Midday Scan: Tuesday's top stories around the region

The Sonntag legacy, the power of the lonely blogger and the narrow-focused website, revenue shortfall jitters in Olympia, and a new come-on for your state liquor store.

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State Auditor Brian Sonntag

The Sonntag legacy, the power of the lonely blogger and the narrow-focused website, revenue shortfall jitters in Olympia, and a new come-on for your state liquor store.

Brian Sonntag is shorthand for nonpartisan competence and integrity. Washington's long-serving state auditor, who announced his retirement yesterday, is (no big surprise) unpopular among partisans and corner cutters. The Tacoma News Tribune reports  the retirement news while sidestepping Sonntag's lightening-rod role as an advocate of performance audits (a repellent mandate for the non-performing class). In a 2008 Crosscut profile, Casey Corr noted that, "Not long ago, the scariest phone call a public official could get usually involved someone like Eric Nalder, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's ace investigative reporter. If Eric calls, the best thing is to just realize your guilt, resign, and get it over with." Eric Nalder's public-sector doppelganger is Brian Sonntag, and he scares the bejeebers out of the guilty or soon-to-be guilty. Sonntag's advocacy of Tim Eyman's I-900, the state measure that added performance audits to his portfolio, along with his support of King County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison, made him a Joe Lieberman-like figure among Democrats (there's a tepid, don't-let-the-door-hit-you subtext to the state party's reaction to Sonntag's retirement). The best Sonntag analogue may be Cincinnatus, the Roman consul emblematic of civic virtue. When it came time to retire he did just that.  

Only-in-the-Northwest characters are often as complicated as they are compelling. This morning's Seattle Times features a fascinating profile of Richard Silverstein, an otherwise innocuous "59-year-old stay-at-home dad, caring for three young children and a lazy golden lab, with a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos in the living room and bikes cluttering the porch." Appearances can be deceiving, however. Silverstein is a big-league Seattle blogger who is both provocative and unconventional. Jonathan Martin writes that "By night, he is a sharp-elbowed journalist, writing an influential blog about Israeli security issues that inflames the left and right alike. His posts, pounded out in this basement office cluttered with utility bills and world music CDs, rank Silverstein's in the top 20 among world politics blogs." The Silverstein example illustrates the power and wonder of the web: One man, sitting in his Seattle basement, scribbling and broadcasting to the world.

What are those news consumers who read Silverstein and other issue-specific sites actually looking for? David Carr of the New York Times reports that it's a niche, not size, that matters. "Like newspapers, portals like AOL and Yahoo are confronting the cold fact that there is less general interest in general interest news. Readers have peeled off into verticals of information — TMZ for gossip, Politico for politics and Deadspin for sports, and so on," Carr writes. This is great news for those wonky sites that cater to narrow interests. General news suffers, however, with that many more consumers siloed and disconnected from a broader narrative.  

Austerity is the new normal, and Washington residents will experience it first hand when the state unviels its latest revenue forecast on Thursday. As the Olympian's Brad Shannon writes, the chatter about 10 percent cuts to core services, frequently dismissed as alarmist, may soon come to pass. "The governor’s worst-case scenario called for cuts across all of state government totaling $1.7 billion. The state Health Care Authority’s share at the 10 percent cut level was $445 million — a situation that is putting some Medicaid programs and the Basic Health Plan firmly on the chopping block." Now the wagering has begun on the size of the budget hole: $1 billion? $2 billion? As the late Everett Dirksen said, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money."

One effective way to treat the budget blahs is with a strong dose of John Barleycorn. As Debra Smith of the Everett Herald notes, that drink may just be a "tasting session" away. "The state Liquor Control Board just launched a year-long pilot project that allows distillery representatives to hold tastings at state-controlled liquor stores," Smith reports. It's not a panacea for life's troubles, but it's good to know the government puts the needs of consumers first.   

Link summary

Tacoma News Tribune "Auditor Brian Sonntag to hang it up after 20 years"

Seattle Times, "Influential Seattle blogger inflames left and right alike about Israeli secuirty issues"

New York Times, "News trends tilt toward niche sites"

The Olympian, "State sharpens knife"

Everett Herald, "New at liquor stores: tasting sessions"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson