In 1994, the Republican Party successfully nationalized our congressional elections. In a strategy devised and executed by Newt Gingrich, the GOP convinced voters to look to the R first and vote for it. The name next to the R didn’t matter.
We now take this approach to political campaigning for granted. We have also accepted the unfortunate byproducts of Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution.” We welcome the tale of a hopelessly divided nation, one blue and one red. We expect campaigns fueled by relentless attack ads paid for with funds from both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Republican National Campaign Committee. We are cultivating angry – and less informed – voters.
And we’ve embraced the rapid growth of “horse racing journalism,” with members of the media tirelessly — and sometimes breathlessly — using data to bombard voters with daily follow-ups of how the polls are shaping up in terms of attack ads and candidates’ missteps.
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There is a lot of pressure to adapt to this horse racing mentality in the news business. On Monday, the Virginia Public Access Project tweeted out that the paper was challenged for not having more original news about the 7th-century congressional race.
Progressive group Blue Virginia retweeted it, commenting: “Seriously, if a local paper can’t even cover an extremely important, hard-fought US home race with democracy at stake, why even bother to cover the paper to publish at all?”
It is true that this paper, like most smaller newspapers across the country, felt the pain of downsizing as traditional local news revenue streams dried up. It is also true that newspapers like ours no longer have dedicated staff who can spend months reporting on a breed – important as it is – in our readers’ section.
Some, like VPAP and Blue Virginia, see this as a crisis. We see opportunities and follow the advice of Winston Churchill, who once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
While this newspaper, and hundreds of others around the country, may have fewer in-house reporters to fall back on, we are not without resources. The question arises as to what to focus on.
We rely more heavily on the coverage of our sister newspapers and news services who have the capacity to cover races like the one in the 7th Precinct more frequently.
This gives us the freedom to focus on our community. This is important because at the local level, the national divide created by the nationalization of elections is gradually being reduced.
Issues such as the debate over the future of education in Spotsylvania, the growing tensions over homeless services, the need for a new school in Fredericksburg, the impact of solar farms and the preservation of natural resources are not yet national campaign issues—they affect every person in our region. And they are problems that are not solved by falling into political silos. We must work together.
To tell the stories of how this happens, we use our valuable news resources. Our reporters monitor the day-to-day activities of local boards and councils. They cover the issues dividing the region and they highlight the people who are finding a way to bridge the gaps and make our community work.
We firmly believe that small newspapers like ours are the bulwark against the nationalized rhetoric that is fueling our congressional campaigns and driving a wedge in our society. It is important to ensure that this toxicity does not have the same negative impact on our local community as it has on our national dialogue.
Why publish? Because we live in this community and we’d rather focus on the things that bind us together than tear us apart.