2007-06-06 / Media Watch


More county publications, less Chesterfield news
Greg Pearson


Citizens are best served when they have multiple sources reporting on the same news events. Even though there are more newspapers in Chesterfield County now than ever, you're seeing less reporting on the Board of Supervisors, the School Board and the Planning Commission. Sadly, the Chesterfield Observer may be clocking more hours at those meetings than the three other weeklies and the Richmond Times-Dispatch combined. It's hard for us to understand how you can cover the county and still be AWOL - Absent With-Out Learning - from those meetings. That's where Chesterfield's real news is made.

The Apr. 11 supervisors' meeting, when the board voted on the county budget, is a good example. Our reporter was there for the duration, and the Chester newspaper was there for part of the meeting. The daily paper was nowhere to be seen. The other two weeklies, owned by Media General which publishes the daily paper, don't cover Chesterfield meetings.

In the past, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has been a fixture at county meetings, but with the downsizing of its paper and staff, attending these meetings, it appears, is prioritized. The same absence occurred at a number of other important meetings in April when the Richmond paper pulled its reporters to help cover the Virginia Tech tragedy. One of the front page banners of the Richmond daily trumpeted that issue had nine pages devoted to the shootings. Wouldn't fewer reporters badgering Tech students and staff in Blacksburg in a time of sorrow have been a good thing?

The shrinking news coverage in Chesterfield (and probably in the other jurisdictions as well) should be apparent to local broadcasters, Web sites and blogs. We estimate about two-thirds of the important news in the Richmond metro is reported first by the daily paper. Then many so-called news operations knock off stories by the daily paper (read radio stations, TV stations and Web sites). Rewriting someone else's news is not reporting the news. It's admitting you don't have the money, resources, knowledge, inclination or all of the above to report actual news yourself.

Now with fewer reporters on the street, the Richmond paper is reporting less news, and the copycats have less news to regurgitate. But most important of all, the public is becoming less informed. And, unfortunately, the future is not reassuring.

Even worse, some weekly Chesterfield publications are becoming known for publishing press releases without editing them first. "They're at the top of my list," one business PR type told us last month.

And then, the magazine Chesterfield Living makes public relations and advertising look like news without advising its readers it's not. In pursuit of advertising revenue, the lines are blurring in Chesterfield and around the metro.

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