CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA — West Virginia Watchdog is a one-man shop focusing on investigative and statehouse news in the Mountain State. The site is part of a network of sites around the country that share the Watchdog name.
The Watchdog’s sole editorial employee is Steven Allen Adams, who is also a stringer for Reuters and contributes to a Charleston, W.V. entertainment news website called Kanawha Valley Live. West Virginia Watchdog was originally launched in June 2009 as the West Virginia Examiner, with funding from the Public Policy Center of West Virginia, a politically conservative nonprofit, before becoming the Watchdog in September 2009 after securing funding from the Franklin Center, another nonprofit with conservative ties. Prior to launching the Watchdog in late 2009, Adams had three years experience as a weekly newspaper and radio journalist, two of them as a reporter and editor for a now-defunct chain of weeklies in Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, W. Va. Most recently, Adams worked for a year at the Tyler Star News in Sistersville, W. Va. Adams says he devotes six to eight hours a day to West Virginia Watchdog, focusing on statehouse news and investigations. Besides reporting the news, Adams is also his own editor, videographer, and webmaster.
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Adams says the site’s biggest news day so far was in August of 2010, when it broke the news that the office of Governor Joe Manchin was served with subpoenas by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Although the subpoenas have not been made public and the U.S. Attorney’s office is staying mum, the case appears to involve improprieties and false bids in state contracting. (You can read the original story here; Adams’s October follow-up is here.) At the time, Manchin, a Democrat, was running for senator, a race he would go on to win. Adams says the site has been getting over 6,000 page views per month.
The Watchdog sites are funded by the Franklin Center For Government and Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization founded by a former North Dakota Republican political operative, Jason Stverak, with seed money from the Sam Adams Alliance, a conservative nonprofit organization. Stverak says the Franklin Center helps establish Watchdog sites to cover and investigate state and local government. The center funds and launches the sites, and provides their reporters training, weekly conference calls, and legal and technical advice. The goal, Stverak says, is to fill the in coverage gaps as traditional news sources lay off reporters and stories go uncovered.
“My staff sometimes jokingly calls me the publisher,” Stverak says.
He says neither the Franklin Center nor the Watchdog sites have any political agenda.
“The only political component we have is that we cover government. If we have one bias it’s for open government and transparency. It does not matter who is in office,” Stverak says.
Most of the local reporters staffing the Watchdog sites weren’t recruited, but rather approached the Franklin Center looking for funding. Stverak says the salaries are comparable to professional journalism.
“It’s no different from what any other organization like public radio does when it needs money—you just go out and ask for it,” Stverak says.
Stverak declined to name any donors, citing a strict anonymity policy.
Adams says West Virginia Watchdog has no political agenda and that he has no contact with the donors who support his site. All of the site’s fundraising (including contributions from the Franklin Center) are handled by the Public Policy Center of West Virginia.
“It does all of my fundraising for me so I don’t have to put up with any of that nonsense and worry about being tainted as a reporter,” Adams says. “I’ve been blessed. My think tank leaves me alone.”
West Virginia Watchdog Data
Name: West Virginia Watchdog
Principal Staff: Steven Allen Adams, editor-in-chief.
Affiliations: The Boone Examiner; Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity; Public Policy Center of West Virginia.