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Overreaching

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If legislators had been just a shade less grabby, had exercised some mild restraint, they might have gotten away with their use of state funds for local projects indefinitely. Though the practice is pretty clearly prohibited by the Arkansas Constitution, it had survived previous legal challenges. But legislative appetites increased in recent years, and the diversion of funds from state purposes to the installation of stop lights in tiny towns had reached a point that the Arkansas Supreme Court could no longer overlook. The court last week declared invalid a $400,000 appropriation for streets and sewers in Bigelow (Perry County), a ruling that’s likely to block similar projects around the state and change the way the legislature operates. The way it has been operating is that legislators dip into state money for their own local improvements pretty much at will. But in a 6 to 1 decision, the court said the practice violated the Constitution’s prohibition against special and local legislation. (The one dissenter agreed with the other judges on the substance of the case, but had doubts about jurisdiction.) Was it mere happenstance that the Court, with other appropriations to choose from, selected the Bigelow case for a ruling? We’d like to think not. Bigelow is the home of Sen. Bob Johnson, the reigning porkmeister of the General Assembly. A court that stands up to Johnson is a court that means business.

New Journalism

Journalists of the early 21st century worry about their trade the way blacksmiths of the early 20th worried about theirs. Troubled minds weren’t eased by a Washington Post article on the huge Gannett chain’s experiment with a kind of New Journalism.

Gannett-style NJ includes a reduction in the size of trained, fulltime newspaper staffs, with the professionals replaced by irregulars working out of their cars and using electronic equipment to file frequent notices of occurrences around town, no matter how trivial. Coverage of car washes and candy sales replaces reports of tax increases, impeachments, and declarations of war. (It sounds very like the “journalism” of the satirical newspaper The Onion: “Area man discards old underwear; says elastic worn out.”) Readers are permitted to post anything they want on the newspaper’s web site, from lost pets to profanity, free of editorial judgment. Worst of all, the hallowed wall of separation between the business and news sides of the paper is demolished. Reporters become ad salesmen and vice versa. Advertisers dictate news content. Keeping reporters and editors away from the business types is no longer considered journalistic integrity, but merely “old-school snobbery,” as a Gannettoid told the Post. This kind of journalism amounts to burning the village to save it. The concept has been tried before, in other fields of endeavor. The village never survives.

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