Likewise, the Free Press did great work in its Sunshine Week articles, but missed the chance to make a stronger connection between the transparency issues it articulated in the series, the postponed amendment drive (for which the paper mostly relied on AP material) and Michigan’s failing grade in the integrity report (of which I could find no coverage on the paper’s site). These news stories would have brought timely real-world context to the transparency limitations the paper demonstrated in its recent series, and thus given readers a fuller sense for how these issues play out. The paper also might have anticipated the patchwork way readers move through articles both in print and online, and integrated the coverage through textual references and links. Readers would have been more likely to come away with a full understanding of what is at stake.
Political spending in a state with minimal transparency standards is difficult to cover; it is, by definition, shadowy ground. But between the State Integrity Investigation’s release, the disclosure ballot initiative, and enterprising Sunshine Week coverage, reporters here had an unusual opportunity to cover this ground from several angles at once. The best examples of this work valuably shined a light on particular patches of territory. But the treatment of these stories as separate news items weakened the overall effect—and led to a missed opportunity to show what’s at stake when transparency laws are weak or nonexistent.
Correction: This post originally misidentified the newspaper in Traverse City. It is the Record-Eagle, not the Herald-Eagle. The relevant sentence has been fixed. CJR regrets the error.