The Columbian ignores Elder Justice Center abuse story in Clark County while Wall Street Journal makes it a front page story
“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”
― Christopher Hitchens
How do you draw the distinction between a “real” newspaper like the Columbian in Clark County, Washington State and the rest of us “bloggers?” This seems to be an issue and a common theme of Lou Brancaccio, Editor of the Columbian, in his recent blog where he disparages bloggers (unless they agree with him) and spends a lot of time obsessing over Clark County Councilor David Madore. I am not sure that a distinction between the Columbian and local bloggers has much meaning. However, it appears if you rely on the Columbian as your source of local news, you may be missing quite a bit.
I have had little interaction with the Columbian over the years. In July of 2013,I was emailed by Columbian reporter Stevie Mathieu, post CRC stoppage, expressing dissatisfaction about an article I wrote. That article identified the Columbian as one of the losers in that fiasco, and Ms. Mathieu was arguing that on at least one occasion the Columbian committed some real journalism, not just CRC cheerleading. I believe I even had a brief phone conversation with someone at the Columbian at the time. I might have spoken to Kaitlin Gillespie, another blogger for the Columbian a time or two at Olympia Transportation hearings or maybe a C-TRAN meeting. Not much.
There is a soft spot in my heart for newspapers and for the important role they have historically played in our society. This stems from my stint as a paperboy (remember that archaic job?) and the news-ink-blackened hands I received from delivering the daily Seattle Times to the front door of many homes from my bicycle.
I’ve had a lot of interaction with other media over the past few years, primarily as a content provider, including radio, television, and print media. Some are considered “mainstream” and others could be labeled “bloggers.” I’ve earned journalist status from my body of work, not because someone assigned the title to me. However, this might be considered nothing more than lowly “blogging” to the self-appointed arbiter of Clark County news and editor of the Columbian. Lou Brancaccio’s comments raise a legitimate question, however. Who determines what qualifies as news and what should not be reported to the residents of Clark County?
The news void in Clark County
There is a troubling element of close-mindedness found in Mr. Brancaccio’s flippant references to the growing news competition to the Columbian. This is understandable considering his sensitivity to the declining fortunes of the paper for which he works. Declining circulations are not unique to the Columbian. Many recent national articles are bemoaning the collapse in print media and the rise of the outsider news sources. Some call it creative destruction. Some call it inevitable. Changing times produce bitterness from those who don’t believe they stand to benefit from the change.
However, the Columbian doesn’t have to collapse and disappear into the dustbin of history like the buggy whip or the Model T. People still need and crave news. The question that needs to be answered by Mr. Brancaccio, and more importantly by the residents of Clark County, is this: Does the Columbian fill the news void or do they choose to create it?
The Columbian chooses to create the news void by ignoring stories that many residents would consider important. This void creates a vacuum that will be filled by others. Perhaps by some of those annoying bloggers. I believe that The Columbian is creating and fueling their own demise by ignoring local stories that matter to many in Clark County.
What local news does the Columbian ignore?
Does the Columbian report the news accurately in Clark County? Is the Columbian pushing an agenda (like the CRC) with their “reporting” and advocacy? Are there stories in Clark County that the Columbian chooses to ignore and hide from its readers and the public?
Before any questions like these can be answered, let’s look at a fairly recent specific example.
The Wall Street Journal wrote an article on October 30 last year (linked here), which discussed how elder justice centers are creating opportunities for abuse. The first example in the report was the elder justice center founded by Clark County Prosecutor Golik in 2011, yet praised by the Columbian in multiple articles here, and here. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, there are some serious problems with oversight and elder abuse from the very elder abuse justice center system created in Clark County to stop this abuse in the first place. The article details how people appointed by the Clark County Courts through the Elder Justice Center to help the elderly are often appointed as “guardians” of the elderly, drain their assets, and provide no benefit to the elderly. Here are some quotes from that article:
“One day in March 2012, 71-year-old Linda McDowell received a knock at the door of her small Vancouver, Wash., home. Ms. McDowell needed court-appointed help, the visitor told her.”
“The visit marked the start of a 30-month stretch in Washington’s guardianship system that upended her life and drained much of her $700,000 in assets. People involved in her case still disagree about whether Ms. McDowell ever needed a guardian. But by the time a judge decided that one wasn’t necessary, the value of her assets had dropped by about $470,000, much of which was spent on several guardians and related expenses, court and bank records show.
“My savings are gone,” says Ms. McDowell…”
(Wall Street Journal – “Abuse Plagues System of Legal Guardians for Adults” – By Arian Campo-Flores and Ashby Jones October 30, 2015)
If you are one of the shrinking percentage of Clark County residents who rely on the Columbian as your source for local news, this story would surprise you. The Columbian has never critically examined the abuses in the Clark County elder justice center since its founding in 2011. Instead, it took two Wall Street Journal reporters, one based in Miami, and the other in New York City to report on some serious problems in Clark County happening a few blocks from the Columbian’s building. Despite the Wall Street Journal front page report, the Columbian remained mute on the scandal. Does the Columbian and Mr. Brancaccio not consider this news?
Exposing corruption in government is a healthy and necessary role
of journalism. Most journalists share a passion to expose the truth. The Columbian, as a self-appointed news arbiter, is ignoring local stories that are newsworthy to the Wall Street Journal and “bloggers” like me. Do the bloggers at the Columbian prefer to post silly articles about rude council members like this rather than commit to investigative journalism?
All journalists should care about delivering the news and exposing the truth about government and our communities to the citizens who are affected. The Columbian should be a part of that process, not an obstacle to it. It should not matter who delivers the truth, whether the journalist has a cushy office in downtown Vancouver, or writes an article in a basement. It is incumbent on as many of us as possible to deliver the news any way we possibly can.
Who determines what news is worth knowing in Clark County? The editor of the Columbian? The answer is the people who consume the news. For the Columbian, this would include their subscribers. Based on the dropping circulation numbers, the Columbian is failing in this arena. Perhaps they should try to fill this news void themselves.
We shouldn’t hate newspapers, and it would be better for all of us if the newspapers didn’t hate those of us who are filling the news void created by self-styled arbiters like Mr. Brancaccio. Last week two of my “blogs” were reprinted in local newspapers – one in the Battleground Reflector (linked here), and the other in the Nisqually Valley News (linked here). I’m still a “blogger” disparaged by the Columbian, but if it takes people like me to expose stories in Clark County that the local paper refuses to cover, exactly who is filling the news void?
Actions you can take:
Call the Columbian and tell them what you think: 360-735-4505
If you have whistleblower information about corruption in Clark County or other State and local government go here to learn more.
Buy a video camera and start taking video at local public meetings – you never know what you might discover or how useful it may be in the future for reference.
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…