HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Former Governor Thomas H. Kean has no problem talking about the political divide in today’s America and the troubles that can bring.
“Democracy is in trouble,” Kean said at a fundraising dinner Wednesday night for the relatively new Corporation for New Jersey Local Media, a non-profit founded to benefit local journalism.
Kean got a nice ovation upon mounting the podium, leading him to quip it was nice to have reporters applauding him. Everyone in the room at the Stone Terrace at John Henry’s was not a reporter, but you got the point.
There was more cheering when the former governor said of newspapers, “This to me is the essence of democracy.”
This, naturally, is what you expect a politician to say at a press event.
Yet, on the other hand, the press is in trouble across the country and especially, it seems, in New Jersey.
In a state with more than a thousand municipal governing bodies and school boards combined, keeping track of what public officials do is a huge challenge.
For the most part, that is no longer happening.
Corporate ownership of newspapers has meant cuts and cuts, and then, more cuts.
That means daily newspapers no longer have the staff to regularly send reporters to local town council and school board meetings. Nor, in some cases do they have the motivation to do so, believing that fluff and such things as ranking the best hot dog stands in a region attracts more readers.
Kean said that when he first ran for the Assembly in the 1960’s, there were seven local papers – daily and weekly – in his one district. He said he was interviewed by every one of them.
Fast forward to today.
Robert Gordon, now a member of the state Public Utilities Commission, previously was a long time senator from Bergen County. He told me at the dinner that one of the toughest things about his reelections was preparing for endorsement interviews with The Record. (Full disclosure: I was an editorial writer at The Record from 2011 to 2017).
But the last time he ran, Gordon said The Record no longer cared about endorsement interviews.
The goal of the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media is to preserve and strengthen the relevance of local journalism. A specific goal is to support and convert the 14 newspapers published by the New Jersey Hills Media Group to non-profit status. These papers include such publications as the Randolph Reporter, Chatham Courier and Florham Park Eagle.
Kean himself said he’s a faithful reader of the group’s paper in his hometown, the Bernardsville News.
Politics is everywhere these days and the founders of the group stress the bipartisanship of the endeavor.
The chair of the group is Nicolas Platt, a Republican from Harding. The executive director is Amanda Richardson, a Democrat from Harding. Not only that, they ran against each other for the township committee a few years ago. Platt won.
The dinner was called the Byrne Kean Dinner in honor of both former governors. In addition to Kean, former Governor James McGreevey was in attendance.
Platt told a story that sized up the need to bolster today’s news coverage.
He said that a few years ago, he decided to educate himself on county government. So, he began attending every Morris County freeholder work session and regular meeting. He said that at first reporters covered the meetings as well, but then they stopped coming.
That’s what the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media wants to change.