Savaged: Thousands Rally at the State Capitol Building, Detroit Newspapers Decide it’s Not “News”
by Chris Savage
On Saturday, May 21st, 2011, at least 6,000 people gathered on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol building to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal which slashes nearly $1 billion from education funding in our state. The rally drew educators, parents, students and other supporters of public education from all over the state to take a stand for prioritizing funding for education. Given that the massive cuts to education are being used to pay, in part, for an 86 percent tax cut for Michigan businesses, passions on this issue run high.
Here’s what it looked like:
From behind the podium
A sea of red; several thousand Michiganders, there to support public education in Michigan.
That’s news, right? How many times a year do you hear about 6,000 people showing up to express their opinions about anything in this state?
Funny thing is, neither the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press reported one single word about it. The two largest newspapers in our state decided that over 6,000 people protesting our newly-elected Governor and his Republican friends in the Legislature eliminating $1 billion in funding for education is not news—not worthy of coverage.
The Free Press actually reported that it was going to happen that morning. In their article, they noted:
Weekday rallies promoted by the same groups have drawn several thousand people to the Capitol lawn on multiple occasions earlier this year.
Weekday rallies earlier in the year (when weather conditions were less favorable) drew several thousand people. This was a weekend rally. Surely they must have known the turnout would be huge. Lansing Mayor and Governor Snyder’s opponent in last November’s election, Virg Bernero, was a featured speaker. UAW President Bob King spoke as well. Teachers, students, and parents were all slated to tell their stories at the podium.
Not news? Really?
I had been attending the Michigan Summit in East Lansing that day (another event that went entirely unreported by these news outlets, I might add) and, before driving back home, I stopped by the rally that had been in progress for an hour by the time I got there. I snapped some photos. I chatted with some folks that were collecting signatures on petitions to recall Governor Snyder. All told, I was only there for about 30 minutes. But, in that time, I learned enough to write about it and I certainly learned enough to know this was not only news, it was big news. And it was worth reporting.
So, what did these two news outlets report about the day after the humongous rally?
The main story on the Detroit News’ website featured Bob Seger, aging Michigan rocker, reporting that he had his last show at the Palace in Detroit (which isn’t in Detroit.)
The Detroit Free Press‘s website had a top-of-the fold article about how, although the Rapture came and went without any rapturing going on, “many in Michigan believe world will end one day.”
Now that is news!
Here’s the thing: these two news outlets didn’t even have to send a reporter to the rally. The Associated Press had a wire story about it. Even the conservative-leaning Livingston County Press & Argus from Howell & Brighton had a couple of paragraphs about the rally, cadged from the AP’s feed. The Chicago Tribune (not Chicago, Michigan — Chicago, Illinois) had an article about it. I read about it on blogs in EUROPE!!! But not the News or Free Press.
The News didn’t respond but I got a couple of responses from the Freep: “Will pass it on to the reporting staff for sure – thx!”
and, “Yes, we previewed it – and will pass along your comment to the political reporting team about the event coverage.”
I followed up with emails to staff at both newspapers, asking them for a statement regarding their complete lack of coverage of such a large rally. I never received a response.
Bill Moyers once said, “There is no more important struggle for American democracy than ensuring a diverse, independent and free media. Free Press is at the heart of that struggle.” In Michigan right now, we are in an epic battle over what we value as Michiganders. Where we spend our tax money is a statement about where our priorities are. 6,000 people showed up on a sunny spring day to stand for the public education of our children and its importance to the future of our state. On the other side of the debate stand the Republicans for whom corporate profits are a higher priority.
No matter what side of this issue you stand on, clearly a massive protest demonstration by thousands of citizens is news. News that should be reported with as much fanfare as news about what our Legislators and Governor are doing is reported. We need a strong, diverse and independent media. Without it, we will have an poorly-informed citizenry and effective democracy is not possible. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News owe the people of Michigan an apology and, more importantly, they owe us better reporting. Their lack of coverage of this event is an implicit, if not explicit “taking of sides” on the issue of education funding.
My message to them is this: when you get out-reported by a blogger from Dexter, you need to figure out what you’re doing wrong. If you don’t, you don’t stand a chance of survival as a media outlet. And the citizens of our state, as well as democracy, will be poorer for it.
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