Friday, January 01, 2010

Best and Worst of State and Local Political Media, 2009

List-mania is alive and well in Maryland and everywhere else, as everyone and their Aunt Ethel are issuing lists left and right. But no one else is offering a list like this: the best and worst of state and local political media over the past year.

Best Mainstream Media (MSM) Political Reporter

We still miss the Gazette’s Janel Davis and the Examiner’s Kathleen Miller, both of whom are no longer covering local politics. But we are going with Post reporter John Wagner, who has been following Annapolis for five years. Wagner gives you the meat and potatoes of state political reporting – who, what, when, where and why. Other reporters may throw a few morsels on the plate, but statehouse political coverage starts with the steady, objective writing provided by Wagner.

Runner-up: The Examiner’s Alan Suderman, who delights in uncovering misbehavior in local government. Suderman picked up one of the best quotes of the year from County Executive spokesman Patrick Lacefield, who responded to a question about a county-funded $25,000 staff retreat by sputtering, “Are you really asking me that question?”

Best New MSM Political Reporter

The Post’s Jonathan Mummolo, who has substantially improved the paper’s reporting on Prince George’s County politics. Now all the Post has to do is find five more Mummolos and they might have a shot at doing that county justice.

Best MSM Column

This one is easy: Blair Lee’s epic and touching column on his old foe, former Baltimore Mayor and Governor William Donald Schaefer. We know that some of you liberals don’t agree with Lee, but you really should read his work because of his unequaled LONG memory of state politics.

Runner-up: Barry Rascovar’s comparison of Governor O’Malley to Dracula.

Worst MSM Columns

Most material appearing on the Sun’s Second Opinion site, which has five contributors and just ten Google subscribers (one of whom is your author). Most of this stuff is pure opinion without additional original research. The Sun’s editors need to understand what the best bloggers already know: no one cares what your opinions are! Readers primarily want new information. This experiment by the Sun is failing because almost no one is interested.

Best Move by the MSM

Last summer, the Post’s Maryland Moment blog was moribund and rarely publishing new content. But Aaron Davis turned the blog around by creating First Click, possibly the most thorough daily aggregator of state and local political stories in Maryland. The success of First Click is that it creates the illusion that the Post is offering more content by linking to everyone else’s work when the Post is actually producing less content in-house. But site visits are site visits, and lots of first clicks are going to Davis’s picks.

Runner-up: The Sun editors chose to let go of transportation reporter Mike Dresser’s leash and he mutated into “Baltimore Guy,” the ranting MoCo basher who excoriates the I-270 project and protects the rest of the state from our alleged arrogance. Few MoCo insiders will ever see Dresser as an “objective” reporter again, but that is beside the point. Dresser’s anti-MoCo screeds are refreshingly honest and should warn our politicians about how the rest of the state feels about us. One of our favorite spies paid Baltimore Guy the ultimate compliment recently, fuming, “I HATE Mike Dresser.” Mike, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Worst Move by the MSM

Hands down, the Washington Post’s colossal Boy King scandal. The Post’s hiring of a non-resident, crazed, ignorant intern to write local editorials totally destroyed its credibility with Maryland’s political community. Even worse, the Post continued to let the Boy King run amok for five months(!) after we broke the story, revealing its utter contempt for Maryland readers.

Runner-up #1: The Sentinel’s hiring of Republican activist Glynis Kazanjian as a “reporter” while overlooking her continuing advocacy for the GOP.

Runner-up #2: Massive turnover at the Post and the Gazette.

Runner-up #3: The MSM’s uncritical, pack-animal coverage of the Dana Beyer-Duchy Trachtenberg-KGB story. None of them bothered to look into whether Beyer’s allegations had any credibility at all. The MSM needs to remember that part of its job is to investigate allegations, not merely transcribe them.

Best New Blog

Yes, we know that Darkness Rising started in December 2008, but the blog did not gain recognition until last year. Former Ehrlich hatchet man Joe “Prince of Darkness” Steffen is hilarious, more than slightly deranged and better connected to the GOP establishment than any other blogger in the state. The only problem is that he just doesn’t post often enough. Everybody should put aside their preconceptions, visit this blog at least once a week and laugh along with the rest of us.

Runner-up: Nobody. There are actually fewer good political blogs in Maryland today than there were in 2006.

Best Move by Online Media/Blogs

Annapolis Capital Punishment author Paul Foer changed the course of that city’s mayoral election with his dynamite scoop about Democratic nominee Zina Pierre’s legal problems. The MSM exploded without mercy and Pierre had no choice but to bail. Few if any blog posts have ever had a bigger impact on Free State local politics than this one.

Runner-up: MPW contributor Paul Gordon’s scoop on MTA spying, which generated successful pressure from the Sun’s Mike Dresser to abandon the practice.

Worst Move by Online Media/Blogs’s failure to acknowledge its conservative funding. Look guys, the secret is out. Why not admit that your money is coming from far right-wing organizations but say that you are still trying to be objective? Ignoring our research just raises even more questions.

Runner-up: The failure of many blogs to provide publicly-available site visit statistics. Come on bloggers, what are you hiding? Everybody knows that most blogs have almost no readers so you may as well fess up.

Best Politician at Driving the Media

Has anybody ever been better at this than Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39)? Whether it’s hustling the MSM for glowing editorials on his Legislative Sunshine bill, arranging for stacks of letters to the Gazette targeting potential primary opponent Senator Nancy King, writing four(!) anti-King guest blogs or directing his legions of Facebook friends to read articles about him and vote for him in online polls, Ali does it all. He makes no distinction between media formats. If anything - paper, radio or web-based - is discussing state politics, Saqib Ali is on it like butter on toast.

Runner-up: No one, because nobody else is on Ali’s level. Here’s a quick idea for how Ali could raise money: he should hold a workshop for candidates about how to deal with both old and new media, as well as social networking sites, and charge $500 attendance fees. Every smart politician in the state would ante up and Ali would have more money than E.J. Pipkin.

Worst Politician at Driving the Media

First, the state prosecutor’s gift card theft indictment made Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon look like a Charm City Marie Antoinette. Then she refused to testify at her trial and cut off most comments to the media, which just compounded her problems. In the wake of her conviction, she desperately clings to power in a state of complete denial. The narrative of her character over the past year, that of a haughty and selfish politician, was eagerly promoted by the media but was in fact fashioned by the mayor herself.

Runner-up: Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan built a bully pulpit that has been lost in the basement by his successor, Ike Leggett. Leggett is an immensely intelligent and likable man who could wrap local reporters around his finger if he gave them access. Instead, he has taken a back seat to the Council Presidents – especially Phil Andrews - who are well served by able press officer Neil Greenberger. No executive should ever be overshadowed by a legislative leader unless such leader is named Mike Miller.

So that’s 2009. How well will the media perform in 2010? We’ll find out in a year!