Tag Archives: Bob Kinzel

Who gets to tell the Statehouse story?

This is a follow-up to my recent post about the gender imbalance in Vermont’s political press corps. We’re almost entirely men. And that does have an effect on what stories are told and not told.

Next question: Does it also have an effect on who gets to tell the stories? That is, who gets quoted in articles about Vermont politics and policy? Do we quote men more often than women? Unlike many corridors of power elsewhere, women are well represented in the highest ranks of Vermont government. Three of the four top legislative leaders are women; the four chairs of the powerful money committees are women, as are several other chairs; and the Scott administration is perhaps the most gender-balanced in Vermont history.

There’s one way to check on this, and it involves a ton of scutwork. I went through every frickin’ article written by 11 reporters who regularly cover the Statehouse in one full month, counting up the quotes. I chose May of this year because it included the legislature’s home stretch, a period when interest peaked and coverage was frequent. The 11 reporters included ten men and VTDigger’s education reporter Lola Duffort. She spent a lot of time in the Statehouse in May, and it seemed useful to include a woman even if she’s not technically a Statehouse reporter.

This turned out to be a tougher exercise than I thought. Counting up the quotes is simple enough, but people are often mentioned without being directly quoted. I decided on a standard that involved some subjective judgment: Does the person have agency in the story? Do they play an active role, or are they brought up in passing?

There’s a gray area here, and if anyone tried to reproduce my research they’d get slightly different numbers. But I’m confident that the overall trends would remain.

That’s one caveat. Another is the potential effect of small sample size. Some writers produced more material than others. A month is about the minimum time you’d need to produce representative numbers. If anyone wants to do a full session or a year, have at it.

The month of May was an outlier in some respects. A lot of coverage concerned the House/Senate dispute over issues like minimum wage, paid family leave, cannabis and guns. Stories tended to focus on the two leaders, Speaker Mitzi Johnson and President Pro Tem Tim Ashe. Both were usually quoted, which may have led to better gender balance overall.

Also, Gov. Phil Scott was largely a passive presence in May. He simply waited for the legislature to act — and if they didn’t, he got to stay on the sidelines. Many stories mentioned Scott but gave him no agency. Often, his views were cited by way of spokesperson Rebecca Kelley, which is a score in the female column each time.

Finally, just for the record, no one from the TQIA sections of the LGBTQIA community was quoted. I didn’t keep track of people of color, but as far as I can recall only two were quoted: Rep. Nader Hashim and Sen. Randy Brock.

Enough preliminaries. Let’s do the numbers.

I’ll start with myself, in my former role as political columnist for Seven Days. I wrote five columns in May. I cited 13 male government officials (elected or administrative) and 10 female. In the “other” category of advocates, lobbyists, non-government, I quoted six men and seven women. My overall total: 19 men, 17 women.

My colleague Kevin McCallum was the King of Quotes, citing far more people than any other reporter. (Which is a positive indicator of his work ethic and diligence.) He wrote 17 stories which quoted 44 male officials and 33 female, plus 12 male “others’ and 14 female. Total: 56 men, 47 women.

The third member of the Seven Days Statehouse crew was the now-departed Taylor Dobbs. Officials: 30 men, 21 women. Others: Four men, one woman. Total: 34 men, 22 women.

Gettin’ a little sketchy there.

I surveyed Paul Heintz’ work as well. He was the political editor in May, but he did write eight stores. Small sample size warning applies. Officials: 12 men, five women. Others: 14 men, nine women. Total: 26 men, 14 women. A couple of factors skewed his total: Some of his stories were about Vermont’s all-male congressional delegation, and he wrote a sizable story about an EB-5 court proceeding in which all the principals were men. I think we’d need a larger sample to truly determine whether or not he’s really an oinker.

That’s it for the Seven Days political team. On to VTDigger. And the moment you’ve been waiting for…

Political columnist Jon Margolis wrote eight pieces in May. He didn’t quote very many people, so again, small sample size, but he skewed heavily toward men. He quoted 16 men and seven women, plus five anonymous people — one of whom was identified as male. Margolis already ranked high on the Oinker Suspect List because of his comment about Mitzi Johnson supporting paid family leave because it’s a women’s issue and she’s “entirely female,” plus his anonymous quote about how “Tim [Ashe] has an Emerge problem,” referencing Emerge Vermont, the organization that trains women Democrats to run for office. The implication being, Ashe has to deal with uppity Emerge alums like Sens. Ruth Hardy and Becca Balint. Poor guy.

Margolis’ numbers are too small to be probative, but they confirm the impression that he’s maybe a bit of a pig. I’ll also mention that his first column in June was about the replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in which he both-sidesed the mass murder of native people.

Columbus did not introduce slavery to this hemisphere, where the natives had been enslaving one another, making war on one another, torturing one another, and sometimes eating one another for centuries.

True enough. There were wars and conquests and atrocities among the natives, just as there were back in Europe. But the indigenous people never committed actual, how shall I put it, genocide. They never conquered an entire continent by killing or displacing its resident population. That’s a massive difference in scale. And if Margolis had spoken with members of the Abenaki community for his column, he might have acquired a bit more nuance in his views.

But I digress.

As for Digger’s Statehouse reporters, things get a little complicated because there were a lot of co-authored stories. Those pieces had to be considered separately.

Xander Landen wrote 19 stories. Officials: 29 male, 21 female. Others: Six male, four female. Total: 35 male, 25 female. Hmm.

Colin Meyn wrote nine pieces. Officials: 22 men, 11 women. Others: Three men, six women. Total: 25 men, 17 women. Also hmm.

Kit Norton was sole author of only four stories. He co-wrote several, and was also responsible for a chatty daily Statehouse digest distributed by email. I only reviewed his posted articles. Officials: Six men, seven women. Others: Three men, two women. Total: Nine each.

Some combination of Landen, Meyn, Norton and Anne Galloway co-wrote nine stories. Officials: 21 men, 17 women. Others: No men, three women. Total: 21 men, 20 women.

Lola Duffort wrote 16 stories in May. Officials: 11 men, 14 women. Others: 18 men, 12 women. Total: 29 men, 26 women.

I also took a look at Vermont Public Radio’s two Statehouse regulars, Bob Kinzel and Peter Hirschfeld. Their stores are written for radio, but the transcripts are posted on VPR’s website. Kinzel wrote three stories in May (he spent a lot of time hosting “Vermont Edition”). He quoted nine men and two women. Small sample size, but ouch.

Hirschfeld produced 11 pieces in May. He quoted 22 men and 19 women.

That’s about it. Seven Days, VTDigger and VPR are the only outlets that produce significant quantities of in-depth state government reporting. The three major TV stations, to their credit, cover the Statehouse much more frequently than stations in other states. But their reports are usually quick hits lacking the depth or breadth of Vermont’s three top news organizations. (The Burlington Free Press no longer covers the Statehouse on anything like a regular basis.)

Conclusions? Some of the numbers indicate a potential problem with gender balance in some reporters’ work, but none of the results are strong enough to constitute definitive proof. Except maybe SOOOEEE PIG PIG PIG Margolis, who is, at least for now, Vermont’s only regular political columnist. Kinda sad, that.

But I will say that some reporters would be advised to check themselves. Maybe do a deeper dive on their own work, see how they did over a period of several months. If there’s a consistent male/female imbalance of 60/40 or greater, they probably have some implicit bias issues.

Also, the relative gender balance in Duffort’s reporting is one more data point for the importance of increased gender balance in the Statehouse press corps.

 

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Journalism by Press Release

Looking at my calendar, I see that we are almost at the halfway mark between the August 9 primary and the November 8 election. And I’m still waiting for the serious news coverage to begin.

So far, it’s been just short of pathetic. Reporters have chased around the obvious opportunities — press releases, press conferences, debates — but initiated very little on their own, and done virtually no fact-checking or analysis of candidates’ positions.

Maybe they’re just waiting. Or maybe the market-driven diminution of our media corps has reached the point where there simply isn’t any meat left on the bones.

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Sausage Party II: I think We’re All Dicks on This Bus

Aw, fer the love of Mike. There goes the eyelid again.

The Vermont media corps followed up their reliance on a teeny-tiny (and entirely male) pool of pundits with a rousing encore this morning.

First, I come across an article by VTDigger’s Mike Polhamus* about the wind energy issue in the gubernatorial race. And there’s our man in Middlebury:

Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor, said the voters most fired up on the wind turbine issue are people in rural areas who live near existing wind projects.

Now, that’s the kind of unfiltered conventional wisdom that money just can’t buy.

And then, just when my eyelid was settling down, I open up VPR’s webpage and find a piece by Bob Kinzel that not only quotes Davis at length, but throws in a healthy dose of Garrison Nelson for good measure.

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House conferees close the gambling back door

Sen. Kevin Mullin’s attempts to sneak pro-gambling language into a pair of unrelated bills has failed, thanks to the efforts of House conferees.

Mullin craps out.

Mullin craps out.

I first wrote about this last week; the day before yesterday, another Vermont media source finally decided to pursue the story. VPR’s Bob Kinzel had more detail than I did — although he focused on one of Mullin’s maneuvers and missed the other. Still, if you want more information, do read his piece.

To recap, Mullin slipped language into a consumer protection bill that laid out consumer protections for daily fantasy sports — an activity deemed by Eternal General Bill Sorrell to be illegal. Which seems contradictory: why regulate an illegal industry? (That’s the one Kinzel missed.) And into the big budget bill, he inserted language that would have allowed the Lottery Commission more leeway in placing electronic gaming machines in bars and restaurants — possibly including Keno and video poker.

The part I failed to catch was that the current gaming-machine pilot program is set to expire this summer. Mullin’s amendment would have removed the sunset and broadened the definition of acceptable machines. His amendment had the support of Lottery Director Greg Smith, who is under pressure to grow revenues.

Which, given the current EB-5 scandal, is kind of ironic. A central problem with EB-5 was that a single agency was tasked with regulating AND promoting the same activity. And here’s the Lottery Commission, regulating AND promoting the same activity. Conflict of interest, anyone?

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The Governor prepares a soft landing

Is Peter Shumlin starting to act like a lame duck? It would seem so. To judge by this week’s paltry trinkle of news, he looks to have one eye fixed on the past and the other on his post-gubernatorial future. And he’s already given up on fixing one major debit in his administrative ledger.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Shumlin opposes any tax increases to pay for Vermont’s burgeoning Medicaid bill, but he doesn’t want to cut eligibility or benefits either. In fact, he’s washing his hands of the whole mess.

“I don’t know which governor is going to get to solve this problem,” he added. “But I hope a governor gets to solve it soon.”

“…once I’m safely ensconced in the private sector with my lissome new bride,” he might have added under his breath.

Yeah, screw the 2016 session. The Governor, you see, proposed a Medicaid fix last year and the Legislature ungratefully rejected it. So he’s done his duty, and hereby washes his hands of the matter.

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Bob Kinzel, Stenographer to the Stars

Earlier this week, even as Vermont Public Radio was (once again!) asking people to send money in support of its uniquely valuable programming, it squandered two minutes and twelve seconds of airtime on a useless bit of puffery. I’m sure Peter Welch appreciated it, but it kind of undercut the message of the fund drive.

The story, reported by Bob Kinzel, related Congressman Welch’s thoughts on the then-pending Iran nuclear treaty vote. Kinzel gave a shallow, uninsightful retelling of the background, which provided Welch a handy platform to air his views.

This is not journalism; it is stenography. It essentially served the same purpose as a press release or constituent newsletter.

The piece included two voices: Kinzel’s and Welch’s. There was no attempt to include other viewpoints. This is the simplest kind of public radio story. There are places where it’s appropriate, such as a profile piece or first-person account; in this context, it’s just a lazy way to kill a couple of minutes.

Kinzel’s been around a long time, and he does some good work. Unfortunately, he is also VPR’s go-to guy for these two-minute service pieces for members of our Congressional delegation. They follow a cookie-cutter format: Kinzel relates some background information and the Congressman or Senator provides some boilerplate sound bites.

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Tossin’ manure with Dave

I guess I should congratulate VTGOP chair David Sunderland for possessing the all-encompassing optimism of the little boy who gets a pile of horseshit on Christmas morning and starts rooting around, saying “There’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!” Because here he is, in a story from VPR:

The head of the Vermont Republican Party says Donald Trump’s campaign to win the GOP presidential nomination is, on balance, a good thing for the political process here in Vermont and across the county [sic].

Well, it’s a good thing for the likes of me. The more turmoil and buffoonery in the Republican process, the better chance we have of electing a Democrat in 2016. But how can it be a good thing from Sunderland’s, presumably pro-Republican, point of view?

Sunderland… says Trump has brought out some valuable new ideas. Sunderland says the result has been a good discussion among most of the other GOP presidential candidates.

Hmm. Donald Trump. Valuable ideas.

Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

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