Flemming: Is Vermont media coverage really worse today?

By David Flemming

On June 7, John Walters posted a piece titled, “What We’ve Lost” on his blog, the Vermont Political Observer, which he describes as “Analysis and observation of Vermont politics from a liberal viewpoint.” Many Vermonters enjoyed Walters “Fair Game” column in Seven Days from 2016-19, which gave us a weekly update on the goings on at the Statehouse.

His piece begins:

“Why doesn’t the press cover __________?” is a question I’m often asked. There are a few answers, depending on context. Sometimes the press has covered it, but not as extensively or impactfully as you’d like. Sometimes there’s no coverage because it’s not that much of a story. But the most accurate answer is, “WHAT press?” Go back, say, ten years (2012). Not that long ago. The Associated Press had three reporters. The Burlington Free Press had at least two reporters at the Statehouse and covering state politics. The Times Argus and Rutland Herald had a three-person Statehouse bureau. Seven Days had three, and they’d deploy more if the need arose. VPR had two. WCAX and WPTZ each had a deeply experienced Statehouse/politics reporter full-time, and WVNY/WFFF usually had a young reporter on the beat most of the time.”

2012 doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was clearly an entirely different landscape in Vermont. Walters breaks down what he sees as the state of the Vermont political media landscape:

“The AP has two reporters, and they barely spend any time at the Statehouse. The Free Press has thrown in the towel on covering state news, focusing entirely on its home city. The T-A/Herald Statehouse bureau is no more. Seven Days has two reporters, and its “Fair Game” column has been shuttered for almost a full year. VPR has one full-timer plus part of Bob Kinzel. The three TV stations will send a reporter when they think there’s news, but trolling the Statehouse isn’t really a thing for them. Digger, for all the additions it’s made to its press corps, no longer has any political columnists on the payroll.

Finally, the media echo chamber is a lot smaller. That’s crucial because a single report rarely blows the doors off a big story, just as a single pebble produces nothing more than a few ripples. There has to be follow-up, preferably by multiple outlets that can bring the story to different audiences and explore other aspects of the story. A small and overburdened press corps means it’s much less likely that a story will catch on and reverberate widely. It will effectively disappear. We’re damned lucky in Vermont to have VTDigger.”

The echo chamber is indeed small. Walters points to VTDigger as the one bright spot in a dismal situation of political press coverage. While Vermont is probably better off with Digger than without it, VTDigger certainly has a ideological bias.

Ten years ago, Vermont’s much larger press corps was almost unanimous in its liberal viewpoints. In his gushing over VTDigger, Walters neglects to mention the most positive media development of the past few years: the inception of conservative media in Vermont. Both Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports come at Vermont political news from a self-admittedly conservative viewpoint. While Vermont media is, on the whole, much smaller in terms of the numbers of reporters and story coverage than 10 years ago (a negative), the reporters are a more ideologically diverse lot (a positive). This is especially important when the more liberal party has a near-supermajority and can project a media narrative around just about any issue. This is why such media diversity is something to celebrate.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my EAI’s roll call analysis and roll call profiles, which my old boss Rob Roper began in 2013, 9 years ago. Ten years ago, Vermonters could read pages and pages of news coverage, but wouldn’t really have a good idea whether or not their legislators were voting on the issues they cared about most on the whole. To my knowledge, no other Vermont media outlet has followed EAI’s lead, despite the clear demand for legislative accountability.

So yes, it is a shame that Vermont’s press corps has shrunk so drastically in the past 10 years ago. But there are bright spots that I think John Walters’ liberal perspective has blinded him to.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Public domain

5 thoughts on “Flemming: Is Vermont media coverage really worse today?

  1. The reason the ‘press corps’ has shrunk is because journalism has changed – dramatically. Everyone is a journalist these days. And John Walters is a creature of personal perceptions like everyone else.

    When I was in journalism school (50+ years ago), objectivity was emphasized – and even then, I could see the tendency for change. For example, consider Marshall Mcluhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’.

    John Walters’ self-righteous indignation can praise organizations like VTD one minute and muckrake them the next, claiming for example that when VTD fired him, it was because he was trying to organize a worker’s union. Which is perhaps, true. Imagine that. VTD – anti-worker. Go figure.

    Re: “To my knowledge, no other Vermont media outlet has followed EAI’s lead, despite the clear demand for legislative accountability.”

    Really? It seems to me that liberal progressives and the conservative right will turn on a dime before they accept responsibility for what they say and do – after all, are Vermont Daily Chronicle, or TNR, not Vermont media outlets demanding legislative accountability too?

    At least Mr. Walters still accepts comments on his blog, as does the EAI. And Guy Page and David Flemming identify themselves without hiding behind pseudonyms when they comment. There is honor in that. But Mr. Walters’ opinions are no better or worse than anyone else’s – including Mr. Flemming’s, Mr. Page’s, or mine.

    What matters is access to data, the sunlight of observation, and our freedom of speech.

  2. Thank you True North…….this is most appreciated by so many…I continue referrals to all I make contact with…..

  3. BTW John — Talk about being “beat up”, at least you weren’t “branded” as I was for 1st “having racist comments & questions” in the Guv.’s “COVID Conferences”, then the VERY NEXT DAY, when they realized there were NO “racist comments & questions”, they quickly pivoted to my reporting for NEKTV as being “Hobby News” (whatever THAT is)..Scott & Levine just did NOT like my well researched questions about their USELESS biz-killing “Lockdowns” and their so-called “Data & Science” which now seem neither..After NINE MONTHS they YANK my press credentials and for those TWO lame excuses? NEKTV had people calling & e-mailing from ALL over this state w/their own questions but the BIGGEST laugh-fest of ALL was when I requested the state’s “snitch line” files & read them on TV, people soon forget Guv Biz-Kill Phil’s using the POLICE to strong-arm small businesses into “compliance” with their MANDATES in their “All Hazard Event” which did NOTHING to affect the spread of that virus & the HIGH numbers of “Vaccinated” people getting, spreading, and being hospitalized despite their promises..I sure hope we NEVER allow anything like THAT to happen again..When the Administration CANCELS citizen reporters & the “friendly” press corps do NOTHING you know group-think is alive & well..

  4. Funny that when the Martin family owned WCAX you could count on “Marsupial Parsons” giving a “conservative” slant on the “news”, now? Now it seems like “Gay Pride Month” EVERY day & the BFP (“Bummington Free Press”) has shrunk to 4 pages in 2 sections each that seems to focus on Microbreweries & assorted drivel in front & Bookie stat’s (“Tipico”) in sports & comics in the rear..NO “Day In Court”, NO arrests & police reports, absolutely NO more “Letters To The Editor” ( cannot bother to hear from the LOCALS!) just pap & drivel daily (except saturdays!)..I kept a Sept. 12th 2001 edition for “posterity” & what a DIFFERENCE between THEN and NOW..Gannett took a GREAT little daily & RUINED it..The alternative? “Digger” for the Lib’s on Vt.’s West Coast and, thanks to Mike here & Guy Page, we finally have an ALTERNATIVE and ones that WELCOME comments from their readers, something “Digger” REFUSED to allow when they SAW Vt.’s readers weren’t as “Liberal” as they make out..Thanks to these TWO guys WE have REAL access to the news we can use..But at least, for NOW, WCAX still DOES show the mugshots on TV that the “papers” refuse to print as it’s “Un-PC”…BIG thanks to Mike & Guy, please donate if you can..

  5. I agree with John Walters about the paucity of state news coverage, that is largely the result of declining economic viability of daily newspapers. I also agree with David about the value of TNR and VDC . In my long years of being active in public affairs, I can only remember TWO daily newspaper reporters at the state level who weren’t all-in liberal, and in many cases well left of liberal. Going further back (to 1970) there was also one outspokenly right wing reporter, for Loeb’s Burlington Daily News, who regularly beat up on ME, for Pete’s sake, for being too kind to liberals. The paper folded not long after and she went to her (dubious) reward.

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