| April 22, 2013

Tip sheet: Story ideas from outside the bubble

There are many explanations (technological, demographic, et al.) for the chart above, and I’m not prepared to make the case that liberal media bias is a primary one. But I’m convinced it’s a contributing factor.

In its long march through the institutions, the Left long ago captured the J-schools. “I don’t hire just conservatives,” Tucker Carlson of the conservative Daily Caller recently told WORLD magazine. “You can’t! If we limited our hiring to just conservatives, we’d only have four people.”

So what we end up with in today’s newsrooms are true-believing liberals trying to change the world, or reporters simply doing the conventional center-left stenography for their sources because — like the fish that doesn’t realize he’s wet — they cannot grasp points of view outside of their journalistic bubble. Look no further than a startling correction that appeared Easter Sunday in the New York Times, whose editors inexplicably were unclear on this whole concept of the resurrection.

As I have pointed out, “while most Oklahomans are on the center-right — only 9 percent identify themselves as liberal — I would say the inverse obtains in Oklahoma’s state capitol press corps. The press room leans heavily to the center-left, with a small minority of conservatives.” That’s why conservative ideas can appear “controversial” to some Oklahoma journalists.

In short, there’s a disconnect between journalists and their customers — which is the last thing an industry needs when staring at trend lines like the ones above.

Having said all that, here’s today's tip sheet of story ideas for Oklahoma journalists.

Obamacare’s impact on higher education in Oklahoma. The University of Virginia expects to take a $7 million hit from Obamacare. Given that University of Oklahoma president David Boren was quoted in a recent Tulsa World story worrying about OU’s budget — and given that Mr. Boren famously endorsed Mr. Obama for president — it would be interesting to gauge Obamacare’s impact on Oklahoma’s colleges and universities (employee penalties and charges, reduced employee hours, etc.).

Oklahoma’s school staffing surge. Given the current level of discussion at the state capitol and in media outlets throughout the state on education spending in Oklahoma, readers might be interested to know that over the last two decades the number of public school students in Oklahoma grew 10 percent, while the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff grew 28 percent — nearly three times greater than the increase in students. Why is that? Could that money have been put to better use (raising teacher salaries by $4,924, for example)?

A local expert’s analysis on college becoming drastically cheaper. Vance Fried is a professor of entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University who has become a prominent national figure in the higher-education reform conversation. In a new report published by The Heritage Foundation, Fried makes the case that in just a few short years college is going to get better and drastically cheaper. “College in America will look very different in just a few years,” he says, “thanks to remarkable innovations taking place in technology and business models in higher education.” Readers may have a vague sense that this is true, but they likely would be interested to learn more from an OSU professor.

Competing voices on the General Electric announcement. There was a flood of recent reporting about the State of Oklahoma transferring $3 million to General Electric to persuade GE to build an oil-and-gas research center in Oklahoma City. And though it’s not difficult to see the potential economic upside in this announcement, it was nonetheless surprising that seldom was heard a discouraging word (or even a skeptical word) from reporters. Are there any Oklahoma businesses that are unhappy about having to pay taxes to subsidize a competitor? If there are, I suspect readers would find that to be an interesting story.

The other Medicaid expansion. There has been no shortage of reporting on the efforts at the state Capitol to reduce taxes this year. Nor has there been any shortage of reporting on Oklahoma’s decision not to go along with the Medicaid expansion allowed for under the Affordable Care Act. But most readers probably don’t realize that a tax increase is a virtual certainty this year — all for the purpose of propping up Medicaid. Indeed, several lawmakers are even willing to break a promise they made to their constituents in order to enact this tax increase (and yes, it is a tax increase) for Medicaid. This strikes me as newsworthy. After all, the media went to great lengths to determine what forces were at work to thwart Medicaid expansion. How about asking some questions about forces that are so powerful they’re able to push through a pro-Medicaid tax hike in one of the most conservative states in the nation?

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