'Firewall' newsletter to focus on revitalizing democracy

Having worked for 23 years for the Congressional Quarterly, a media outlet covering Capitol Hill, David Hawkings has launched “Firewall,” an email newsletter he intends to make the trusted source for those who manage the nation’s business.

“My role model probably is Nelson Poynter, the Florida newspaper publisher who right after World War II started Congressional Quarterly with the credo that an informed citizenry should be the only ‘special interest’ our lawmakers pay attention to,” said Hawkings in an interview with the Gazette.

Hawkings explained that his goal is to make “Firewall” the trusted source for insiders by being able to generate explanatory and investigative stories that educate and intrigue media people working in the more traditional press corps.

“Our coverage will lay the groundwork for bolstered and smarter coverage in all corners of the media landscape at a crucial time — during a 2020 campaign when one of the major issues is likely to be the severe stress on democratic norms, and in a coming presidential administration when ‘fixing the system’ looks high on the to-do list,” states the introduction to the newsletter.

Hawkings pointed out that “Firewall” will include area coverage at the federal, state and local levels. “ ‘Firewall’ will focus on issues essential to revitalizing a challenged American democracy.”

Among the issues It plans to cover are money in politics, from campaign finance rules to the influence of lobbyists; voting rights and election administration; gerrymandering and other issues related to political mapmaking. It would focus on the decline of civic education and engagement, as well as on political ethics and government transparency.

“Scrutinizing the balance of powers, especially at a time of profound congressional dysfunction, would be a vital function,” Hawkings said.

He believes there is an opportunity to galvanize a core audience of people who are already advocates for political reform but have no media hub of their own, plus policymakers and others in the press who can benefit from what he hopes will be Firewall’s foundational coverage.

He believes that after securing the trust in and reliance on his site, a national audience of citizens who view their governmental system as broken and want information to help get active — or at least vote smarter — on the issues they are most concerned about.

To underline the need for a reliable source of information, Hawkings pointed out that during the 2018 midterm elections 79 percent of voters said they support “bipartisan reform fix” and 57 percent said such legislation should be a top priority of Congress.

Quoting information from several public surveys, Hawkings said Americans solidly support making our democratic republic less tribal, our elections more competitive, our politicians less beholden to moneyed interest, our officials more attentive to real evidence in policy making, and our Congress more effective, ethical and civil.

“”That what we are all about,” Hawkings said. “The non-partisan, not-for-profit ‘Firewall’ will follow these issues exclusively, like no other news organization does. We will track efforts to help government be more responsive to the Americans who want these changes. We will decode behaviors threatening the principles of the Constitution. Most importantly, we will explain to those not yet involved how to get involved – and our coverage will persuade them that their democracy depends on it.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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