Editorial Roundup: New England

Hartford Courant. November 10, 2022.

Editorial: Time is running out to save local news

Local journalism is a cornerstone of democracy and a vital source of information for communities across the country, with newsrooms covering local politics, high school sports, local business openings, cultural events, and other matters that help a community remain vibrant and connected. But the industry is facing an existential crisis because of the unyielding power of Big Tech platforms such as Google and Facebook.

With less than four weeks left in this Congress, now is the time for the Senate to pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) (S. 673 and H.R. 1735). The JCPA was favorably reported out of Committee on Sept. 22 with strong bipartisan support and now must head to the floor for a vote. The JCPA will hold tech giants accountable and provide a necessary lifeline for local papers, requiring Big Tech to compensate small and local outlets for the use of their content.

Big Tech benefits tremendously from journalism content, yet they refuse to pay local publishers fairly for the journalistic content that fuels their platforms. As a result, local papers are being replaced by tech platforms using black box algorithms designed to keep users inside their walled gardens — all while charging exorbitant ad fees — up to 70% of every advertising dollar.

Since 2000, U.S. newspaper circulation has dropped by half, with 31 million fewer daily newspaper copies in circulation in 2020. The vast majority of U.S. counties with no regular newspaper — “news deserts” — are in rural areas. Despite record audiences, since news outlets transitioned to digital, revenue has drastically declined.

The tech giants have built their empires by profiting off the hard work of journalists without fairly compensating them. And as local publications struggle to stay afloat, Big Tech has only doubled down on their anticompetitive practices, further consolidating their control over the flow of information.

This is fundamentally unfair, and the JCPA will bring about much-needed change.

The JCPA will benefit small and local publishers exclusively and impose severe penalties if the tech platforms do not negotiate with them in good faith. The bill has a limited scope of six years to address a broken marketplace, while the broader competitive landscape is fixed through other legislation and the courts. The JCPA also incentivizes publishers to hire more journalists and protects our Constitutional freedoms of speech and the press. The bill’s scope is limited to compensation and does not allow for negotiations around up/down ranking or display – it serves only to ensure fair compensation for local news outlets. The JCPA has strict transparency requirements on the terms of each agreement reached between tech platforms and journalism providers and establishes clarity in how news outlets spend the funds they receive.

News publishers around the world are being compensated by Big Tech. Australia passed a similar policy to the JCPA, the News Media Bargaining Code, for media organizations to bargain for payment, which has produced significant revenue (billions of dollars, if translated to the U.S. market) for hundreds of publications of all sizes. One Sydney journalism professor noted that she hadn’t seen her industry so financially robust in decades. There are so many open positions for reporters, they cannot all be filled, a signal of the improved economic health of the industry. The swift and clear successes of the Australian Code — and efforts in other countries such as Canada, the UK, European Union, and more — should serve to encourage the passage of the JCPA in the United States.

Thousands of hometown papers from across the political spectrum, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, support the JCPA. Moreover, in these highly polarized times, polling data found that 70% of Americans support the JCPA. The JCPA has such broad support because ultimately, it is about basic fairness.

Local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper. The Senate must advance the JCPA to the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the year to rein in Big Tech and restore fairness to local journalism — one of the most important checks and balances we have against corporate power and government corruption — before it’s too late.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. November 10, 2022.

Editorial: Lamont earns another shot from voters

With his decisive victory in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, Ned Lamont gets a second chance.

First elected in 2018, Connecticut’s governor got off to an inauspicious start. His early days in Hartford were consumed with the question of highway tolls, which ultimately went nowhere. The state economy continued to sputter along, and it looked like another four years of fighting deficits. Then, a year into his term, the world changed.

There was no precedent for the COVID-19 pandemic, no playbook for the governor to consider. But it guided every move he made, from the decision to close certain businesses up to the eventual lifting of mask mandates in schools many months later. Today, nearly three years after those frightening early days when every aspect of our lives appeared in flux, the state electorate has passed its judgment on Lamont’s leadership. He won reelection easily.

Now he has a chance to shape the state in ways beyond reacting to a crisis.

It’s worth noting how rare his margin of victory is. Despite its reputation as a blue state, Connecticut had Republican governors for years, with the Rowland-Rell combination leading the state for four consecutive four-year terms until 2010. Then, even as Democrats started winning the state’s top office, the margins were agonizingly close. Neither Dannel Malloy in his two victories nor Lamont the first time around was able to post a resounding win.

That changed on Tuesday. Lamont was the clear winner and has a mandate from state voters to continue the path he has set us on.

That means a fiscally cautious outlook, where the governor is ever mindful of the potential for trouble down the road even when the path appears clear. This is what the job requires, because even as tax intake has been higher than expected for most of Lamont’s term, the state’s long-term debt remains a problem. His decision to pay off as much of that burden as possible now is a boon for the state in the long run.

It also means a continuation of policies that market the best of Connecticut. We’re never going to be the lowest-cost state to do business in, and that’s not because of taxes. It’s expensive to live here in large part because we have a desirable location. We’re never going to win a race to the bottom on expenses. But we do need to highlight our strengths, such as an educated workforce. Lamont must continue his work with the business community to keep the state strong.

There will be challenges. Affordability is a crisis, especially when it comes to housing, health care and education. We need to do more to help people who live here and attract others to join them. But Lamont has shown he is capable of leading the state into a new era.

As for Republicans, it’s a sobering day for party leadership. They can take some solace in a strong showing in the Fifth Congressional District, but elsewhere in the state, Connecticut simply isn’t buying what they’re selling. It’s time for a rethink of party strategies and goals.

For the governor, it’s about looking ahead. He has four more years to shape our future.

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Boston Globe. November 8, 2022.

Editorial: Healey should grab this chance to be bold

In a state with as many challenges as opportunities, the next governor can now fill in that blank slate.

Massachusetts Governor-elect Maura Healey is now poised to take over the sprawling, complex $60 billion-plus a year enterprise that is state government after a gubernatorial campaign that presented little challenge to her political prowess — and even less to her ability to articulate a vision for the four years ahead.

As expected, the race was called a few minutes after polls closed Tuesday night.

Healey wasn’t the election-denying Trump sycophant she was pitted against — and for most voters that was enough. For some, her successful attempt to harness the enormous popularity of the outgoing Republican governor, praising his policies and promising to build on them, was yet another reason to elect her to the corner office instead of Republican Geoff Diehl.

But a campaign light on an in-depth exploration of issues and fought along deep ideological fault lines doesn’t provide much guidance for what a new Healey administration will mean for Massachusetts and its people.

The Globe editorial board has some ideas for filling in those policy blanks left during the campaign — and we know readers will join in as well in the days ahead. After all, any number can — and should — play this expectations game.

Housing

It will take more than the new secretary of housing Healey has proposed adding to her Cabinet to jump-start the production of enough housing to fill the state’s current needs and provide the cushion essential to economic growth. An analysis done for the Baker administration last year on the Future of Work highlighted the need for some 200,000 additional housing units by 2030 just to meet national standards. The 2021 Housing Choices law helped set the stage for more multifamily housing and transit-oriented housing in the suburbs, but setting the stage isn’t enough. Pushing reluctant suburbs to do more — including creating more affordable housing — may well require a tougher approach than simply denying recalcitrant communities new grant money. Surely someone who has served as the state’s top lawyer can do better than that, through legal action if necessary.

Transportation

At least Healey will be saved the chore of firing outgoing MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. His announced resignation as of Jan. 3 gives Healey time to begin the hunt now for new talent. But much of her transportation agenda to date has been at the margins, rather than the bold bottom-up redo it merits. For example, on her campaign website Healey pledges to take on transportation safety issues, promising to strengthen “the mandate of the safety departments in the relevant agencies, including the Department of Public Utilities.” No, no, no. The DPU has no business being the safety oversight board for the MBTA. The T needs a fully independent and well-staffed safety management agency.

Healey also promised to “electrify public transportation so that all modes of transportation operate on 100 percent clean power by 2040, starting with school and MBTA buses by 2030.” That’s an ambitious agenda, but one that we’ll be keeping an eye on in the years ahead.

Criminal justice

Healey inherits a Department of Correction that the Justice Department has accused of violating the Eighth Amendment rights of inmates in mental health crisis, a scandal-ridden State Police still lacking in much-needed diversity, and a police reform effort that is still very much a work in progress.

Police reform hinges on the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission not simply doing its job of ridding departments of problem officers — something it has yet to do — but doing it in a transparent way. The same police reform law that created the POST Commission also gave the governor the power to appoint a civilian head of the State Police for the first time — power that Governor Charlie Baker did not exercise. Healey should.

The Justice Department accusations against the Department of Correction made two years ago have yet to be resolved. Healey should assure that her DOC will recognize the connection between humane treatment, better programming, and reductions in recidivism.

Homelessness

Chronic homelessness did not begin at the corner of Mass. and Cass in Boston and won’t be “cured” even when the last tent is folded. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has continued to point out that many of those who end up in this rotating caravan of misery — of substance abuse and mental illness often in combination — come from out of town, some from out of state, and that the burden of finding low-threshold housing and supportive housing for them shouldn’t be Boston’s alone. She’s not wrong. But then the Berkshires and Fall River have experienced similar increases in chronic homelessness and encampments. The expansion of Massachusetts’ trail-blazing Housing First program — and steady funding for it — could provide an answer. That is, if the new governor accepts responsibility for being part of that solution.

Health care

In this health care mecca, primary care physicians are still difficult to access, too many people suffering a mental health crisis end up stuck in emergency rooms for lack of longer-term beds, and addiction treatment remains elusive for those most in need. A sweeping new mental health parity law passed this summer will await full implementation under Healy’s administration. But it will only be as good as the new administration’s commitment to developing the needed health care workforce and encouraging the expansion of facilities clearly essential to deal with a burgeoning problem exacerbated by the pandemic.

The Great Unknown

Most of all a new governor will have to be prepared for the unknown. It is the task of political leaders to be able to react quickly to the next pandemic, the next natural disaster, or worse — the next man-made tragedy. It is the nature of great political leaders to do all of that in a way that makes people want to follow their lead.

Healey claimed a bit of history Tuesday night as the first woman and first openly gay person to be elected governor in this state. She now gets the next four years to write the next chapter of her story.

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Rutland Herald. November 8, 2022.

Editorial: Living with our decisions

The day after is always both a relief — and a challenge.

Elections are fraught with emotion. We want the candidates who align with our perspectives to win the races. Democracy is an important exercise toward getting closer to what we want for our community, state and nation.

Tuesday revealed a lot about where we are as a state and a nation. Turnout across Vermont would suggest that a host of candidates — and issues — proved important. Community News Service reporters checking in at polling stations around Vermont learned abortion was top among them.

Town clerks were reporting a high percentage of absentee ballots this year. Nationwide, turnout seemed strong, news outlets were reporting.

Underlying the results were concerns over pocketbooks, and just how what “happens next” in America is going to affect our families, our budgets and our attitudes toward one another.

AP VoteCast did exit polling on Tuesday and found that high inflation and concerns about “the fragility of democracy” heavily influencing their decisions in these midterm elections.

The two leading factors reflect a country in distress at a moment when control of Congress — and a choice between sharply contrasting visions of America — hang in the balance.

VoteCast is a survey of more than 90,000 voters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. Here is what they found:

— Half of voters say inflation factored significantly in their vote, as groceries, gasoline, housing, food and other costs have shot up in the past year and given Republicans a vehicle for criticizing President Joe Biden.

— Slightly fewer (44%) say the future of democracy was their primary consideration. On the campaign trail, Biden has warned of the threat to democracy posed by Republicans. Many GOP leaders continue to cast doubt on the U.S. electoral system, falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election, which Donald Trump lost, was rigged.

— Since the 2018 election, voters have become increasingly demoralized as the country’s political divisions have hardened. Roughly three-quarters say the country is headed in the wrong direction. That figure is higher than it was in VoteCast surveys of voters in 2018 and 2020.

— Republicans are counting on voter dissatisfaction with inflation, crime and immigration to help them take control of both chambers of Congress.

— With deep doubts about the economy’s health because of inflation nearing 40-year highs, they’ve sought to frame the election as a referendum on Biden, saying that high prices flowed out of his $1.9 trillion in pandemic aid and resistance to providing more leases for oil drilling on federal land.

But politics is politics no matter what you want to call it. It comes down to spin, and locally and nationally, voters were not really buying all of what the parties have been peddling.

Biden and his fellow Democrats have argued that the U.S. middle class is poised for a renaissance because of their investments on infrastructure, computer chip production and clean-energy projects. The president has said the 8.2% annual inflation is a consequence of Russia invading Ukraine in February, which caused a spike in food and energy prices.

That is what was on the mind of most Americans. What students taking part in Vermont exit polling heard is just as loud as the VoteCast results: Inflation has been a clear blow to the well-being of many Americans. A third of voters describe their families as falling behind financially. That’s nearly double the percentage of the electorate that said the same two years ago. A similar percentage say they are not confident they can keep up with their expenses.

Abortion on the ballot was what mattered to Vermonters — and the nation.

Democrats also tried to tap their base’s outrage after the Supreme Court overturned the abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision enshrining the right to abortion. Overall, 7 in 10 voters say the ruling was an important factor in their midterm decisions.

VoteCast also shows the reversal was broadly unpopular. About 6 in 10 say they are angry or dissatisfied by it, while about 4 in 10 were pleased. And roughly 6 in 10 say they favor a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Many voters said they came into the election with entrenched views. About half say they knew all along how they would vote, while a third decided during the course of the campaign, and roughly 1 in 10 say they made their choice in the last few days.

Through the next few days, as we decipher the vote counts, and see what course is plotted for our state and nation, work will begin again to pick ourselves up and move together toward meaningful solutions, whether it is here in the Green Mountains, or spanning the nation. We made our decisions; now we must live with them.

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