Media Impact: Making News

Michigan Taxpayer's Alliance "Voice of the Taxpayer" award
Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman received the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance’s “Voice of the Taxpayer” award.

By continually breaking stories to an active and influential audience, Michigan Capitol Confidential has continued to grow in influence following the historic 2010 election.

On Dec. 17, the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance awarded Michigan Capitol Confidential with its “Voice of the Taxpayer” award for filling the “void left by lazy and/or biased news media.” CapCon was commended for producing “real, hard-hitting investigative journalism on behalf of taxpaying citizens.”

Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman accepted the award on behalf of Michigan Capitol Confidential.

What sort of accomplishments was the MTA award referring to?

On Dec. 21, Michigan Capitol Confidential posted an article about the West Bloomfield School District, noting that teachers had been eligible for a 173 percent increase in pay over the previous 11 years. There was an ongoing labor dispute because the district could no longer afford to pay those costs. The dispute exploded on Feb. 15, when 40 percent of the teachers at West Bloomfield High School refused to show up for work, staging a “sick out” to evade the state law prohibiting teacher strikes.

On Feb. 18, 2011, Michigan Capitol Confidential reporter Tom Gantert tied all of these points together in an article about the “sick out.” While some local media had covered the issue, it was Michigan Capitol Confidential that made it a national story with a link on the Drudge Report. It appeared on the same day as the massive “sick out” by teachers in Wisconsin, and more than 50,000 visitors from all over the nation came to Michigan Capitol Confidential to learn the Michigan angle on the national discussion regarding outsized public employee pay and benefits.

This article marked the second time in a year that Gantert’s Michigan Capitol Confidential work has appeared on Drudge. In his 20-plus years at Michigan newspapers like the Lansing State Journal and the Ann Arbor News, he did not ever have a single article picked up by Drudge.

Some other examples from the last few months:

  • Syndicated national talk show host Neal Boortz picked up a Michigan Capitol Confidential article exposing the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters for baselessly protesting a Grand Rapids-area businessman. He also put it on his website, driving 8,000 visitors to the story. An edited version of the same article was added to the print edition of the Macomb Daily. (See related story, "Unions Run It up the Flagpole")
  • New Michigan Congressman Justin Amash voted against renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. Michigan Capitol Confidential called to get his reasons for doing so. His answer became the subject of the main editorial in the Sunday New York Times (complete with a hyperlink back to Michigan Capitol Confidential).
  • Another article featured a Michigan businessman with a profitable dream of starting a company that removed logs from Michigan lakes and sold them. It was Michigan Capitol Confidential that explained the barrier in his way: The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requires him to submit a GPS coordinate for each log before he removes them. He literally needed “messages from space” before he could remove logs from lakes.

    The DEQ told reporter Tom Gantert that they would discontinue the requirement. It is uncertain whether this would have been the case without the Michigan Capitol Confidential investigation.
  • An administrator at the Saline Public Schools appeared in a district-funded promotional video asking voters to vote in favor of a school bond. This apparently clear violation of the state’s campaign finance act was caught by the Michigan Capitol Confidential staff and became the subject of a daily news story. The district removed the video as soon as Michigan Capitol Confidential called for a reaction.

As readership expands, Michigan Capitol Confidential continues to investigate the actions of public officials and the effect of public policies on Michigan residents.