"Reporter"? Not any more.
There's a heavy conversation going on in some quarters of town today over the "news" that Metro, Portland's extra
special layer of government, has hired Nick Christensen as a "reporter," to cover the goings-on at Metro, supposedly from a neutral perspective. It's been known for months that Metro was planning to do this, but now that the guy's on the job at $26 an hour, without benefits, the O has written it up and some of the usual hens are clucking.
To us, it is hardly surprising. The mastermind behind the move is Metro's chief flack, Jim Middaugh, who is a dyed-in-the-wool member of GIGL -- the Goofball Ideas in Government League, founded by the now-departed Portland commissioner, Erik Sten. Middaugh, as you'll recall, ran unsuccessfully for the Portland City Council on the taxpayers' dime three years ago as part of Sten's quixotic and short-lived "clean money" experiment. (Although Sten tipped him off early to the impending vacancy to give him a head start on his opponents, he still lost.) Now Middaugh's apparently read a magazine article somewhere that says an agency having its own "reporter" is a cool thing to do. And so onto the public pad goes Christensen.
Is it harmful? Aw, heck no. As long as this fellow's readers understand that he's a paid flack, and that everything he writes is as suspect as a press release from the Metro bureaucrats themselves, who cares? Just remember that if he ever got too far off the company line, this experiment would be terminated with extreme prejudice.
Moreover, Christensen might do a better job covering Metro than the mainstream media itself. Given the many puff pieces emanating from the O these days, you wonder whether the younger writers over there are learning how to do more than rewrite government press releases, anyway.
No, don't miss the bigger story here: how much money state and local government is paying for public relations and public information flacks these days. Somebody needs to start running a tally of how many millions the government is spending on Tweeters, press release writers, spokespersons, "reporters," and other spin doctors. Not to mention what they shell out for the Gard and Gerber-type outside flacks, "branding" specialists, poll-takers, and media strategists. There's no doubt that it is many, many millions of dollars every year. Just how many millions would make an interesting read. Now, there's a summer project -- somebody got a grant for that?
There's a lot of harm done by the size of the government p.r. machine. For one thing, it eats up perfectly good tax dollars that ought to be spent on... you know... actually governing... rather than sitting around making announcements. Is it all that important that the whole world hear the exciting news that Nick Fish gave a speech at some banquet over the weekend? Fix a pothole with that money.
But more importantly, it seems that there are now more government-paid flacks than there are professional journalists. If you wonder why the members of the mainstream media let the politicians and bureaucrats get away with murder, keep in mind that those politicians and bureaucrats may be the journalists' next paycheck, in desperate times. And everybody in the picture knows it. It's a sad state of affairs.
Plus, am I reading this right -- Christensen is also the president of the Lents Neighborhood Association? Can you say "potential conflict of interest"?