This is no time for subtlety; nor is it time for alt weeklies to stay focused solely on their communities.
Baynard Woods of the Baltimore City Paper, began writing a syndicated column, “Democracy in Crisis,” just after the presidential election last fall. It’s also a podcast of the same name hosted by Woods and Marc Steiner, a broadcaster at the NPR affiliate in Baltimore, and produced by Mark Gunnery for the Center for Emerging Media. The name of both the column and the podcast capitalize the D and C to underscore the national scope of each post.
“After the election, everyone felt a certain sense of that, that democracy was in crisis, especially among the alternative weeklies,” Woods said. While the coverage in the soon-to-be-shuttered Baltimore City Paper has always been “militantly Baltimorean,” it became apparent that alt weeklies couldn’t just cover their own communities and turn a blind eye to what was happening on a national level.
When a reporter for an alternative publication was arrested with a group of 70 protesters on Inauguration Day as part of a “black block” movement, with people popping in and out of the large group to allegedly break windows and then pop back in without being identified, it became a clear indication of the threats posed to journalists. Not only are there fewer outlets available to report the news; a reporter can now be held responsible for the actions of those he or she is covering as part of an assignment.
The thing is, police were all wearing the same clothes and covering their faces that day too, and with good reason. “I got tear gassed that day, I was almost arrested that day,” Woods said.
It’s a reporter’s job to report what’s happening. It’s a reporter’s job to tell the truth of the scene unfurling in front of his or her eyes.
“I think we all are at a point where we have to know where we stand before we go to cover anything,” he says. “The alt press is in a better shape than a lot of people for dealing with the Trump administration because we always assumed the guy behind the podium is a liar. We value transparency more than false equivalency or false balance. We try to be as honest as possible with our readers.”
When it comes to the First Amendment and the rights safeguarded and guaranteed therein, reporters are activists, Woods asserts. “That’s the thing it’s our job to defend, the thing that protects us. Where you draw those lines, it’s important to decide. When are you ready to walk out of a press briefing because there’s some kind of a lie? When are you willing to be drug out of it? What are you willing to do to get a story?”
Baltimore-based reporter Baynard Woods again joins producer Michael O’Connell on the podcast, this time to discuss his new column and podcast “Democracy in Crisis,” started after the November election to provide alt weeklies with coverage of national political developments without having to add writers and further constrain budgets.