January 6, 2016

Council weighs funding news outlet


Staff Reporter

Members of the city Common Council are likely asking themselves if the city should help fund a local news media organization tasked with holding it accountable. One of the organization’s competitors says that answer is no.
On Tuesday, the new Common Council intended to approve four applications for financial assistance through the city’s Microenterprise Assistance Program.
One application was submitted by Peter Blanchard, editor and founder of the Cortland Voice, a local news website that launched early last year. Cortland Voice is a partner of Ithaca Voice.
John Eves, owner of the WXHC radio station in Homer, voiced concerns during a public comment period about the city funding the Cortland Voice.
Eves said he thought it “spoke volumes” that Mayor Brian Tobin and city Director of Administration and Finance Mack Cook, who both sit on the review committee that vets applications, would back the funding.
He added he did not oppose competition so much as he was against the city providing funding for a news media organization responsible for covering local government.
“I don’t think that Common Council should be sustaining a news organization that is going to have to cover them in the future,” Eves said. “I think that is a conflict of interest and I think it crosses the line.”
Shortly after a motion to consider the agenda item was brought forward, the council broke into a 15-minute executive session to discuss the personal and financial history of the applicants. After emerging, three of the four applications were approved:
l Michele Andersen, owner of Andersen’s Swap Shop on 150 Main St., who wants to start her Bark, Bath and Beyond dog grooming salon and retail store at that location, received $22,500.
l Tim Davis hopes to open a store called Mason’s Patent that will sell Mason jars and related accessories in the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street. He received $28,275.
l Stacey Anne Goldyn-Moller, owner of Magpie Handcrafted Treasures, also located in the Cortland Corset Building, received $22,500.
On the suggestion of new Alderman Gary Thomas (D-3rd Ward), the application for the Cortland Voice was tabled.
“I want to know more about ... the way it works,” Thomas said. “I just want to know more about it before I say aye (or) nay.”
Blanchard declined to comment this morning on how much he applied for, but said funding would likely go to day-to-day operations and to hire a new employee.
He added while he thought it was a possibility the council would react as it did, he also thought applying for the funding was worth a shot.
“Given that the business model of journalism is somewhat shaky ... we would look for any available revenue opportunity to sustain our operation,” Blanchard said. “I’m pleased that Common Council is taking the time to review this. If we were to be awarded ... it would no way compromise our ability to hold local officials accountable.”
Tobin said City Attorney Ric Van Donsel will review Blanchard’s application before the council decides whether to approve it during its Jan. 19 meeting.
“We’ll review (the application) because how we do business is absolutely as important as what we do for business,” Tobin said.

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