Does the N&O need to accept outside money to produce puff pieces on the governor?

Over the summer The News & Observer announced it was partnering with Innovate Raleigh to provide reporting that aims “to enhance news and feature coverage of the region’s technology, innovation and entrepreneurship sectors.” It resulted in a new position of “innovation and technology reporter.” OK, that sounds like a focus on innovation and technology.

The paper announced:

The reporter will focus on coverage of people, companies, key issues and trends in Raleigh and across the Triangle. Topics will include technology startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.

The News & Observer will maintain full control over all reporting, writing and hiring.

“We’re thrilled that Innovate Raleigh’s partners believe in the value of independent, local journalism and are willing to support storytelling about the growing community of innovators and entrepreneurs by funding this staff position,” said Robyn Tomlin, executive editor of the N&O and regional editor for McClatchy’s newsrooms in North Carolina and South Carolina. …

Bridget Harrington, executive director of Innovate Raleigh, said, “Great journalism is a powerful resource for entrepreneurs and innovators to connect to their community’s talent and support. …”

According to the note at the end of the piece, there’s an Innovate Raleigh–funded story in today’s N&O. Does it cover “innovation and technology,” i.e., “people, companies, key issues and trends in Raleigh and across the Triangle”? Is it journalism, let alone “great journalism”?

Here’s the article, “Gov. Cooper asks businesses to choose investments in education over more tax cuts.” Here’s how it is structured:

Paragraphs 1-4: Quotes and discusses Cooper’s comments from “the annual North Carolina CEO Forum — a gathering of some of the state’s most influential corporate executives at the Raleigh Convention Center.” Cooper asked them to support “investments” in teacher salaries over “further cuts in corporate taxes.”

Paragraph 5: Provides some context. Here is the paragraph:

Last week, the N.C. General Assembly approved average raises of 3.9% for teachers and 2% for non-instructional staff over the next two years. But Democrats have opposed to the bill, saying it is not a big enough raise for teachers. Cooper reiterated his party’s stance on Tuesday. Cooper offered a budget compromise in July that included 8.5% average raises for teachers.

Paragraph 6: Quotes Cooper.

Paragraph 7: Provides context that the state’s corporate income tax rate is the lowest in the country among states that have a corporate income tax.

Paragraphs 8-16 (end): Quotes and discusses Cooper.

Unchallenged assumptions and missed opportunities

It’s hard to distinguish this reporting, such as it is, from a release from the governor’s press office. The article takes at face value terms and assumptions used by the governor that ought to be challenged. It also misses several opportunities to provide additional context.

A few examples:

  • The report doesn’t question Cooper’s implication (Paragraph 1) that teaching isn’t an attractive position in North Carolina and assertion that (Paragraph 2) “the state has a real issue with recruiting new teachers to its schools.” It doesn’t provide any indication that there is debate over such issues at all.

  • The report takes at face value Cooper’s presentation of the issue as a “choice between further cuts in corporate taxes or investments in our teachers.” (Paragraph 2, with Cooper’s quote on Paragraph 5.) This is a false dichotomy, let alone a ridiculous approach to discussing state budget negotiations.
  • The report takes at face value Cooper’s use of the term “investment” and “give back” as euphemisms for pay taxes. (Later the report quotes Cooper asking for an actual philanthropy, but note that it presents it as “Cooper also asked businesses to give back in more direct ways.“)
  • The report doesn’t provide any detail of Cooper’s giving out millions upon millions of dollars in grants this year to individual corporations.
  • The report doesn’t explain at all that the corporate tax at issue in the state budget this year isn’t the corporate income tax, but the franchise tax.
  • The report therefore can’t contextualize that by explaining that the franchise tax is an antiquated tax that only 15 other states still have. Or that the franchise tax is a double tax on corporate assets. Or that the franchise tax’s floor is so low that it basically affects every business in North Carolina. Or that nearly 900,000 (99.6 percent) of those businesses are small businesses, which are likely more affected by taxation of assets regardless of income than are the wealthiest corporations.
  • The report also doesn’t questions whether top corporate executives could speak for the needs of other businesses in North Carolina, including the 99.6 percent.
  • The report doesn’t offer any perspective other than Cooper’s.

In short, readers are not fully informed of the issues at hand. As for that matter, the issues at hand seem afield of the stated purpose of the reporting.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

Reader Comments