mothers are too many to list. What we do not yet know is whether we can form this greatest communications advance in half a millennium into a force for good or evil.