CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — The draw of presidential politics is a strong one in New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary. Every four years, the Granite State finds itself inundated with a new band of ambitious hand-shakers, and local political reporters find themselves dutifully shuffling from dinner halls to town halls to school halls, picking up scraps of policy platforms and hints of presidential aspirations as they go. That’s what the public wants to know, after all.
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But all that focus can leave the local political goings-on somewhat neglected—especially when the local political press, like most across the country, is shrinking. New Hampshire Watchdog editor and lead investigator Grant Bosse says his website is an attempt to plug the hole. “Newspapers are facing budget pressures and can’t put reporters on a story to dig through it for a week or a month, to uncover what’s behind the numbers on the spreadsheets,” says Bosse, a former radio journalist and political operative who worked for Senator John Sununu and on other campaigns. “I want to go to the public hearing where nobody else is paying attention. What we want to do is fill in that gap and restore some sort of investigative journalism capacity in the state so that we can look into complex issues that might otherwise go under the radar.”
Those issues do not include campaigns. “We cover politics, not politicians,” says Bosse.
Since launching in late 2008, Watchdog—a project of Concord-based think tank The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, named for the sixth governor of New Hampshire, not Martin Sheen’s West Wing president—has been making good on its promise. While the site’s blog does link out to other content, Watchdog mostly features original, long-term project reporting by Bosse, the only person working on the site. “It keeps me busy,” he says. “We have four hundred state reps and twenty-four senators to keep track of.” (Watchdog does publish pieces by others working at Josiah Bartlett, including a weekly column by president Charles M. Arlinghaus.)
There has been attention-grabbing reports on the White House’s creation of “phantom congressional districts” in New Hampshire—the administration falsely claimed to have created jobs in the New Hampshire’s sixth congressional district through the stimulus package, when in fact New Hampshire only has two districts. Bosse has also dug deep on a parole reform bill that has now become law in New Hampshire, working with other interstate Watchdog-style websites to compare and contrast the New Hampshire law.
He also reported feverishly on a bill that would require business and nonprofits to register with the New Hampshire secretary of state in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. “The first amendment is one of our core principles as a think tank, so we did a lot of coverage telling people about that,” he says.
That’s the other thing: Bosse is a deep digger, but he digs with a definite point of view. Watchdog is fully funded by The Josiah Bartlett Center, which is supported through private donations and describes its core beliefs on its website as “individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government, and an appreciation of the role of the free enterprise system.” Bosse—who ran in the Republican primary for New Hampshire’s second congressional district in 2008 and has spoken at a Tea Party event in the state—says, “We’re a free market think tank, that’s where we come from. We want smarter, government, less regulation, more freedom. We’re not affiliated with the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or the Libertarian Party.” But is he producing activism or news? “It’s a news site,” Bosse says firmly. “We want to be a trusted source of good information. If we talk to the chair of a committee, we will try to talk to the ranking member of the other party. We always make sure to talk to both sides on any story we do.”
That approach has made Watchdog and Bosse frequent sources in political stories in mainstream papers like the New Hampshire Union Leader and the Concord Monitor. Bosse says he makes it easy for those papers to use his reporting by publishing source documents on the Watchdog website. It’s a trickle-up approach to getting his stories out to a broader audience. “Our readership is all citizens, hopefully,” says Bosse, “but our target audience is lawmakers and the legacy media. If the state representatives, state senators, and the beat reporters are reading our stuff then we know we can have an impact.”
New Hampshire Watchdog Data
Name: New Hampshire Watchdog
Principal Staff: Grant Bosse, lead investigator.
Affiliations: Franklin Center; Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
CMS: Custom CMS