The ongoing funding woes of Grade the News, a Bay Area media watchdog Web site (www.gradethenews.org), qualify as both good news and bad. It's good if you're a newspaper or broadcasting executive tired of having your brazen avarice and slippery ethics bared to the world. It's bad if you're anyone else.
Time and again since its launch in 2000, GTN cast light on the whoring ways of media companies across the region. A few years ago, the site singed the Contra Costa Times for failing to disclose clearly that developers and other advertisers wrote the self-promotional “articles” in the paper's Saturday Homes section. Earlier this year, GTN revealed that medical expert Dean Edell, self-styled as “America's Doctor” on KGO-Channel 7, often relied on canned video segments produced by a Florida news service instead of reporting his own stories.
Such exposés, along with the site's running critique of the corporatization of Bay Area news outlets, earned it a loyal following among ink-stained hacks — and the enmity of their bosses. “It would be fair to say media owners and managers loathe us,” says John McManus, GTN's creator and director, who last year moved its office from Stanford University to San Jose State. “They're not fond of being scrutinized.”
And so they're probably elated that, after six years, the various foundation grants to which the site owed its existence have dried up. The funding shortage has left GTN in stasis: An article McManus wrote last month marked the first fresh posting since mid-July, and it was little more than the transcript of a radio commentary he delivered on KQED.
Lacking grant money to sustain the site, McManus has thrust his tin cup in the direction of journalism schools and public broadcasting outlets, with scant success. Despite GTN bagging two national awards for media criticism earlier this year, he admits that reviving the site, even as a part-time endeavor, poses “an uphill struggle.”
GTN's financial troubles arrive at a time when Dean Singleton, CEO of Media- News, has bought pretty much every newspaper in the region and begun slicing staff; two weeks ago, the Mercury News announced it would lay off 101 employees by mid-December. McManus can only watch, his soapbox in splinters. “There's a real need for analysis of media consolidation and its impact on news coverage,” he says. No doubt Singleton would disagree.