On the eve of a new year and at the end of one of the most challenging ones I have faced in decades of media coverage, here are some of my best hopes for media in 2021 locally and nationally.
Tougher and more enterprising reporting on government by local TV news.
We are at an important moment in Baltimore City leadership with a new City Council president and mayor, both of whom promise an end to the same-old dysfunction and, in some cases, crime at City Hall.
I like what Mayor Brandon Scott is saying about fixing chronic problems like the seemingly chaotic water billing system. But promises are cheap, and both Mr. Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby face huge and complicated issues that have withstood the promises and efforts of other politicians who portrayed themselves as reformers.
Both are pushing for major changes and significant spending on the structure of government ― Mr. Scott with the new position of city administrator at a salary of $250,000 a year, and Mr. Mosby with a team of analysts that would cost about $700,000 annually. Throw in the salary of a deputy city administrator, and you are over a million dollars.
That level of spending demands journalistic scrutiny. And that does not mean standing in front of City Hall reciting the information from a news release while the word “LIVE” flashes on the screen. There is far too much of that on local TV news.
The Sun will continue to do the heavy journalistic lifting as it did with former Mayor Catherine Pugh. But if enterprise and investigative reporting of City Hall had been left to the efforts of local TV, Ms. Pugh might still be sitting in City Hall instead of prison.
Local TV needs to make the commitment to truly watchdog City Hall at this crucial time in our city’s history.
More responsible sports reporting when the story goes beyond games
The story of COVID-19 widespread infections among Ravens players and staff was important news that begged many questions.
But the Ravens, who wound up being fined $250,000 by the NFL for pandemic violations, initially responded in a highly limited way with a statement saying they had “disciplined” a staff member in connection with the COVID-19 cases, but didn’t name the person disciplined or the punishment.
I would ask every TV and radio station executive in town, particularly those that have financial relationships with the Ravens, if any of their reporters or commentators responded to the lack of information from the Ravens with anything as strong as the words of Sun columnist Mike Preston, who wrote: “Disciplined? What exactly does that entail? More than 250,000 people in this country have died from this pandemic, so there should be zero tolerance. Either follow the protocol or find a new job.”
Sports is not City Hall, but often it goes beyond the field of play in societal and cultural ways. Local broadcasters need to cover those stories with the same fervor too many of their stations show in kissing up to the Ravens.
A more politically informed and critical analysis of Gov. Larry Hogan
If anyone does not know that Mr. Hogan wants to be president in 2024, they are not paying attention. Every move he makes as governor this year should be analyzed through that prism: Is it for the good of the citizens of Maryland or Mr. Hogan’s political aspirations? Mr. Hogan is a sophisticated media performer. Maryland stations need to be just as savvy in their coverage of him.
A less political Sinclair Broadcast Group
If the Hunt Valley-based broadcaster wants to broadcast with a conservative bent, that is fine. But the extremist voices it has provided a platform for the last two months ― those pushing Mr. Trump’s unsupported claims that he won the election but it was stolen from him ― are not fine. A Sinclair spokesman pointed out that the claims were made on a “political talk show” ― “America This Week,” hosted by Eric Bolling ― not in a newscast. But, I believe, they weaken the credibility of all things Sinclair.
The marginalization of Mr. Trump
Once Mr. Trump is out of office, the press needs to use its power to marginalize him in every way possible. He cannot be ignored completely, of course, given the following he has. But let’s not respond to every intentionally provocative tweet. And let’s characterize him always as the liar he has shown himself to be.