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Articles    H3'ed 10/31/15

Journalism and Government Corruption

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Message Val Hayden

There's an obvious lesson in this story for today. A city council and the local media have to hold municipal officials accountable for the job they're doing. It's not enough for a local council to just rubber-stamp what a mayor wants without asking questions. And it's not enough for a paper or television station for that matter to just churn out stories about accidents, shootings, announcements by the mayor and votes by boards together with a few light features. There has to be more.

Cities large and small are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in public money and it's imperative that that money be used wisely. In Bridgeport alone, between the city budget and Board of Education budget, more than $500 million in public funds are being spent this year. (It should be noted as well, that Bridgeport raises a lot of that money by hitting its residents with one of the highest property-tax rates in the nation.)

There's a lot of programs and contracts out there and opportunities for not only money to be wasted, but unfortunately, for money to be stolen.

A local paper has to hire enough reporters to be able to go out and really follow what municipal officials are up to, how money is being spent, who's benefiting from contracts, and spot any troubling patterns. If red flags pop up, a paper has to respond.

If they don't, it's not journalism.

I don't want to hear this talk about how 'we don't have money.' It is true that papers are not as strong as they used to be financially, and some have floundered in recent years. But an awful lot of papers, such as the Post and the Hartford Courant (Tribune Company) in Hartford, are owned by large, diversified corporations. They are making money.

Hearst Corporation, which now owns the Post, earned $10.3 billion in revenues in 2014, a more than 6-percent advance over the previous year, according to a business article in the New York Post.

Hearst has the money to hire more reporters and editors at the Post. The paper now has --- similar to the 1990s --- one or two reporters covering Bridgeport City Hall on a daily basis. That's not enough, even though the staff that is there is doing a good job. The paper, to its credit, now has an investigative team that from time to time will do regional or Bridgeport stories. But more staff is needed to really follow what's going on in the city on an active basis.

Next week Bridgeport will hold municipal elections. Joe Ganim, who now admits his wrongdoing and says he wants to make up for it, is trying to make a comeback. He won the Democratic Party nomination in a September primary, and may well win the election. Also running are Republican Enrique Torres and Independents Mary-Jane Foster and Charles Coviello.

It will be critical that in the years ahead, the local media, principally the Post, closely follow whomever becomes mayor and how public money is being spent.

Bridgeport can't afford a repeat.

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