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Debates were worth covering

Date: 9/20/2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I have real concerns about the future and effectiveness of democracy on the local level and it’s not a right versus left issue. It’s not an issue about one party-rule.

It’s about the media, and no, it’s not about the dreaded liberal bias — sorry FOX News fans.

It’s about what stories get play and why they are chosen for presentation to consumers.

As Walt Kelly once said, speaking through his creation Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

On Sept. 13, I sat at American International College (AIC) for the second candidates’ forum hosted by the college and organized by the McKnight Neighborhood Council. Springfield voters must pick a mayor this year, one of whom will be serving the first four-year term in the city’s history.

There are three viable candidates — Domenic Sarno, the incumbent, City Council President Jose Tosado and School Committee member Antonette Pepe. This is an important election and the last opportunity for the three candidates to speak to each other.

The first forum attracted CBS3 and myself in terms of mainstream media for coverage.

The Republican and the other television and radio stations elected not to cover it.

The second forum at AIC brought myself, The Republican and abc40, the latter of which stayed for the opening statements, perhaps the most useless part of the evening.

Where was everyone else who covers Springfield?

There are folks in this area who have championed the idea that a small army of citizen journalists writing in blogs could take the place of traditional media. Make no mistake I have the greatest respect for people who donate their time to cover events in their community. I’m proud of friendships I have with several of them and respect their work.

But in our area, bloggers aren’t enough and many stories either go uncovered or under-covered.

The reason is two-fold in most cases. With almost every media outlet operating in our market there is a problem with resources and budgets. The simple fact is that the advertising base has changed over the years and the invasion of national chains that don’t advertise much locally has hurt local media.

We’re not alone. This happens in markets across the nation and this newspaper group is affected by the same dynamics.

Money influences coverage. If you don’t have the budget to have reporters at the time news happens, then the news doesn’t get covered. Case in point: I don’t have the budget to send reporters to weekend events.

Now I’m willing to speak about this candidly, but the illusion some other outlets want to put forth is they are everywhere all the time. They are not.

The other factor is the news appeal of the story. The most subjective part of the news business is picking stories and then determining how they are going to be presented.

For instance, running a weather forecast three or four times in a newscast is both a choice — do viewers really want that? — and a way to save money. It’s cheap to repeat.

Elections are something, at least in this market, that gets the greatest play in their final weeks. Television stations make a huge deal about their election night coverage, but do relatively little — yes, there are some exceptions, such as WGBY — with in-depth coverage of elected officials and issues.

They don’t cover campaigns as much as they cover conclusions. Perhaps talking about issues isn’t sexy enough for the tube, although confronting people in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble about their opinions on national events seems to be a staple of some local newscasts.

For local democracy to shine, the press must do its duty. Its resources should be zeroed in on the stories that truly matter.

For our readers in Springfield, I hope the coverage we have been able to present will be of some help to you as you cast your vote. That’s our job and voting is your job.

Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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