By Jason Stverak
TOUGH JOB: It took the work of a reporter doing his job to bring to light the “Bridgegate” scandal engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
The New York Times often is derided as the epitome of journalistic hubris, but the newspaper ran an outstanding commentary this week on the state of the local newspaper reporter, who remains the most vital cog in the machine of the American media.
David Carr, the Times’ media and culture columnist, wrote the following of the role of New Jersey beat reporters who first investigated the “Bridgegate” scandal:
A lot of important journalism begins with a simple, seemingly obvious question, like why traffic is snarled in New Jersey on the way into New York. Traffic coverage may be the lowest species in the dog-bites-man pantheon of news, except when it is not. … It’s the kind of beat that could be a backwater, but when the gun went off on a big story, (Shawn Boburg, the Port Authority beat writer for The Record (New Jersey)) had the sources, the institutional knowledge and the instincts to wrestle it to the ground.
Carr is right, and ironically, he made the strongest case possible for local print journalism, which continues to wane in the Internet era, while large publications like the Times maintain and grow their national reach. After all, no one knows a city better than someone who walks its streets every day.
Local journalists succeed not only because of their ability to report, but because they are members of the community they serve, and bring an institutional knowledge to the table that a correspondent parachuting in from New York or Washington, D.C., can’t replicate. In that light, the decline of the local newspaper — largely fueled by changing economic realities — has been a troubling development for those who believe in investigative journalism.
Stories like the George Washington Bridge scandal are the reason the Franklin Center for Public and Government Integrity and Watchdog.org exist. When you place talented reporters on the ground in communities and arm them with a laptop and a mission to hold government accountable, great stories follow — stories that would never be written if we were content to let the Beltway press cover local developments from 10,000 feet.
New Jersey Watchdog, for example, sadly has been able to confirm this emerging darker portrait of government in the Garden State through the on-the-ground investigative work of its bureau chief, Mark Lagerkvist. Mark’s investigations into pension abuse — both within and beyond the Christie administration — preceded Bridgegate, and have helped paint a broader portrait of systematic corruption in Trenton.
From one local news organization to another, we commend the work done by The Record and other New Jersey publications in bringing this abuse of power to light. And as happy as we are to see the Times pen columns in praise of the gumshoe journalist, we’re ever happier to be out on the streets getting work done.
Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and publisher of Watchdog.org.
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