Flemming: Is Vermont media coverage really worse now than 10 years ago?

By David Flemming

On June 7, John Walters (photo below) 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 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.

10 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. 10 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.

You can read John Walter’s blog piece here.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

Categories: Commentary

13 replies »

  1. Which publication was Walters fired from ? Was it Digger or SevenDays of LGBTQ++AABB?

    Vtdigger is one of the worst in Vermont. If you can’t see their bias in ANY article that has to do with social or political issues then, you MIGHT be a VPR subscriber.

    Balanced news in Vermont left more than 10 years ago.

    • Both, I think. But I was terminated from three of his first four reporter jobs and my first PR job, so who am I to criticize.

      • 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.

      • David Flemming got the conversation about the media started and others have since chimed in…….Most recently Jay Eschelman cites Marshall Mcluhan as an authority on the media.

        For those who may not be familiar with Marshall McLuhan here’s McLuhan giving his unfiltered opinion……Check it out.

      • And yes, Peter Yankowski is entitled to his opinion too, if that was ‘an opinion’.

      • Jay ……It was only an attempt to introduce humor at a time when the media is filled with divided opinions…….And we all know what is said about opinions and everyone having one.

        It’s time for some Woody Allen humor to lighten things up…….Just as Allen did in his movie Annie Hall when he spoke out on media, Marshall McLuhan and opinion…….I thought it was funny and a welcome relief at a time when there is plenty of opinion and humor is in such short supply………But all that’s just my opinion.

  2. John Walters’ failure to cite the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports
    in assessing the most positive Vermont media development of the past few years tells us all we need to know about him and objective journalist…….Or perhaps the absence of objective journalism would be a better way of stating it.

    Mr. Walters needs to give the people a little credit about knowing what’s going on in the world before tapping away at his keyboard……..CNN has failed in this regard and its ratings are in the garbage bin.

  3. Is there maybe a “down sizing” of the Liberal press because they finally realized that you can only put so much of that manure on a garden or you’ll kill your veggies ?

  4. Vermont’s MSM news outlets are corrupt, spews the same fluff & garbage as the their big headquarters tell them too.

  5. This is so pathetically Barftastic. VTDigger has been spewing covid propagada and statistical lies for the past 2 years.

    They’re basically the VT PR department for Pfizer.

  6. Mr Walters’ bias was in full bloom when he hosted the morning talk show on WDEV radio. He is an intelligent and thoughtful commentator but like most of Vermont’s liberal intelligentsia, he simply chooses to ignore that there are credible and relevant ideas, opinions and viewpoints outside of the progressive orthodoxy. Liberals chime about “celebrating diversity” but their platitudes only apply to ethnicity and skin melanin.

  7. The problem with media in general is that is has to be sensationalistic to attract eyeballs, and infusing divisive politics is the current equivalent of “if it bleeds, it leads”. Nowadays, even the weather forecast gets routinely editorialized. Instead of opining that “it will be a beautiful day, sunny and warm”, how about just giving the straight forecast regarding temperature and precipitation and let people decide for themselves? If you are a farmer, and it hasn’t rained for 3 weeks, a warm sunny day is not a “beautiful day”.