The Reverend Representative Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) tells an interesting story in this blog's comment section about civil discourse and the mainstream media. The good Hickey discusses the media inquiries he got right after Judge Karen Schreier's ruling Monday that South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution:

True story: when the Court decision came down this week my phone started ringing. Apparently in this moment of time I'm the media's go to person for the other view on this issue. Many media calls came. Something different happened this time. I did every interview pretending my friend Steve Hildebrand was sitting next to me. The concerns I voiced were nothing new but I guess I did leave out the creative and biting rhetoric that easily comes to me. Only one media source dropped a quote from me in their story. Usually when they call me, they quote me. Makes me think there is a hunger out there for us to be beating each other up. I didn't feed it this time and civility apparently isn't as newsworthy [Steve Hickey, comment, Madville Times, 2015.01.15].

Rep. Rev. Hickey, a vociferous opponent of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, discusses the issue while imagining he is in the same room as a passionate gay-rights advocate. He tones down his rhetoric—just as I have seen we tend to do on this blog in the comment sextion when we speak to each other with real names instead of pseudonyms. The professional mainstream media comes away disappointed not to get the money quote and leaves the good Hickey's tempered response mostly out of their coverage.

Elsewhere, I notice that KELO reports on the proposed increases in vehicle registration fees by talking to three men in the street. The KELO report offers no indication of the three men's qualifications as objective, informed commentators on public policy. The KELO report is just three guys' opinion.

I thought the mainstream media beat blogs because blogs lean toward extremist, inflammatory discourse, while the mainstream media strive for more tempered reportage. I thought the mainstream media beat blogs because blogs are just some guy's opinion, while KELO et al. give us authoritative facts.

The above two examples suggest that we bloggers are producing journalism not that much different from our mainstream counterparts... except our product costs less and is more fun.

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My rage only grows at the murder of cartoonists, artists armed only with wit, by masked gunmen shouting Islamic slogans in Paris today. The bursting slogan, Je suis Charlie, says "I am Charlie." If you speak, if you question, if you criticize, if you ridicule, you are Charlie Hebdo.

Philippe Val was very much Charlie. Comedian, singer, journalist, Val also helped resurrect the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 1992 and edited it until 2009. He now directs radio station France Inter. In an interview on France Inter today, he said, "I have lost all my friends today." He proceeded to eulogize his friends and demand a memorial of fearless defense of art, speech, and liberty. (He spoke in French; I translate and accept responsibility for any errors.)

These were people so full of life, whose hearts' desire was to bring pleasure to others, to make them laugh, to give them fertile ideas. They were good people. They were the best by far among us, like all people who make us laugh, who are for liberty, like all people who believe we should be able to come and go freely and in security. They were assassinated. It is intolerable butchery.

We must not let silence settle in. We must really help. Now we must come together against this horror. Terror must not put an end to the joy of living, to liberty, to expression, to democracy—all of that is at stake. It's this type of brotherhood that makes life posssible. We must not let this go; this is an act of war. Perhaps tomorrow it would be good if journalists would call themselves Charlie Hebdo. If we all would call ourselves Charlie Hebdo. If all France were Charlie Hebdo. That would show that we're not o.k. with this, that we will never let laughter be extinguished, that we will never let liberty be extinguished.

We can't let this go. These were absolutely magnificent people. Cabu was a genius, a genius of kindness, of talent. Charb, all these people, they are all dead, my friend Bernard Maris, all. We can't let this go. We should form a front, we should stand quite united. These weren't evil people; these were people who just wanted everyone to live happily. These were people who wanted humor to have a place in our lives, that's all. That's all, that's it, and that's what they were assassinated for.

This is just not tolerable. We must act. I'm sorry for speaking like this, but all these years, the media haven't been on top of this radicalization. Lots of Muslims should be devastated by this. They are in danger themselves. We haven't discussed enough this increase in fundamentalism in France. We haven't sounded the alarm enough. We've done what we could. We've often been alone. Today, I'm practically all alone. All my friends are gone. And they didn't die for some bad cause; they died just because they wanted everyone to be able to live, they wanted children to be able to come and go without danger.

There, it's horrible what's happened. This event marks a before and an after. Our country will no longer be the same. They've wiped out a certain way of doing journalism. They've wiped out all the people who could make us laugh about such grave ideas. It's an appalling death that descends upon us, but silence must not win. Elisabeth Badinter said of the [2007] lawsuit of cartoons, "If they are condemned, it's silence that will beat us down." So today, more than ever, we must say what we think.

I don't have religion. It's too bad; I would like to have religion today. If I did, I would say to my friends that I love them. I'd say how indispensable they were to my life, how indispensable they were to everyone else, how indispensable they are to all who need liberty to live.

(Nicolas Demorand): They made us laugh.

(Philippe Val): We laughed so much. Today laughing is very difficult, but that's the perfect weapon. Laughter is that weapon of brotherhood. We must let people laugh, let them ridicule the bastards. We must hold our ground, we must all be together. What has happened is very grave. We cannot live in this danger. We cannot live in fear.

[Philippe Val, radio interview with Nicolas Demorand, translated from transcript, Libération, 2015.01.07]

Nous sommes Charlie—we are Charlie. We must not be silent.

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A couple of friends have noted that, over the Monday noon hour, Larry Pressler may have said the funniest thing uttered this month on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. The former Senator and unsuccessful 2014 Independent candidate for Senate was chatting with Karl Gehrke about his involvement with the Centrist Project and the declining state of quality journalism when, at timestamp 5:45, he said this:

We do have some great bloggers in South Dakota who are basically centrists. One of them is Cory Heidelberger, who is a Democrat, but he does some very responsible blogging [Larry Pressler, interview with Karl Gehrke, SDPB: Dakota Midday, 2015.01.05].

Me, a centrist? Mr. Pressler, you're going to mess up my branding!

Pressler singled out another South Dakota blogger for praise:

Another is John Tsitrian, the Constant Commoner. Blogs are coming along, and maybe they will... get us away from lots of other blogs that are just one side or the other [Pressler, 2015.01.05].

John! Wow! You've been banging away for less than a year and a half on your own blog, and already an intelligent, experienced politico can recognize the value of your blogging! Well done!

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It's almost Epiphany, almost time to leave the holidays behind and get on with regular business. But permit me one more brief retrospective on 2014.

I've listed the most-read and most commented stories of the year on this blog. I've also named the man of the year in terms of South Dakota political news, Richard Benda. But I'd like to take a moment to point out some of my best work on the Madville Times in 2014.

As you know, I spent much of 2014 on the road. My best blogging came from two trips around South Dakota.

In April, I crossed the state and interviewed Gordon Howie and Mike Myers and covered a speech by Joe Lowe. The Howie interview spawned a series of video conversations that I like to think exemplify the sort of spirited yet civil engagement (not to be confused with civil union) that South Dakota conservatives and liberals can and should enjoy.

Charlie in the distance, four-wheeling across the prairie, Hoffman farm, 2014.08.19

The prairie makes us all look small—photo from Charlie Hoffman's farm, northeast of Eureka, August 19, 2014 (click to enlarge).

Then in August came the tour de force... or the Tour de Blog! For eight days I toured South Dakota, talked to all sorts of people, and wrote 23 articles capturing a diverse album of South Dakota snapshots. I spoke with Lilias Jarding about the dangers of letting Powertech (now Azarga) dig for uranium in the southern Black Hills, then spent an entire afternoon with three Powertech honchos touring the proposed uranium mining area and talking about the company's plans. I visited Pine Ridge and Rosebud to learn about housing, voting rights, and Teach for America on the reservation. I attended two of the three Dakotafest debates and wrote five posts about them. I found an SDSU professor and a Republican legislator saying the same things about restoring prairie grass. And I got Republican Charlie Hoffman to say he'd like to expand Medicaid, raise teacher pay, and elect a Democratic governor.

I wrote plenty of articles that I'm proud of in 2014, but my articles from the road are my favorites. Feel free to note your favorites in the comment section below... and look forward to new favorites from around South Dakota in 2015!

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Dakota State University football coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with Oregon freelancer Nigel Duara's portrayal of his program and his community. Actually, nobody should be happy with how they appear in Duara's SBNation.com exposé on NAIA football. Duara makes Anderson sound like he tricked Robert Johnson and other out-state transplants with unkept promises. He makes Johnson sound like a liar. He makes Johnson and other ineligibles sound like lazy bums who arrogantly presume to know more than their coaches. He makes the DSU athletic department sound like a welfare queen counting on Medicaid to pay for health care for the young men it breaks in the pursuit of fleeting sports glory. He makes Madison sound like a Hicksville that doesn't support college football. And he makes NAIA football sound like a pay-for-play racket filled with deluded underachievers on the field and in the classroom.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Coach Anderson appears to have reason to feel betrayed by Duara. He tells Madison sports beater Larry Leeds that Duara misrepresented his intent in writing about DSU football:

What Anderson thought would be a positive piece for Madison became an online rant about a small Midwestern town and the allegedly unmet expectations of a California athlete.

"It is my fault because I took a man for his word when I was told there was a desire to do a 'feel good' story about a young man (Robert Johnson) from California who went to junior college and then came to DSU to do good for himself [Larry Leeds, "Website Story Criticizes DSU; Anderson Sets It Straight About Football Recruit, Program," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.12.26].

Anderson says Duara misrepresents Johnson and his situation. Anderson says Johnson simply didn't meet the staggeringly low eligibility requirements to play NAIA ball:

Students coming out of high school need to meet two of three qualifications to play at the NAIA level. They need an 18 or better score on their ACT or an equivalent score on their SAT; a 2.0 or higher GPA; and must graduate in the top 50 percent of their class.

The only thing Johnson was offered by DSU was a scholarship upon becoming eligible.

"Our football staff and academic administration did all we could do to help Robert pass some tests to help him gain credits which would make him gain eligibility last fall," Anderson said. "Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way we all had hoped, but it was not for a lack of effort on anybody's part, especially Robert's" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].

Um, Coach Anderson? I appreciate your generous words as a coach in defense of your player, even an ineligible player whose comments gave a reporter fodder for some bad press. But let me speak as a teacher: not being able to meet two of the three academic criteria listed above is almost always a result of someone's lack of effort.

Coach Anderson challenges the picture Duara paints of a town not supporting college football. Anderson highlights the meals churches and businesses provide his players, the reinstated Trojan Parent program, and the service projects through which his team repays the community. "The entire town of Madison is nothing but supportive to DSU and Trojan football," Anderson tells Leeds.

Anderson's "entire" perhaps overstates things. Duara does find one local entrepreneur, Beth Klingbile, owner of Gary's Bakery, whom he gets to almost talk smack about DSU athletics:

But not everyone is receptive, like main street cafe co-owner Beth Klingbile. She should fit the profile of a school booster: A cheery local business owner who graduated from Dakota State and stayed in town. But when the topic of Dakota State athletics comes up, Klingbile's smile is a little less certain.

"Yes, they come and ask for donations," said Klingbile. "But that's the only time I see them."

Have you ever given them money?

She shakes her head [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Duara imputes to baker Klingbile a "less certain" smile and a lack of financial support. Take Duara at his word (and as Anderson says, we should do so with caution), and we have one person to undercut Anderson's claim to entirety. But Duara doesn't balance the brief slice of his Klingbile conversation with an interview discussing the substance of support—the team meals, the Trojan Parent adoptions—with any of DSU boosters. He squirts ink mocking booster and Dairy Queen owner DeLon Mork's name and alleged accent, but he doesn't ask Mork about the specific actions through which he supports the football team of his alma mater.

Anderson may exaggerate just a touch when he says the "entire" town supports DSU football, but Anderson isn't a journalist. He's the leader and principal advocate for his program. He's doing his job. Journalist Duara is not.

(Speaking of balance, Leeds speaks to no one but Anderson for his response to Duara. He does not interview Johnson. He does not get comment from Duara. Maybe Leeds is offering a sort of blogospheric balance: Duara peddles his bias, Leeds gives the local retort, we read both and make our own call.)

That said, Coach Anderson doesn't entirely understand the job of a journalist:

Since time has passed since he first read Duara's posting, Anderson has realized that he is not mad at the author, just really disappointed with himself.

"What I learned, and what I would like others to learn from my mistake, is that I should have had the author sign a disclaimer allowing me to approve the article before anything was allowed to be published or posted," he said. "What is done is done, but I will not make that mistake again" [Leeds, 2014.12.26].

Again, Anderson gets carried away in absolutes. I'm just a blogger (darn right you are! I can hear Duara and Anderson growling at their screens), but I have never had an interviewee hand me any sort of written contract and demand my signature before we proceed with an interview. I've certainly had conversations with sources about what's on the record and what's off. I've checked back with sources to make sure I've gotten what they told me right. But I've never given—and I doubt other journalists give—anyone I've talked to prior restraint over entire articles.

Coach Anderson, did you require Larry Leeds to sign a disclaimer before publishing his interview with you?

Anderson will likely have a hard time sticking with his disclaimer/prior restraint vow. The PR side of his job requires that he share his thoughts pretty freely with the local press. Maybe he can maintain the traditional neighborly agreement with the Daily Leader's sports reporter, but I suspect he's going to have a hard time getting a written contract from every reporter who happens to ask him for a comment on the prospects for next season.

Perhaps Larry Leeds has already reminded Coach Anderson of the proper role of journalists, over coffee at Dairy Queen. Don't overstate your case, Coach—you don't need to resort to your own exaggerations and absolutes to properly point out that Duara dinged your program and your town with sloppy, axe-grinding journalism.

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Dander is up in Madison about a December 17 article on SBNation.com about the Dakota State University football team. Head coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with how Duara portrays his program in his exposé of the shady pay-for-play nature of NAIA football. I'll have more to say about Anderson's heartburn and Duara's thesis in a separate post, but for the moment, I'd like to critique Duara's journalistic skill and apparent cultural biases.

In his attempt to paint some cultural context for his far-flung readers, Duara, who grew up in Florida, got bad grades in J-school in Missouri, and now lives in Oregon, opens his piece by painting my hometown as Nowheresville:

The Middle of Nowhere, the very dead center, is probably somewhere on South Dakota's Country Highway 40 in Lake County. The city of Madison, pop. 6,474, birthplace of Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart, is a good enough place to start looking. The town's motto is "Discover the Unexpected." That's as close to a warning as you'll get [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Middle of Nowhere? Duara has apparently never driven out to interview Larry Rhoden in Union Center.

While I am glad to get an outsider's perspective that matches with my own long-standing assessment that our town marketing slogan invites ridicule, an article that opens with two glaring inaccuracies does not bode well for the writer's commitment to the truth.

  1. There is no "Country Highway 40" that runs through Madison. There is a county road designated as "40," the old pavement that runs west from Bourne Slough, turns to gravel where the old highway curves north at the old implement dealership, and continues west to the back end of Lake Herman State Park and Dirks Resort. Look at all the places on even that back road!
  2. The population of Madison, by the most recent published Census estimate, is 6,949. 6,474 was the 2010 Census count.

Duara isn't making things up when he says Madison is quiet, even on a home game day. "Madison is in a perpetual state of quiet during the harvest season," writes Duara, "when life in the Midwest should be rowdiest." Duara misses the fact that on a sunny October day, that harvest may have many people out in the fields working (which Duara saw on his way into town, men in a combine, but failed to put two and two together). I don't know what Saturday Duara visited, but he also ignored the competition of hunting season, which could draw many sportsmen away from the stadium for sport of their own. For all his striving to be an astute cultural observer, Duara seems to have been wearing blinders to some fundamental aspects of local culture.

Duara then gets personal in a way that further reinforces my impression that he wrote more of what he wanted to see than what he really saw. I don't know what to say about the journalistic credibility about a writer named Nigel Duara who says DeLon Mork is a funny name. "Unlikely" is the word Duara chooses to describe one of the most respected names in South Dakota business. Duara also sees fit to cast Mork in Fargo:

Mork owns the Dairy Queen in town, as did his father and his grandfather. He survived testicular cancer, twice. On National Blizzard Day, he outsells any DQ in the country. He busies himself around the store, fiddling with the shades or clearing counters. Customers leaving get a "see yuh!" in his heavily-accented speech from the Upper Plains. People like DeLon Mork.

A few wins and a few more close losses have him in high spirits.

"Aw jeez, dey're just turnin' it around up there, aren't dey!" he says, his perpetual smile brightening. He, perhaps more than anyone else, believes in this team and his friend, Coach Anderson [Duara, 2014.12.18].

Duara provides no phonetic transcription of anyone else's speech in this article. He certainly doesn't attempt to capture the regional flavor of the speech of California transplant Robert Johnson and his acquaintances back in exotic Palo Alto. He quotes Trojan player Cliff Marshall in standard English, with complete ending consonants and no hint of his Chicago dialect. He gives a hint of dialect from Johnson and another ineligible player, Collins Macauley, whom he catches leaving out a linking verb and an auxiliary verb in the midst of arrogant presumption against their coaches ("These the real coaches... they calling everything wrong") and using foul language.

Duara takes the one local booster who more passionately than any other can challenge Duara's desired portrait of Madison as a losing town and paints him as an ill-spoken yokel.

As Duara acknowledges, people like DeLon. I like DeLon. And DeLon's a tough enough guy that he probably doesn't care what Duara says about him. But I take it personally that, in pretense to literary wit, Nigel Duara thinks that twitting DeLon Mork, not to mention the entire town of Madison, helps advance his thesis that DSU football is part of an abusive NAIA system.

Were he to notice, Duara would likely twit my response here as small-minded, small-town defensiveness, another aspect of the dull culture that annoyed him so one sunny Saturday in October. The thing is, I agree with much of Duara wrote: Madison is not a big-league town. Dakota State University does not play big-league football. But Duara, with his simple inaccuracies and cultural bias, is not writing like a big-league journalist.

Bonus Copy Editing: Duara says Johnson has a tattoo consisting of "blueish rhombuses." I have a hard time finding a dictionary that will attest blueish as a preferred or even acceptable alternative spelling to bluish. And come on: if you love language, if you're swinging for the literary fences, you don't miss a chance to say rhombi.

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Ring the tip jar for more good South Dakota blog journalism!

If I'm going to ask for your money, I'm at least going to try to get the facts straight.

Pat Powers commits two more key errors in his Christmas funding pitch:

  1. Powers calls his blog, Dakota War College, an "independent news web site."
    • "Independent" ≠ sponsored by the SDGOP
    • "News" ≠ constant stream of unedited, unanalyzed SDGOP press releases
  2. Powers repeats his claim to be "South Dakota's #1 political web site," claiming "over 650,000 visitors, we served up over 1.6 million page views" in his ninth year of blogging.
    1. In 2014, the Madville Times has logged over 919,000 unique visits. Update 2015.01.02: 2014 total: 934,000+ unique visits
    2. In 2014, the Madville Times has logged over 1.73 million page views. Update 2015.01.02: 2014 total: 1,764,000+ page views.

In news and numbers, the Madville Times beats Dakota War College. Who's #1? You're looking at #1.

Readers, you have made the Madville Times the best blog in the state by reading, sharing, and commenting (on 1,500+ original posts this year, you have submitted over 40,000 comments—and that's not counting my responses!). You readers have also boosted the blog with your donations and sponsorships. Dozens of you have put up real money for technical costs (I know, more work still to be done!), research, and travel that turned into what I thought was a pretty good batch of journalism in the August 2014 Blog Tour.

I don't blog for cash any more than I teach for the money. I blog because I love South Dakota, I love writing, I love helping people, and I love the truth.

But the more you kind folks ring that tip jar (there it is! the jar with Honest Abe! click it with your mouse! tap it with your finger!), the more time I can afford to spend at the computer, researching, writing, and producing some useful blog journalism.

And for the next several weeks, every dollar you pitch into that tip jar will support a very important journalistic project. South Dakota has lost David Montgomery, one of its experienced legislative reporters. That cuts the full-time reporting corps covering the Legislature in Pierre in half.

I propose to fill some of that gap. From now until the end of session, I will view every dollar in the tip jar as time I don't need to spend working part-time jobs elsewhere and time that I can spend covering the 2015 session of the South Dakota Legislature. With your financial support, I can afford to take the day off work and listen to and analyze the Governor's State of the State Address. I can tune in to more committee hearings to summarize and fact-check testimony. I can get on the phone during business hours and get information from bill sponsors, state officials, and other experts. I can give you South Dakota Legislative journalism, advocacy, and B.S.-flagging that you won't find anywhere else.

The Legislative session really is the most wonderful time of the year. I love covering our Legislature. With your support, I can cover it even more.

Thank you, South Dakota, for making this blog our state's best political blog. Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing. And thank you for ringing that tip jar!

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South Dakota is one of the least corrupt states in America, says new research. Two profs analyzed the perceptions of 280 local reporters nationwide of how frequently government officials trade favors for endorsements, campaign contributions, or outright bribes.

When scores for both corruption measures were combined seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania — rose to the top as most corrupt, as mapped above. Meanwhile, eight states were deemed least corrupt. (They were Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.) [Niraj Chokshi, "A State Guide to Political Corruption, According to the Reporters Who Cover It," Washington Post: GovBeat, 2014.12.08].

This research runs counter to other studies that have found South Dakota third in public corruption convictions (two separate analyses), second for risk of corruption, sixth worst in campaign finance integrity, and eighth most corrupt as measured by convictions and government spending patterns.

South Dakota officials will likely spend great time and effort promoting this new and anomalous low corruption ranking. I pre-emptively balance that effort by pointing out these weaknesses in the new study:

  1. South Dakota is one of ten states from which the researchers received "relatively few responses." Less data means greater margin of error.
  2. The responses came from a self-selecting pool of 280 reporters out of 1,000 contacted. Self-selecting pools give less accurate results than randomly selected pools. (Of course, this could go either way: pesky muckrakers may be more likely to respond and skew the results negative... but then South Dakota may be underrepresented by having a fewer pesky muckrakers.)
  3. The survey deals with perceptions, not objective data. We can find outside observers who think South Dakota is a black hole of corruption.

The authors do not tell us which reporters or reporter responded for South Dakota. They probably did not talk to Denise Ross, who wrote up South Dakota's weak safeguards against corruption in 2012 for the Center for Public Integrity. The authors gathered their data before GOAC published its ridiculous and insulting whitewash of the EB-5 affair. But that any reporter in South Dakota can look at the evidence of corruption in the Attorney General's office and say, "Nope, no corruption happening here!" should make us question the effectiveness of our journalistic watchdogs.

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