Is the Lansing State Journal on its death bed and why should we care?
For the past couple of decades a good conversation-starter has always been about how poorly the State Journal covers the local area.Â It worked whether you were in a coffee shop, a bar, at church or in the grocery store.
Now the issue of the State Journal’s continued existence takes on fresh meaning as the paper gets thinner and thinner in its coverage of just about anything.Â The buzz around town and the perception by reading it is that the paper is struggling for its life.
Will it be a loss for our community if and when it stops publishing?
Now keep in mind that the historical role of the news media is to keep public officials at all levels accountable.Â The role of newspapers in our culture has been vital to our democracy in keeping readers informed by being their eyes and ears.Â When they have stumbled in the role, politicians have run amuck and abused their power.
The quality of life in mid-Michigan will be directly affected by the potential closing of the State Journal.
A case in point are the property tax troubles of one of Lansing’s newest city council members Tina Hougton.Â The City Pulse, a weekly newspaper with a beat reporter for Lansing City Hall, broke the story that Houghton and her husband had substantial unpaid local property taxes.
To be fair, plenty of local families have had problems coming up with the dough to pay their semi-annual taxes to the city.Â That’s not unusual in itself.Â But, when she ran for her city council seat which she subsequently won,Â she apparently failed to share that her property taxes were in arrears.
As a result, there are questions about whether she lied on the paperwork for her candidacy, whether she violated the city charter and whether city officials failed to properly vette her as a candidate to see if she was qualified to run.
None of this was reported in the State JournalÂ until the City Pulse published its story.Â Both stories failed to answer logical questions to give local residents a proper and complete view of the situation.
Other examples of no reporting or incomplete reporting exist.Â The result is that citizens have lost an independent and powerful set of eyes and ears watching their local units of government.Â This means that local officials will be emboldened to take short cuts or to act improperly without any accounability.
There will be more “Tina-gates” with local public officials who will be tempted to act as if there are one set of rules for themselves and another set for the taxpayers.
What can we do?Â One thing is to demand that the Lansing State Journal be more transparent about its situation and about the number of reporters it has covering the local area.
Can it merge qualified citizen journalists to fill-in the coverage gaps?
Or should it be honest that its future is hanging by a thread and its breaking could shutdown the paper at anytime?
Anybody have any thoughts, comments, ideas or alternatives?