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Navigating a newspaper is tricky. I avoid reading state government news early in the morning so as not to start my day feeling hopeless and impotent. Bring on the funnies.
Who is accountable for state governance?
Thursday night marked a new voice in state news and a new set of eyes narrowed on the Capitol.
About fifty people gathered at Pyramid Ale House to celebrated the launch of CalWatchdog.com, a new journalism venture with a mission of “holding the government accountable for its spending and regulatory programs by exposing government waste, fraud and abuses of power.”
I sat down with Steven Greenhut,, CalWatchdog editor in chief, amid beer, rain and power suits.
Q: What inspired CalWatchdog and what was involved in developing it?
A: We started in the beginning of the session, in early January, and the idea is to provide news coverage, investigative journalism and cover state government. There is a ton that needs to be covered and there is always need for more news coverage in the state.
Q: Do you work with traditional news outlets like print newspapers in Sacramento?
A: Yes, we’re trying to get our stories published in newspapers. I had my columns appearing in The Orange County Register and The North County Times and our cartoonists’ works are in Slate. I’ll be releasing an investigation pretty soon that we’re trying to pitch to different newspapers. We’re hoping to find a new model of nonprofit-funded journalism.
Q: Tell me about the model.
A: We’re trying to be more than a blog. We’re doing fresh stories that haven’t been covered, regional reporting and investigations. There’s always room for that. The more the merrier; it’s a huge state government. I like the new environment but we don’t know how it’s going to shake out yet. Some people have pitched nonprofit journalism as the new model and its probably one new model, but there are all sorts of models out there. What I like is the competition. But we all want the same thing: to see more news stories out there.
Q: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working online?
A: I’m new at it as I’ve been in newspapers for a number of years. It’s something different. Journalism is evolving and, while newspapers are still an important source of information, a lot of them have cut back on their state bureaus. But I love newspapers, so I hope to work with more of them. I also like blogs. I think they offer great and important news stories. But we’re focusing more on analysis and fresh stories, not just commenting. We still do some opinion. I’ve been an opinion columnist for so many years that I wanted to continue with that, but it's secondary. News comes first.
Q: Do you have a staff of writers?
A: Anthony Pignataro is our investigative journalist, Katie Grimes is our news reporter and we’re using some freelancers.
Q: Do you incorporate citizen journalism? Public input?
A: The blog that we do is more a developing one based on the work of our staff. But if someone had a good story idea and pitched it to me, we’re certainly open. But, nothing against that, we’re not geared at citizen journalism. I know that’s a good approach and I like it, but it’s not ours. Our approach is to have reporters and more traditional stories.
Q: What made you break out of newspaper and print and come into something like this?
A: I’ve been covering local government in Orange County for a long time. I wanted to come up to Sacramento and focus on state government, which is a mess.
Q: Is this a bipartisan effort?
A: We don’t hide the fact that we’re a project of the Pacific Research Institute, which is a free-market oriented think tank. I’m a libertarian, but my staff doesn’t necessarily share my political views. We’re not trying to do political stories, we’re trying to do serious journalism. I’m not partisan at all. I don’t care for either party! But we’re not going to hide behind a fake objectivity, a “he said, she said.” We’re going to try to analyze stories as fairly as possible, no partisan angle whatsoever, and just get to the bottom of it. We look at fraud, waste, and abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars. We do fair stories and figure that if you look at those issues, it's certainly going to make my point, which is that government is too big. But we’re not going into this trying to push opinions and try to attempt political slant.
Q: What is involved in your process of uncovering stories?
A: I have my staff always out looking for stories. Katie is up here at the Capitol a lot. Anthony is out looking at public records and I have different freelancers who pitch stories to me. And we’re just getting started. We’ve been up for about a month, so hopefully we’ll be amping up more and more stuff.