I’ll confess that when I moved here back in December, I didn’t expect much of our newspaper of record. I knew that the Times-Union, like every paper everywhere, had fallen victim to shrinking news holes and budgets. I knew that its sister paper, the St. Augustine Record, had recently beclowned itself, first by getting scooped on a major cops-behaving-questionably story in its own backyard, then by bizarrely criticizing The New York Times for doing the scooping. And I knew that both papers were owned by Morris Communications, an outfit that made no bones about its Christian-conservative worldview — and papers run by organizations devoted to right-wing agitprop are seldom worth a damn. I knew as well that the T-U’s editorial page, under former editorial page editor Lloyd Brown, had been proudly to the right of Attila the Hun, raging against opponents of the Iraq war and telling us that slavery wasn’t that big a deal [Cover Story, “Falling Down,” Billee Bussard, Oct. 12, 2004].
So my expectations were low. But I’m happy to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a paper that, as frequently as not, punches above its weight, particularly on local issues. The reporting is generally solid. The writing is occasionally good. Editor Frank Denton’s commitment to government transparency is exemplary. And the editorial page, while hardly a bastion of hippiedom, has apparently toned down the crazy.
Complain all you want, but, all in all, you’ve got a pretty decent daily newspaper.
And so I can only imagine the collective groan last week from the T-U’s newsroom when Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan — a former Folio Weekly contributor — reported on Morris’ latest effort to reach The Kids, a “crappy little Tumblr with more right-wing bullshit” (Nolan’s words) called Roar (which stands for the Renaissance of American Responsibility), a “multimedia project of Morris Communications” that will advocate for “individual freedom and responsibility” and “constitutional principles.”
Michael Ryan, Roar’s executive director (as well as the editorial page editor for the Morris-owned Augusta Chronicle, which just this weekend was making the completely sane argument that the Obama administration is trying to flood the country with illegal immigrants to intentionally create a humanitarian crisis, or something), took umbrage with Nolan’s description: “One critic dismissively predicted a ‘right-wing’ site,” he wrote last week. “Why? Because we believe in freedom? Personal responsibility? Property rights? Self-reliance, tempered with old-fashioned compassion and brotherhood?”
Maybe — just a thought — because the site’s very first post opened with this question: “How can Republicans have such a terrific product — freedom, capitalism, limited government, growth and prosperity — and yet have such an awful brand?” (The answer is that Republicans aren’t sufficiently conservative.)
Morris is advertising for a social media manager for the site, though I’d recommend against applying: Mark my words, this little experiment will be relegated to the ash heap of failure by year’s end. In fact, if it does anything, Roar’s exercise in propaganda will only undercut the reputations its parent company’s newspapers have worked so hard to build. If I were at the T-U, I’d be pissed about that.