Last night at a forum in Meadowcrest, county commission candidate Diana Finegan used a line about being the target of the Chronicle which was met with applause.
I recognize the feeling. The idea behind the Concurrent was not to be a competitor to the Chronicle as a newspaper but rather an opposing voice of many editorial stances and a vocal critic when news coverage required greater scrutiny. This was born out of the 2020 election cycle where I saw numerous problems that left me with the same feeling some are experiencing now.
I no longer feel like that. It only took me a year and a half writing 120,000 words to figure out why, but I will do my best to express that clearly in the next 500 words.
The laziest accusation I hear every campaign cycle is that the Chronicle is a leftist newspaper. The Chronicle’s problem isn’t political; it’s philosophical.
The philosophy of the paper is to prioritize community good above all else including industry best practices.
Like the arrow in the middle of the Fed-Ex logo, the evidence for this becomes harder not to see than it is to spot once you understand this context.
Former Publisher Gerry Mulligan said it best in his retirement column, “I am not afraid to say that we have been a newspaper with a point of view. We have always been ‘pro-Citrus County.’ I learned from David Arthurs, the Inverness businessman who owned the Chronicle when I was hired, that we needed to fight to make our community a better place.”
Long-time-Chronicle-reporter-turned-blogger Mike Wright echoed this approach, “Arthurs taught Mulligan about community journalism, Mulligan taught it to me and countless others.”
Many tell the story that Mr. Arthurs turned down a higher bid from the New York Times to buy the paper and this was undoubtedly over a concern that the NYT (for all its recent faults) would have enforced a culture of professional rather than community journalism.
Sometimes community journalism and professional journalism overlap. The Chronicle recently published a front page piece on candidate endorsements including Diana Finegan proudly listing the endorsement of a newsletter written by the head of a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group; something she also promoted on her campaign Facebook but later removed. Executive Editor Jeff Bryan called attention to it again in his commentary and the editorial board published a piece on it as well.
This is why Finegan made the comments about feeling attacked. Industry practices would agree with the Chronicle’s approach however. Hate groups support candidates all the time but a local candidate openly advertising the association across print and social platforms absolutely qualifies as news. Once reported, the editorial staff has free rein to do as they wish to put it into context.
That Finegan chose to blame the paper for being biased rather than accept responsibility for having embraced the head of a hate group is an incredibly concerning character trait in someone running for office.
You might be wondering why is community journalism bad? We should want a newspaper that looks out for us! That argument is as short-sighted as calling the Chronicle a lefty rag.
Audiences have plenty of options for national outlets but the Chronicle is the sole legitimate source for local news. This lack of choice should drastically increase the need to adhere to objective industry standards.
The true best service to our county would be doing the news as it's professionally intended rather than adopting an advocate culture biased toward a collective idea of community improvement that can be inconsistently applied or outright abused.
However, instead of labeling the paper as the enemy or claiming victimhood when legitimate news is reported about you, I have decided to take a different approach - agree to disagree.
Chronicle leadership and I will never see eye-to-eye on their philosophy. There’s no such thing as community journalism to me; only professional journalists and amateurs with an agenda. But I believe in their mission that journalism can make a community a better place, as misguided as I might think their approach is.
Citrus is a better place with the Chronicle operating as a strong outlet. However, like the county itself, there is plenty of room for improvement.
We don’t have to feel like a target. Instead, we can be civic members choosing to recognize what we have in common and put that in front of, but not at the expense of, where we also disagree to promote community good. Unfortunately, too often people take a path of division and are quick to point out faults instead of trying to understand them.