Gov. Phil Bryant’s communications director Clay Chandler recently sent back a response to an inquiry by Mississippi Today reporter Adam Ganucheau which called out the bias of the upstart self-described “non-partisan” digital news non-profit.
Chandler’s response to Ganucheau is below:
— Adam Ganucheau (@GanucheauAdam) September 15, 2016
Mississippi Today, or Mississippi News and Information Corporation, describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit digital news and information resource.”
The “non-partisan” mantra is in their mission. It’s on their heading. It’s said ad nauseam by its staff on social media. It’s touted so much one might begin to think it carries the stench of defensiveness.
But the truth is, they kind of have to say it; they are a non-profit. Any hint of intentional bias puts the ‘ol tax write off at risk, and there are some big pockets taking some big tax write offs thanks to their organization.
I can’t name a credible news organization who doesn’t at least claim to strive to be fair and balanced, although hints of bias can be found. After all, these organizations are comprised of men and women who bring their personal opinions with them despite their best attempts to present the facts minus spin. Coverage bias, which is basically what is chosen to be covered, is usually the pitfall that captures most organizations that claim to be unbiased. Mississippi Today has about as many paid news staffers as any media organization in Mississippi at this point, yet their band of coverage has been relatively narrow.
Mississippi Today spends so much time and energy defending their “non-partisan” status you have to question what exactly they are fighting against.
Are they calling out the Clarion Ledger (where many of them once worked) or other traditional state media organizations as partisan news agencies? Are they calling out Geoff Pender, Jeff Amy, Bobby Harrison and Emily Wagster-Pettus on their coverage of matters under the Capitol Dome? Are they trying to exonerate Andy Lack of NBC News, who certainly has the mothership of NBC as a vessel to do any kind of news he chooses? Or is it a backhanded slap at citizen journalists like (gasp) blogs such as Y’all Politics or Jackson Jambalaya?
Are they trying to rehabilitate their staffers’ images from the highly-partisan Initiative 42 effort in which many of them were actively involved? “You may remember us as partisans, as big government, spend now, pray later liberals but we’ve grown past that and are being fair now with this new gig.”
Here’s an example of the work they produce:
Patsy “Ma” Brumfield, of Initiative 42 fame, wrote an article early on for Mississippi Today about a fraudster named Gina Palsani that was convicted for fraud. Brumfield’s headline read, “Justice’s sister to plead guilty to federal charges.” Then, just one day later, she wrote, “Sister of new Supreme Court justice admits she swindled veterans.”
Again, keep in mind that at this point, Mississippi Today was doing about one (1) new article per day. Not a single other Mississippi news outlet made an issue of state Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam’s relation to Palsani. Brumfield went WAY out of her way to make that point, not once but twice in successive days. It smacked of someone wanting to jab it in the eye of Governor Phil Bryant (who appointed Beam) when there was no evidence anywhere before or since that Justice Beam had anything to do with her sister or the case.
So what exactly is the point of making the distinction of being “non-partisan” over and over and over again, and jumping to its defense every time it’s questioned?
Let’s be honest. Everyone has bias. Everyone. We do. We always have. It’s a big part of how this site was founded. However, you can have bias and still be fair. That’s what “professional” journalists seem to miss. The key is being transparent about what that bias is and letting the reader factor that into what they are reading.
Historically, the people you have to look out for in journalism the most are the people who talk the most about being journalists (here’s looking at you, Chuck). Maybe it’s time to put the branding aside and just do the news, Mississippi Today. Come on in. The water’s warm. We’ve been doing it every day for 12 years. Let the public judge your non-partisanship and let the chips fall where they may.