Getting your information in Maryland's current media landscape

News on paper has ebbed badly over the past few years, and casual Net browsing just may not bring you the whole truth. How can progressive Marylanders improve their quality of information?

/By Woody Woodruff/ In an age of declining print media and less support for their newsrooms and the people who cover the news, some things get left out. Those of us who live in Maryland’s DC suburbs can testify to that, with the local monopoly print daily being owned by a dot-com billionaire and little but weather and mayhem on the TV news.

More and more of us get our “news” on the web and through social media, and that can be a risky road to the truth as most of us have found out. We are not that good yet at doing the professional filtering of input ourselves that we used to count on from news professionals.

And there’s nothing like the hectic three-month mad dash of the Maryland General Assembly, where special interests and everyday folks joust for advantage as the laws and state budget are manufactured, to remind us how important timely news can be.

As progressives, we like to think that we work from knowledge, and from an informed perspective. As some like Stephen Colbert are fond of saying, “the facts have a liberal bias.” We need news.

We need news more than ever as this unusual election cycle bears down on us, too, with Maryland’s primary on April 26 and the deadline for registration for that election April 5 – that’s next week!

But where is the news? The daily Journal newspapers faded out in the early 2000s. The suburban Maryland Gazette editions had their uses, as Hal Ginsberg pointed out when they were closed last summer by the parent WaPo. And we still have weekly papers that provide some hyperlocal coverage, like the Sentinels – but we are more likely, these days, to check in with their web presence than to seek out their newsprint versions.

And because it’s so easy to look for topics we already believe we need to know about, it’s easy to overlook the news we don’t know we need – the “unknown unknowns,” in the phrase that good ol’ Don Rumsfeld used to deploy to keep us confused.

That is, we are no longer liable to encounter the total news package that tries to be a mirror of the world, national, state or local cosmos at the moment, displaying all the events and ideas in circulation and, aspirationally, showing the relationships between them.

We’re not going to get that from the web-trendy, shiny-object WaPo despite the high quality of many of the editors and writers (the current version of the WaPo does not, however, seem to support many copy editors). The Baltimore Sun and its weeklies have been a piñata for the several trips through bankruptcy of the Tribune Company and, with limited print circulation, sit behind a difficult paywall (though, below, you can see some back doors to what you need).

Online, however, there are several great sources of this more comprehensive perspective for Maryland news. Your Progressive Maryland BlogSpace types depend on them, and if you want to get enough news about Maryland into your inbox, you might try these too.

Comprehensive news aggregators include Center Maryland and The Maryland Reporter. You’ll find some excellent original reporting in both of them but much of what they offer is links to publications around the state, including text articles, audio and video from some broadcast outlets. Both act as a “state roundup” for the news as well as opinion and include interesting stuff from daily papers in Annapolis, Frederick, Hagerstown and Cumberland as well as the business press – and, inevitably, the WaPo and Sun.

The two aggregators have many overlaps in content, but the news choices of each can be subtly different and the commentary wide-ranging. Center Maryland is run by a four-man board and explicitly aims to draw the state’s political spectrum back from a polarization trend toward bipartisan pragmatism, arguing that more news and more facts will promote that outcome. The Maryland Reporter flies a more traditional flag of covering the news, with veteran state reporter Len Lazarick at the helm. Savvy original commentary from Josh Kurtz on Center Maryland and Barry Rascovar and Lazarick on The Maryland Reporter enliven the content.

You won’t go wrong choosing one or the other. A certified (or certifiable) news glutton, I choose both. You can get emails from them with each new edition, five days a week for Center Maryland and roughly three a week for the Maryland Reporter.

An excellent additional source of news – especially long-form and deeply researched stuff – is the highly professional student project at the Merrill College of Journalism on the College Park campus. Capital News Service provides news to all state outlets and you will see the students’ work show up on both the aggregators discussed above, usually having appeared in a smaller urban daily or weekly. The Sun and WaPo are too cool for school – their loss –  but some of the weeklies associated with the Sun (Patuxent Publishing) will run CNS material. You can sample the work of these grad students, who run a first-class (and professionally supervised) news operation, at their website.

(Full disclosure: this writer has both studied and taught at the Merrill College of Journalism.)

The web also offers Maryland political blogs that do not pretend to be centrist – probably, starting with this one, where when we say “progressive” we mean it. Check our index if you have missed past morsels. You can also find political gossip and inside-baseball electoral stuff as well as thoughtful thumbsuckers at Maryland Scramble, Maryland Juice and Seventh State. Maryland Scramble and Maryland Juice are mostly about elections and elected officials, and there’s quite a lot of that in The Seventh State as well.

Scramble loves to be first with hot news, like the latest endorsements or insults. Juice is less up-to-the-minute, but only by a little. Neither is close to centrist, being run by liberal Democratic activists. Seventh State, directed by AU professor (and former Chevy Chase mayor) David Lublin with guest contributors, is probably a little closer to the center, but only because Lublin’s in-depth approach tends to explore the whole range of behaviors and practices. But its subtitle is “Maryland Politics Watch” and that’s no accident, either. All have an unavoidable MoCo bias because that’s where their instigators ply their trade, but national, state and local issues and elections, the bubbling Baltimore mayoral race and other shiny objects get their attention, and maybe yours too.

If you are already a Twitter user you can become a follower of reporters at the WaPo or Sun and – particularly in the case of the Sun – see their blogs or articles that might otherwise be behind the paywall. Even after the fact, it can be fun and instructive to track a story in real time, and their tweets trace that pattern.

If you need something like the thump of the newspaper landing in your driveway to kick-start your need for news, most of these entities (not PM BlogSpace, not yet) will send you an email with links to the main site on a regular basis.  

So, you see, you have a more comprehensive look at the totality of the news available than you might have thought, especially from the two aggregators. This is important and lets you prioritize your approach to information in a way that the random Internet or social media do not. For progressives, that’s important. Not that you’re off the hook for applying your best thinking to what you see. But there’s food for your thought.