March Media Rant: Jo Egelhoff Reviews the Post-Crescent
“The Post-Crescent is everything a great newspaper can and should be . . . The Post-Crescent is a champion of the communities it serves, as both a watchdog of local government and a fundraiser for those in need. Readers in Appleton and the Fox Cities have to know that their daily newspaper has tremendous heart and is, very likely, one of the best of its circulation size in America.”
Those remarks struck me as grossly inflated, but not being a regular PC reader I’m not in the best position to know. So I asked former Appleton Common Councilor Jo Egelhoff, publisher of the TONY Award winning foxpoliticsnews.net site, what she thought of the PC. [Note: For purposes of space I had to edit some of Jo’s responses for the print edition of The SCENE; the unedited interview follows below.]
Media Rants: The WNA Better Newspaper contest judges say the following about the Post-Crescent:
"The Post-Crescent is everything a great newspaper can and should be. Each section is filled with local news and advertising and offers a great variety of storytelling, from indepth series on important topics such as domestic abuse to well-thought opinions on the state budget crunch to fun lifestyle stories told in graphic form without a lick of text . .. The Post-Crescent is a champion of the communities it serves, as both a watchdog of local government and a fundraiser for those in need. Readers in Appleton and the Fox Cities have to know that their daily newspaper has tremendous heart and is, very likely, one of the best of its circulation size in America."
Do you agree with the gist of that statement? Specifically, would you call the PC a "community champion" and "local government watchdog?"
Egelhoff: A community champion? Perhaps. But a local government watchdog? No, that’s a reach. The Post-Crescent is the kind of cozy hometown newspaper that will drive serious readers to FoxPoliticsNews.net, where they can find serious policy and politics news from the Fox Valley and throughout Wisconsin. I see the Post-Crescent like a 3 Musketeers bar – fluffy on the inside and not real stuffy, leaving an appetite for real news.
Media Rants: You served on the Appleton Common Council for quite a few years. During that time, did the Post-Crescent in your judgment provide accurate, fair, and complete coverage of issues facing the city? Did you sense that the paper was playing a rigorous watchdog role?
Egelhoff: Accurate, yes. And yes, most often “fair” if that means they include two sides of a story. Complete? No. A rigorous watchdog role? No.
A good example is the Appleton water plant. I called foul on it almost from the beginning. (Here’s just one of the several blogs I did on the subject.) I asked the Post-Crescent to report on it, bringing them a stack of supporting evidence. Finally, with a third or fourth request, a second alderperson accompanying me, P/C editors and the P/C’s Council reporter on hand, the P/C finally agreed to look into it – and subsequently did quite an expose'.
Then there’s the story of what was then termed the “Co-Gen” – a $2 million boondoggle that two of us objected to repeatedly with quality documentation at Council, and ultimately took to the Post-Crescent. Not a thing was done. Two months after this $2 million white elephant was up and running it was shut down by the Finance Director as not being cost efficient. Unbelievable.
Today, the P/C doesn’t have the time or money or inclination to dig into critical issues, such as:
- Does it make sense for the city to contract out asphalt paving – or to own its own paver?
- Why did the City of Appleton’s 2010 tax levy not increase as much as surrounding municipalities? (Not because they decreased spending – but because a large TIF was brought back on the tax roles.)
- How do public employee benefits compare with comparable private sector benefits? How do wages compare?
- How do the City of Appleton’s 3% increases in 2009 and 2010 compare with increases (or more likely decreases) in compensation in private sector jobs?
- Exactly what do school district salaries and benefits look like? If school district employees’ compensation was frozen, would that allow for keeping more teachers, keeping class sizes from growing?
- What do experts think about the $2 million of contributions every year needed to supplement earned income at the Performing Arts Center (PAC)? What do experts think about the compensation package of the PAC’s Executive Director? What is the compensation for the E.D. of this large and significant 501(c)(3) in our community (well over $250K)? What do experts think about an unusual $36,700,000 mortgage carried on the PAC building, that isn’t being paid off (payment terms are a highly unusual interest-only requirement through 2035)? Is the PAC using endowment or reserve funds to fund annual operations?
Media Rants: What critical issues, if any, do you feel are not getting the right amount of coverage in the PC?
Egelhoff: Several specific examples are mentioned above. Public spending, budgets and public sector compensation packages and settlements could be looked into in further detail. This is critical information for taxpayers – and time consuming stuff; that kind of time is seemingly just not available at the Post-Crescent. Or a series on accountability – what are the standards set up for a specific department or sub-department and are those standards being met? The City of Appleton has clearly defined standards – what of other municipalities – do they even have standards and whether or not they do, how is accountability carried out? How about campaigning for putting a city or county’s checkbook on line? Cook County just did it. http://www.govtech.com/gt/articles/746190. Public spending vs. contracting out. The cost to Appleton and indeed, of the Fox Cities, to comply with water quality and quantity NR 151 regs. Or how about questioning a Kagen news release once in a blue moon?
(Larry Bivins, covering D.C., does an ok job, digging effectively occasionally, but doesn’t necessarily aspire to greatness; doesn’t probe or aim to stretch minds. Ben Jones, Gannett’s (and USA Today’s) man in Madison, has done some helpful investigative work.)
Media Rants: What is your general opinion of the PC editorials? Are they well informed and fair?
Egelhoff: The P/C’s editorials are informed enough to sound well-informed, but don’t often challenge readers to think and understand. The editorials are mushier than I like to read, never hard-hitting and stay away from those very controversial, tough issues. More often than not, it’s 3 Musketeers stuff.
“Fair” isn’t an adjective I use for editorials. Accurate, informative, in-depth, convincing. Teach me something, in 400 words or less.
Media Rants: What would you like to see the PC do that it is currently not doing?
Egelhoff: You’ve hit it – and I’ve referenced it – I’d like to see the PC be a watchdog for us taxpayers, a serious questioner. Dedicate a reporter to local government, preferably someone with some first-hand government experience. I know that can be hard, the newspaper business and budgets being what they are, but the P/C needs an insider who can pull news out from between the toes of local government.
Media Rants: Your own media activism requires you to be familiar with many newspapers across the state. Which ones, in your judgment, are the best?
Egelhoff: Understandably, the most frequent in-depth work is done by the Journal-Sentinel, with the largest circulation in the state. It’s lamentable that the J/S is no longer delivered on weekdays in the Fox Valley, though is available delivered on Sundays and at newsstands during the week. The news from the State Journal is ok, though skimpier, less inquiring than from the Journal Sentinel. Sean Ryan and Paul Snyder at The Daily Reporter do thorough work.
The editorials that come out of the Journal Sentinel editorial board are more fluff than stuff. I like the editorial sensibilities at the Beloit Daily News. The Tomah Journal and Racine Journal Times have written some surprisingly thoughtful editorials in the past year – and the Cap Times, left-leaning or not, does a good job calling ‘em as it sees ‘em.
Media Rants: Many thanks to Jo Egelhoff for taking the time to respond to the questions. Be sure to sign up for Jo’s daily news alert at foxpoliticsnews.net.