By: Stephen Waguespack
Perhaps it is the baseball fan in me, but I am a traditionalist in many ways.
I believe in taking it one game at a time, never messing with a hot streak and playing your hardest until the final out. I don’t walk on the white lines and I don’t talk about a no-hitter until it is done. I love the feel of an old ballpark with the game on the line and I detest the very thought of the designated hitter, artificial turf and the day piped-in music replaced the ballpark organ.
Like many baseball fans, it was once a great tradition to walk out each morning to that front doorstep, cup of coffee in hand, to pick up the morning paper to see what was inside. After a hurried initial browsing of the reading options at hand, I was always quick to make it to the box score section of the sports page to see how my favorite players and teams had fared the night before.
You see, baseball is a game of tradition, rules and statistics. These characteristics all blend together in a way that gives the game order, strategy and consistency. The personalities and storylines are interesting, but the statistics are what gives the game its durability. The daily box scores were once the epicenter of it all.
Most local newspapers no longer print box scores for last night’s games. I guess they figure there is just an app for that somewhere. It may be a symbolic example of the fact that a growing number of local newspapers are quite frankly not that local anymore, considering the rise of multi-region media companies that have acquired much of the market share over the years. True locally owned, staffed and produced newspapers that are focused on catering to local expectations are harder and harder to find these days.
The Pew Research Center releases an annual State of the News Media report, a document they have produced since 2004 to show the trends in media. This year’s report was released last week, and it showed that newspapers saw drops in paid circulation (down 8%), advertising (down 10%) and staffing numbers (down 4%). These trends are even starker when compared to the levels shown in 2004 when the Pew annual report began publication. Check out the report at http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/state-of-the-news-media/.
I am sure there are countless theories or justifications for those trends, and a healthy debate on the myriad of factors are worth considering. A free press is a critical thread of the fabric of our society, and the daily newspaper is an important tradition to support. To do so requires the media industry start soul searching to find the many causes for this trend and develop reasonable solutions to them, just as any other business would do in the face of similar declines.
One data point that would be interesting to examine is the subscription trends amongst conservative readers. It is no great secret that the perception amongst most Americans has long been that the media has a liberal slant to it. These accusations predate Governor Edwards and President Trump, with even media icons like Cronkite and Murrow hearing similar complaints. If the social media and water-cooler conversations of today are to be believed, a growing number of conservatives feel that there is a deepening philosophical tint to the news.
Last fall, the New York Times reported that in the days leading up to the presidential election, several well-known newspapers were receiving a flood of calls from conservative readers to drop their subscriptions and advertising investments after those papers endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. The Dallas Morning News, The Arizona Republic and The Cincinnati Enquirer were all papers mentioned in the article that saw immediate backlash after the endorsement.
Last week, one of Louisiana’s local papers called for the resignation of the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, Taylor Barras. This came as a particular surprise to many as the editorial board calling for his resignation was his hometown paper, The Daily Advertiser. Rep. Barras has only been the House Speaker for 16 months and has led his colleagues as a fair, civil and steadfast gentleman, free of any allegations of impropriety or harm. The editorial cited his inability to force the House of Representatives to raise new taxes and secure stability for the popular TOPS program as the reason he should resign his post, even though the Legislature appears hours away from adopting a balanced budget without raising taxes that also fully funds TOPS.
Push back to the Advertiser’s editorial came quickly from many parts of the state, and the piece was quickly pulled down from the newspaper’s website (though it has since returned).
Taylor Barras is the first independently elected Louisiana Speaker of the House that anyone can remember. Sure, the House is chaotic, unpredictable and prone to extensive debates filled with divergent opinions. But Speaker Barras runs the House in a manner that allows each member to vote their conscience, speak their mind and represent their constituents. The 2017 House of Representatives is the truest form of democracy Louisiana has to offer these days, a goal that was once long sought by many newspaper editorial boards up until the moment it came to pass.
Look, I am definitely a traditionalist…but not all traditions are meant to continue forever. For decades in Louisiana, the Governor and his hand-picked Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate would usually force the rest of the Legislature to do what they wanted. This tradition has at least partially contributed to decades of low achievement, untrustworthy budgets and parochial interests that won the day. The Capitol’s longstanding leadership tradition may have been more predictable, but not always for good reasons or with good outcomes for the state. The future in the Capitol is a more independent and taxpayer-focused legislative process. Glimpses of that future have been seen this session. The next election cycle will likely put it on steroids.
Some traditions are meant to last forever, but this break from tradition is a good one. The media was right to call for it for years, and now it is here. The new normal in Baton Rouge is a state government where every elected official has a voice. Speaker Barras was the first to instill this new mentality, and for that, he should be thanked.