Around 9 AM this morning, disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman hit the Send button in MailChimp to send out an email to his followers, the press, and elected officials proclaiming he was launching a new initiative to gut property taxes — an initiative which, if passed, would eviscerate vital public services in every city and county across Washington State. Police forces, fire departments, emergency medical response, libraries, parks, pools, schools — all would be hurt by Eyman’s I‑1550.
A couple of journalists tweeted about Eyman’s “announcement” after it landed in their inboxes, but it otherwise didn’t get picked up on by anyone working in big media. That is, until someone working in the Associated Press’ Olympia bureau decided that it was worthy of a half-baked, one-sided blurb:
New Eyman initiative would cut property taxes 25 percent
Originally published January 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm
Anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed his latest effort, a measure that seeks a 25 percent property tax cut.
By The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed his latest effort, a measure that seeks a 25 percent property tax cut.
Initiative 1550 was introduced Monday. Under the measure, current voter-approved local school levies would not be affected. After the initial property tax cut in 2018, the initiative caps property tax increases at 1 percent a year, unless local governments go to the ballot to ask voters for more.
Eyman needs to collect nearly 260,000 signatures by July 7 in order to qualify for the November ballot.
The Associated Press
Since being put out on the (virtual) wire, this blurb has gotten published in The Olympian, KING5, The Seattle Times, and possibly by other AP member publications as well. The Times even put the blurb above the fold on its front page.
- is promotional in nature;
- lacks context;
- does not go beyond the ballot title, meaning the potential cost and consequences aren’t mentioned, let alone discussed;
- does not incorporate any opposition perspective.
Most embarrassingly of all, it fudges some of the few basic facts it purports to offer.
Actually, he needs to collect about 325,000 signatures, because the minimum number of valid signatures required this year is 259,622, and it is always necessary to have a cushion to account for duplicate and invalid signatures. It would have been better to say something like Eyman needs to collect at least 259,622 valid signatures by July 7th in order to qualify for the November ballot.
The existence of this blurb and the prominence this blurb has been given by the publications that have run it is a nice reminder of how subjectivity rules newsrooms. Editors, producers, and reporters — including those committed to objectivity in their reporting — are in control of what topics, issues, and developments their publications cover. They decide what constitutes news and what does not.
Many reporters have started using Twitter or Facebook to pass along press releases and advisories they get, or report tidbits in real time, thereby exposing to their audience some of what would have in the past been left on the cutting room floor, to borrow some film parlance. There’s nothing wrong with this practice.
But if a news agency like the Associated Press is going to put an item out on the wire for inclusion on websites and in the pages of newspapers, it should meet at least some defensible standard for newsworthiness, and care should be taken in its preparation. The published product should not be sloppy, one-sided, or half-baked.
The last three initiatives Tim Eyman said he was going to do did not qualify for the ballot. So far, there’s no evidence that would lead us or any other reasonable observer to conclude I‑1550’s fate is going to be any different.
If we judge Eyman by his track record and his actions, as opposed to simply his words, today’s announcement is meaningless. Eyman has made running initiatives his occupation; he always has to have some initiative to sell because he needs to be able to pay the bills and he does not seem to be interested in any other kind of job in politics (like lobbying professionally in Olympia).
Eyman is not the only activist out there who regularly files initiatives. Two individuals have already filed several initiatives this year pertaining to marijuana, but they’ve been ignored by the AP and its member publications. And why is that? Are they not deserving of coverage for having proposed their ideas, same as Eyman?
That is all Tim Eyman is doing, after all. Again, there’s no evidence at the moment that Eyman has the backing he’s going to need to get his idea on the ballot.
When and if that happens, then it should definitely be reported as news, with the opposition’s perspective present in addition to Eyman’s perspective.
All Eyman did today was reset his initiative factory for another year… and that is an annual ritual for him. It didn’t merit a promotional piece from the AP.