"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

News sources

Back in the 19th century, most political journalism was overtly partisan – newspapers specifically called themselves Republican or Democratic (less often, independent), aligning themselves with one of the parties in news coverage as well as editorial comment. In the 20th century, as the number of newspapers shrank and the business model called for reaching most of the population – to pull in broad-based advertising – political reporting changed, recast in ways that would (or at least was intended to) more fairly represent the news and views of both parties. “Objective” would not be the right word for it, but done well, it could be a generally fair and neutral reportage.

Are we moving back away from that, toward more overtly partisan coverage – two sets of coverage, two sets of reality, one each to match your inclinations?

A new article on AlterNet highlights the Idaho Reporter, a web-based news organization tightly linked to conservative groups (and specifically a subsidiary of one Idaho lobbying group). The article, by Joe Strupp, goes into the background and associations of the site and the way it is part of a growing development of ideologically-based news coverage. Such groups are a growing force in statehouses around the country; conservative news agencies associated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity have been expanding rapidly around the country.

Meanwhile, as the article noted, “A 2009 American Journalism Review study found that 355 newspaper reporters and editors were covering state capitols full time, a 30 percent decrease at the time from 524 in 2003.” The decrease may be even larger than that in the Northwest’s statehouses. Will ideological coverage reach a point where it starts to drown out conventional nonpartisan coverage?

The Idaho Reporter (and its parent, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) may take issue with the description of its product as ideologically-driven, but its website describes it specifically as “your source for uniquely watchdog and free-market oriented coverage.” That’s a fair enough indicator for what they’re about. But what do the benefactors of this widespread, national effort expect will be the result? And what other ideological perspectives will get the money to launch effort to promote any other ideas – or does it matter if, down the road, the only one we get is this one?

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