Degner To Launch Harrisonburg Times

Brent Finnegan -- February 28th, 2010

Mayor Kai Degner is putting together a local news organization in reaction to what he and others deem deficiencies and biases in the local news media. The first post on Harrisonburg Times cites the Daily News-Record’s editorial bias, website paywall, and a lack of in-depth reporting on WHSV as reasons to start something new.

. . . There is a break in trust between the current newspaper of record and its market. The editorial stance of the Daily News-Record diverges more and more from the values and opinions of the bulk of Harrisonburg-Rockingham residents. For all the good the DNR does to inform the public on local issues, its ultraconservative stance is offending and alienating a growing population of people – some who even make it a personal policy to “Do Not Read” the DNR . . .

The website is expected to become active in April.

For my part, I will likely have little or nothing to do with Harrisonburg Times (though there may be opportunities for collaboration). I’m overextended as it is, and I’m putting any spare energy I have into growing hburgnews.

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66 Responses to “Degner To Launch Harrisonburg Times”

  1. mtnsailor says:

    The Harrisonburg TIMES has much potential. The DN-R has been for too long way too right-wing and aligned with the John Birch Society. If you have time to Google ‘John Birch Society’; look at their many extreme views ( want to tear down all public schools.. ). Their frequent writer is Cort Kirkwood, who does Editorial of the DN-R. Its way past time to CANCEL subscription to DN-R and give strong feedback to this off-track, family monopoly.

  2. Josh says:

    I of course wish Kai the best in his latest endeavor, but is this in any way a conflict of interests?

  3. BANDIT says:

    It sure would be nice to get both sides of a story rather than the one that the DNR wants you to believe. The DNR has had a monopoly on news presentation WAY too long!

    Good luck Kai, it’s time the ‘burg gets the news – not an interpretation of the news.

  4. Lowell Fulk says:

    It will be interesting to watch as this develops. I wish both publications success!

  5. Jamie Smith says:

    Don’t give Kirkwood all the credit (blame). Quite a few of the DNR editorials show up in the Winchester Star as well. The Senator still has his hands on the throttle.

  6. Lowell Fulk says:

    Ahh, competition. For readership, for ad revenue, for writing talent, for credibility, for THE story… And the winners are us!

  7. cook says:

    Interested to hear what financial model the Times plans to use to become consistent and sustainable.

  8. Kai says:

    Thanks for the post about the project. There are lots of legit questions amidst the excitement of an additional news source.

    In terms of conflict of interest, sure. There are some obvious land mines, and all I can do today is say I will act responsibly and with integrity, knowing everyone will hold me accountable. Only time will tell if the Harrisonburg Times is credible and fair. I’d venture to say pretty much any business I get into while being mayor could be deemed a conflict of interest (e.g. facilitating group dialogue and community events, or owning a business related to growth and development).

    This idea wouldn’t be feasible without the critical mass of us who are looking for an alternative, and supporting forums like Hburgnews. The business model depends on that critical mass making an investment in this new project by contributing content and financial support. Obviously, the overhead costs will also be much lower than traditional media.

    There is an application to apply as a writer.

    There is also a way to “subscribe” financially. I say subscription, but it’s not a pay-wall. All content will always be freely available. The subscription is more like a contribution to the cause and goes towards covering expenses and advertising. Kind of like Eightyone was doing with memberships.

    Another point that isn’t yet clearly communicated is this is a broader effort than just me. There are already 15 committed writers, and there is a growing advisory board. I will wait to announce this group for a couple weeks so they’re all announced at once.

    Tune into WHSV later today for news coverage of the Harrisonburg Times.

  9. Karl says:

    Might be good to check in with Chris Graham over at AFP. He’s run an online paper for several years now and could probably offer some sound advice.

  10. Lowell Fulk says:

    It seems that many will really like the idea until the calls begin for selling ad space or seeking some financial help.

    Brent has done quite a good job with his merry band of journalists as far as he can. To compete with the DNR however, someone is going to need to attend and report relevant events. Karl can provide much insight in this regard. I’m interested to see how things develop.

  11. BANDIT says:

    Just do it…the “how to” will come.

  12. Deb SF says:

    WHSV ran a story about this at 6PM:

  13. Dan says:

    Go for it Kai! I think subscribing to the Times is a great way to register disapproval of the DNR and I will gladly give some money.

    As for conflict of interest. It seem to me that Kai’s very public role as mayor will make it hard for him to get away with anything inappropriate. Everyone who will read the Times knows that the mayor influences what is written. Therefore, anything written about the mayor and other things related to the city government will be heavily scrutinized. Scrutiny of the media is great and it’s good that these questions are being asked about Kai and the Times but, to me, it hi-lights the fact that there is not nearly enough scrutiny of the corporate media.

  14. Andy says:

    Will the Harrisonburg Times operate as a primary news source? By that I mean, will its writers cover newsworthy events? Writers for many “news” sources these days hear about important events through the established media or from sources in the community and publish articles with a different editorial slant. For example: If there was an important city council meeting, the Do Not Read would typically have a reporter in the room who is there solely to report what he/she sees. Will the Harrisonburg Times take a similar approach?

  15. Dave Briggman says:

    Perhaps Brent and company can show you all about censorship…especially when postings are critical of your political brethren?

  16. Yes, Dave. Maybe we can teach classes on how to censor people. We could charge $20 per person per class. A new business model for news!

  17. Karl says:

    @Andy…I have a feeling that the Times will have “someone” at every City Council meeting.

  18. Lowell Fulk says:

    Don’t bet against Karl on this one.

  19. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Well, Brent, I don’t know if Dave’s idea would help us make a profit but at least then we could buy some new jackboots. My old ones are covered in the blood of the oppressed commenters who didn’t follow our two-sentence TOS. I heard they are working on a museum to commemorate all of the thoughtful opinions that died under our brutal regime.

    It will be a very small museum.

  20. Dave Briggman says:

    Quite a comment, Jeremy. Someone should put you in for a Pulitzer Prize. You’d be as deserving as Al Gore and Obama were of the Nobel.

  21. David Miller says:

    I look forward to the Times, both as a reader and contributor. I think some new approaches are just what our community needs to continue growing. I’m still hburg loyal but more is better

  22. Jim says:

    First, you don’t have to worry about the DNR giving this story any coverage!

    Let me see: The Byrd Family owns the DNR and Winchester Star (and several other small weekly peppers in the region), and what was the profession of their patriarch? Hmmm, a U.S. Senator! There are numerous examples of elected officials (local, state, and national) who make their living operating media outlets. This is nothing new…Some do a commendable job of separating their personal interest in order to uphold the principals of ethical journalism, and some don’t (example: DNR)…

    I know several insiders at the DNR, and I can tell you things are not well. Years ago, DNR insiders use to brag that the paper was so profitable that it literally “printed its own money”. And today, the DNR is barely covering cost; and it’s questionable if the Winchester Star is even doing that. Also, several of their weekly papers are loosing money at an alarming rate, and it’s very likely several will be closing down in the near future…

    If you know the Byrd Family, the one thing they love above all else is MONEY and PROFIT, and the one thing they hate above all else is liberal/progressive politics (cough, cough…massive resistance…cough). So, what you have in the Harrisonburg Times is another media outlet which has the potential to cut into their already dwindling profit margins and reader base, and potentially promulgate progressive ideals. The Byrd Family knows their mini-media empire is in trouble, and they also know there is little they can (or will) do about it.

  23. MB Green says:

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York owns a news company. If it’s not a conflict of interest for him why is it a conflict of interest for Kai?
    And the only time I have seen something get supressed here is when someone resorted to outright name calling.

  24. Yo Dave, head’s up gunny! You might want to take a break from your regular talk show fare and listen to Talk of the Nation at 1400 today. WMRA, 90.7 on the FM.
    Does the constitutional principle that struck down DC’s handgun ban also apply to cities and states? Tuesday on NPR’s.

  25. Christa says:

    Looking forward to seeing this. Kudos to Kai. As DNR is pretty much all conservative editorials, will Hburg Times be all liberal?

    Jim says:
    If you know the Byrd Family, the one thing they love above all else is MONEY and PROFIT, and the one thing they hate above all else is liberal/progressive politics.

    Do you own a business Jim? In order to exist, businesses must turn a profit. The Byrd’s happen to be conservatives.
    I don’t understand this mentality that making a profit is evil.

  26. I don’t think Jim is making a case against profit. More like if your business is selling shoes, but you believe anything other than black shoes are an abomination so you only sell black shoes; then you shouldn’t be surprised when a growing number of brown-shoe wearing ‘burgers give you a pass. And your long-term customers know that when you trumpet something new it will be predictably black so why bother…your closet is full of black shoes from the less expensive Fox Shoe Store.

  27. seth says:

    degner, bloomberg and berlusconi….
    i think there’s a t shirt in there somewhere.


  28. Christa says:

    I have no problems with “burgers” giving me a pass because I am conservative. Just the opposite. :)

  29. Dave Briggman says:

    Thanks, Bubby!

  30. Emmy says:

    It’s a fair question. Kai is a Democrat and I think it’s likely that a lot of the people attracted to the idea of this will be more liberal minded. Hopefully as time goes on the writers will become diverse.

    Journalism 101 teaches you to keep your opinion out of your stories. The job of the editor is to make sure that the opinions stay out. The stories should be facts and nothing more. Opinion columns are obviously an exception to that, but in most areas it should be hard to tell whether a liberal or a conservative is writing it.

  31. Dave Briggman says:

    Except that on WSVA this morning, Kai said the word “news” very little, where “editorial” and “opinion” was the overwhelming theme…

    A government official owning a media outlet “serving” specifically the jurisdiction in which he governs…nope…no conflict there.

    Legal/ethical obligations if/when he chooses to run for re-election?

  32. I think that the DNR has gotten worse over time, and I have heard speculation that this is partly due to the old former senator having stepped aside from the more immediate oversight of his property in favor of one of his sons. The old man was always conservative, but of more genteel sort that was always polite and did not go out of its way to insult people and throw things in their faces. The editorials in the DNR have taken on a very different character since J. Cort Kirkwood took charge of doing them, with a nasty and insulting edge towards large groups of people.

    I am not sure that I have seen too much bias in too many of the news stories in the paper, but there is definitely bias in what is presented and where in the paper and so on. I have been struck by how many stories have focused favorably on the simply awful Robert Marshall and what he has to say and think, which certainly implies that he is approved of, or at least was prior to this latest flameup over his remarks about disabled children and abortion. It might have been understandable if he was representing areas the DNR is read in, but he is not. So, the slanting of the news coverage there has also worsened.

  33. Emmy says:

    I agree the slant on what is covered has become very bad over the years. I hope a broad variety of topics are covered in the Times.

  34. Andy says:

    @Karl, I was hoping for someone covering the event, not participating in the event.

    The point I was trying to make is that in order for the Harrisonburg Times to directly compete with the DNR, it can’t use the DNR as a source or as affirmation (e.g. the way hburgnews uses the DNR). The Times would have to cover its own news. Otherwise it would just be editorializing the news that’s already broken. Hope that makes sense.

  35. I’ve covered a handful of City Council meetings for hburgnews. Deb has also. They are long and boring: not the kind of thing unpaid citizen journalists can easily sustain for long periods of time. Additionally, those posts typically don’t garner a lot of comments. It’s broccoli journalism.

    Curious what people here think news is worth. How much should someone covering a city council meeting get paid, and who would pay it? I ask because hburgnews will start selling ads this spring, and accepting contributions that will go to pay for original reporting (not blogging, as Andy describes). How much is news worth?

  36. Andy says:

    @Brent: I hope you didn’t take my comment as a knock on hburgnews. It is a much more valuable source of information to me than the DNR and WHSV combined. I think that you would agree that (for the most part) hburgnews is not a primary news source. My main question for Kai was whether the Harrisonburg Times plans to be a primary news source like the DNR or some sort of hybrid like hburgnews.

    Also, city council meetings may be a bad example (because they are so damn boring). There aren’t many people who would pay for coverage of city council meetings. That being said, there is a real difference between covering an event and a) attending an event, b) hearing about an event, or c) reading about an event in a primary news source like the DNR.

  37. Emmy says:

    Not sure about the paid part of the whole thing. This is where I think Karl’s suggestion about contacting Chris Graham would be a good idea. His model seems to be working. Those covering meetings and other events deserve pay, but I really don’t know how you go about deciding what it’s all worth.

  38. Andy, no offense taken. I’ve said before that more than 90 percent of what’s published on hburgnews at this point is blogging (or, pulling from already-published sources). The original stories are few and far between (the Google fiber story is a recent example of an original).

    If I had my way, it would be the other way ’round: 90 percent original reporting, 10 percent pulling from other sources. But the reality is that original reporting is a full-time job. I think a more realistic compromise solution is to have more of a 50/50 blend, where the original reporting is paid, and the blogging is unpaid. That’s the model/goal what we’re working toward on hburgnews, albeit slowly.

  39. cook says:

    From the perspective of someone hanging around the courts quite a bit, I know there is a difference between recycling HPD press releases and telling an interesting news story. There are so many great news stories, almost every day right here in Harrisonburg, that never get told. The Northern Virginia Daily has done a pretty good job telling stories up there (the few times I am following a case up North), but none of the local media outlets investigate and report news. It is an expensive proposition, I know, but I hope someone (The Times??) eventually figures out how to do it.

  40. Lowell Fulk says:

    We as a community must decide that we value journalism well done enough that we don’t expect it at no cost.
    As businesses we must purchase advertising, and as consumers of the product we must be willing to invest in what we value.

    I’m not particularly covered up with money, but I am willing to invest in Brent’s endeavor.

    Thank you Brent for all the effort and heart you’ve already invested.

  41. republitarian says:

    I think the site should be “socialized”.

    Take all the contributors, have them submit their stories, not taking into account the hours they spent or the quality, then take the ad revenue…..and give everyone the same cut.

  42. BANDIT says:

    I would suggest a HOT LINE LINK for the public to be able to tell about NEWS as it’s happening kinda thing…..too.

  43. Karl says:

    A site dedicated to the “news” in Harrisonburg finds meetings of the governing body too long and too boring to report on? City Council only sets tax rates, holds the school systems purse strings and says yay or nay to nearly every housing and business development in the city.

    I love what goes on here and the information shared, but the above thinking is as backwards as I have read at Hburgnews.

  44. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I don’t think he’s saying that the meetings are “too long and too boring to report on”, just that they’re long and boring, so it’s hard to get volunteers to report on them. Those who do report on them are doing an important service.

    I wish that video of local public meetings would be made available online. I often find that the things reporters think are the most important aren’t the things I would find most important, and it’s usually best to have a primary source rather than rely on someone’s interpretation.

    Last night at the school board meeting they mentioned an FOIA request that might upset some school employees. Anyone know what they were talking about? Based on Dr. Ford’s comments, I wondered if it might have to do with a story some years ago about the AP requesting the names and salary info for the superintendent, highest paid teacher, and football coaches in a bunch of different school divisions.

  45. It’s broccoli journalism, Karl, and you know it: the stuff the public needs, but not the stuff they necessarily want. I have Google Analytic data to back it up. Fewer people click on those stories than posts about restaurants or open threads about snow.

    You completely missed my point and mischaracterized my position. City Council meetings and the like should not be left to unpaid citizen journalists indefinitely. They (we) can report on it for a while, but there’s a burnout factor there. We would rather write about restaurants and politics.

    My point: let the bloggers be bloggers (unpaid) and let the community chip in some cash to help us pay for the stuff no one really wants to do. Ice cream is free. Broccoli costs money.

  46. Deb SF says:

    It’s worth noting that for Byrd and Bloomberg, media came first, and political office followed.

    Byrd got involved in newspapers in 1903, and was first elected to the VA senate a decade later in 1913.

    Bloomberg founded IMS, a firm selling financial information services in 1982, evolving as the net and web came into being, and was elected as mayor of NYC in 2001.

    Both used resources generated by private-sector success to gain elected office. I’m not aware of a case where anyone has done the reverse.

  47. That was my FOIA that they were talking about…it’s on my website.

  48. Gene Hart says:

    Wow, didn’t realize just how little my wife was paid for all the great, hard work she does for students, families and the Harrisonburg community.

    Not sure if they will all like having that info available to all online, but I do think it is useful to take a look at the names on all of David’s lists. When you hear talk about or discuss cuts to education funding realize that those names, those real people, are the ones who may not have jobs. It won’t be a “special education teacher” or a “reading specialist” or a “history position.” It will be a Jill Hart, a Jeremy Aldrich, or another of the dedicated public servants on those lists.

  49. Karl says:

    Ignoring the “broccoli” news defeats the ultimate purpose of the website you have here Brent…unless you have changed your mind since the meeting at the library.

    Jeremy, it’s difficult to decide what the news is coming out of a meeting. It’s part actual thinking and part making sure you cover the stuff other media outlets will be reporting on. I have always believed that there is more than one story from each meeting and we tend to stretch out the reporting on that over several days.

    My suggestion: Post the agenda and have the folks that read this blog tell you what they’d like coverage of. Of course a lot of news comes from non agenda items, but it would be a starting point. To keep you from getting too bored, just tape the meeting and fast forward to the proper agenda item.

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