Local Paper Is Liberal? Hardly

I regularly peruse the official Facebook page for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph — partially because I prefer print news over broadcast, and partially to chuckle over some of the comments left behind by readers.

While their posts don’t garner the number of responses seen on pages belonging to larger competing news outlets such as WVVA, the comments therein are often a lot more amusing… or infuriating depending upon your point of view.

One accusation thrown at the paper on a regular basis is that it leans left. The people who leave such comments are either trolls, or uninformed occasional readers basing their opinion on one news story or column out of many. The Bluefield Daily Telegraph may be many things, but a liberal publication is not one of them.

Readers who yell “Liberal!” at the paper often base their charge on the now-infamous endorsement the editorial board ran for Hillary Clinton in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential race.

However, from my perspective, something was amiss with this endorsement. It simply did not “read” like a typical piece from their editorial board. Something smelled fishy, and a Google search quickly verified I was on the right track.

Similar editorials were published at about the same time by other CNHI-owned newspapers. They weren’t carbon copies but they all shared similar, and in some cases, identical expressions and phrasing. Pro-Clinton pieces were published by, among others, the Daily Independent and the Valdosta Daily Times. Those are just two examples of many I found.

I also found a story on Yellowhammer News offering evidence that Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. made it clear to their publications that Donald Trump did not have their blessing… and then provided the boilerplate of a pro-Clinton editorial to all of them:

A newspaper company (CNHI) financed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama is facing scrutiny after playing a role in a wide-reaching series of Clinton endorsements, which was handed down by local newspapers across the country.

Area liberals and conservatives alike were hoodwinked by this corporate sleight of hand, as witnessed by both chortles of agreement and howls of protest on social media. Interestingly enough, however, either no one wrote to the editor to complain, or their letters simply weren’t published.

I personally wrote a letter to the paper with the results of my quick investigation but it never saw the light of day — rather odd, since my letter was a defense of their editorial board and a jab at owners CNHI for their disservice to honesty.

At any rate, this canned Clinton endorsement seems to be the germination point for now-common claims the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is a liberal rag. To prove this claim wrong simply requires one to spend a bit of time looking at the paper’s own editorials, and the syndicated columns they choose to publish.

Local conservative ventriloquist’s dummy James “Smokey” Shott, he of the revered Shott family who founded the paper, is a regular fixture in the Tuesday edition. Smokey never met a Heritage Foundation column he didn’t like, and often choose to “borrow” ideas from.

Whenever Smokey isn’t regurgitating content from the Heritage website, the newspaper runs stuff straight from the source on a regular basis. These articles are easy enough to find; just look for this byline: “[Insert Author Name Here] is a [Insert Job Title Here] in the Heritage Foundation.”

The paper’s editorial board by and large sticks with local issues when they write a column, but a quick search for Barack Obama on their website yields a plethora of board-written diatribes against him, mostly because of his supposed war on coal.

Even a modicum of research on the topic proves the nonexistent war was mostly global market forces in play, but the paper’s voice was loud and shrill, fervently anti-Obama, practically from the day he took office.

Except for the occasional glowing words for perceived moderate Democratic political candidates such as Joe Manchin, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph nearly inevitably endorses Republican candidates, and seldom if ever criticizes them when they are elected to public office, even when their words and deeds are totally vile.

The most glaring example of this is how the editorial board carefully avoided any comment on Del. Eric Porterfield, a loathsome phony Christian who repeatedly expressed deep hatred of the LGBTQ community some months ago, referring to them as “brutal monsters”.

Porterfield even suggested he would drown his kids if he learned they were gay. Most of his fellow Republicans condemned his remarks; the paper remained silent.

When it comes to the news of the day, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph presents a balanced view of local, state and national issues. Anyone who claims the paper is biased in its news coverage is completely off base.

If I were the publisher or editor of the paper, though, I would give more time and print space in the opinion section to the liberal side of things for readers who might veer left, but that’s just me. Perhaps they don’t think this group is large enough in number to matter, or maybe they are afraid of angering their conservative base.

It’s my view they are shooting themselves in the foot. In an age where the traditional newspaper is seeing dwindling subscription numbers and declining advertising revenue, the sensible approach would be position the opinion pages of the paper somewhere in the middle so as to attract and retain more readers.

The opinion pages are what gives a newspaper its voice. If that voice doesn’t speak to everyone at least part of the time, then it isn’t truly speaking to and for the community at large… it is a propaganda machine.

Even among the largest metro newspapers, print circulation is a fraction of what it was in the early 2000s. A small town newspaper in a rural region, impacted by a shrinking population and ever-more-limited disposable income, can ill afford to lose readers.

By letting its voice represent only one segment of the community, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph only hurts itself in the long run… and cannot claim in good conscience to be a true steward of the people it is supposed to serve.

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