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May 6, 2010, 11 a.m.

Hummel Report: Another nonprofit news org with an anti-govt.-waste message and conservative funding

Sheila Conlin is a veteran television journalist who currently works at NBC News Channel and is finishing up a master’s degree in journalism. As part of her degree, she put together the video report you see above, which takes an interesting look at how one TV reporter has reinvented himself as a one-man band against government waste — with support from a conservative group that would like to see those stories inspire a smaller government.

Laura wrote about the phenomenon in February, noting two states (Connecticut and New Jersey) among many where conservative groups are funding investigative reporters to dig up examples of government waste, fraud, and abuse. In Conlin’s piece, in Rhode Island, it’s the nonprofit Hummel Report, produced by Jim Hummel, a former Providence Journal and WLNE-TV reporter who gained attention for his “You Paid For It” segments on the evening news.

Hummel’s business partner in the project is William J. Felkner, who along with being The Hummel Report’s director of operations is also the founder and CEO of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, which describes its work as “crafting sound public policy based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, and traditional American values.” Ocean State is listed as a sponsor of The Hummel Report, and the organization’s logo is all over its pages.

Now, I happen to believe that whatever their politics, projects like The Hummel Report are a good thing. I’d rather see more reporting — even if some of it is motivated or funded by political interests — than less reporting. The audience can make its own judgments. But it’s worth noting, as we’ve said before, that the new wave of nonprofit news organizations everyone hears about (ProPublica et al.) will face a messaging challenge to distinguish themselves from partisan-funded operations on both the left and right.

In Conlin’s piece (stick with it through the 1:30 intro), Hummel says he has “total editorial control over my content — who can say that?” And I’m sure that’s true. But as decades of local TV news segments with names like “You Paid For It” have shown, the format and principles of the medium can influence the kinds of stories that get done — even without any outside interference. Here’s Hummel in the piece, talking about how he’s asking corporations to sponsor his project:

The corporations I’m approaching, I believe in. I think they’re good corporations. That doesn’t mean at all that I wouldn’t investigate if I heard something. But I just don’t go — I’m not equipped to go after a lot of private companies because — it’s just a public records issue. They can tell me to, you know, get off the property and “we don’t have to tell you anything.” Government is and should be accountable.

Hummel’s pitch to corporations: “We work for Rhode Island, but we can’t survive without the support of the business community. The more waste and corruption we expose, the less you have to pay for.”

Focus on government corruption and conservatives will cheer. Focus on corporate malfeasance and liberals will applaud. I just hope, in the end, we’ll have some of both.

POSTED     May 6, 2010, 11 a.m.
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