The Tom Sumner Program Exclusive Interview with Editor-in-Chief of The Michigan Star

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CEO and Editor in Chief of Star News Digital Media, Michael Patrick Leahy joined Flint, Michigan based Tom Sumner of The Tom Sumner Program Tuesday morning to talk about the launch of the company’s new outlet, The Michigan Star, his passion for American history, the destruction of the public education system, and the void that has been left open for new local media outlets.

Sumner: And welcome back everybody as we continue with what I like to call the third half of our three-hour tour. My guest this hour is the CEO and Editor in Chief of Star News Digital Media which is launching a Michigan version, The Michigan Star tomorrow. It is Michael Patrick Leahy. Michael, welcome back.

Leahy: Great to be with you and the site launches early tomorrow morning at TheMichiganStar.com. You can go there and take a look at it. We have coming soon. We got a nice little logo there along with the Star theme. So we’d love to have you and all your listeners go take a look at it.

Sumner: Yeah, and it’s one of the reasons I was really happy that you were available to talk about this morning because it is starting tomorrow. Michael, what goes into launching an online news site. It seems like it takes forever to get people trained to go there?

Leahy: Yeah, well, it is. It does take a bit. It’s even more of a challenge if you’re a conservative online news site. The best thing that people can do is to sign up for our email list because that way we can control the communications. Obviously when you do one of these things and we’ve had a lot of traffic. And have tons of stories that have been written by our now eleven or twelve journalists around the country that work for our various outlets.

The Tennessee Star, The Ohio Star, The Minnesota Sun, and The Michigan Star now. And so, you have to have good stories and they have to be accurate stories. And they have to be compelling and interesting. Good stories, that helps. Good imagery. If you take a look at our sites Tennesseestar.com for instance or TheOhioStar.com, that you can take a look at right now. Look at the images. They’re very well done images.

In fact, you’ve seen, and that’s our Vice President of Technology Christina Botteri who was also an early organizer in the Tea Party movement is very talented in terms of graphic imagery. Our style is actually so good that it’s been copied by a number of other outlets. You can see it’s got a distinctive view with our features and photos of people so you can see their face and then some background imagery. It’s very snappy and easy to share.

So, one of the things you do is obviously, we’re stuck in this world aren’t we Tom, of relying upon the big tech companies? Facebook and Google and also to some extent Twitter. And so we have a Facebook page for all of our outlets and given the Google News service. And we also send out Tweets. That’s one way to promote it. The best way though is sort of word of mouth by friends and sharing the links.

That’s turned out to pretty successful for us. Plus we have great news stories. And we cover stories that really aren’t covered by a lot of folks. One of the stories that we’re going to be looking at in Michigan. A big, big story is the adoption of new social studies standards there that really are promoting, what I think we would say and many people would say, is sort of an anti-American view of American history. I mean your Board of Education approved those. And so we’re going to be reporting about that. How did that happen? Why did it happen? And what can people do about it? Those will be the kinds of things that we’ll be reporting.

Sumner: And you’re talking about of course one of the things was they used the word ‘Democracy’.

Leahy: Instead of Republic. We are a constitutional Republic. Now the new standard says this is a Democracy. We are not a Democracy. We are a constitutional Republic. See, that’s just factually incorrect and yet there it is in the standard. And this is one of our big themes is the destruction of the public education system. It’s a takeover by people who have an anti-American world view and really aren’t delivering quality education in terms of reading, writing, and arithmetic for students.

Sumner: Well Michael, we could do a couple of hours on the problems with public education

Leahy: Absolutely.

Sumner: And even charter schools for that matter.

Leahy: So interestingly enough, just to give an example. We have an advertiser here in Nashville called the Thales Academy. And the Thales Academy was founded by a successful entrepreneur by the name of Bob Luddy who has a company called CaptiveAire which does high-quality commercial kitchen ventilation equipment. Made a lot of money there.

And he decided basically to start a private high-quality affordable school. And they use something called direct instruction. I don’t know if you’ve followed direct instruction but it’s a way to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic that’s not common core. In its classic choral response. Repetition. Two plus two equals. And then the class answers four. The kids are very engaged. Very effective way to go. These are the kind of stories that you’ll see at the Michigan Star.

Sumner: Sort of a Socratic method. But speaking of education. How does somebody with a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford end up being a newsie? (Sumner bellows)

Leahy: That’s a great question.

Sumner: That’s not the usual path Michael. That’s all I’m saying.

Leahy: I don’t know. I’ve always been interested by American history. You know I started out way back when. I know this will shock you Tom, but when I was at Harvard I was a Democrat. (Leahy chuckles)

Sumner: I thought you had to be a Democrat to go there, Michael?

(Inaudible talk)

Sumner: We were starting to talk about your education path from Harvard, Stanford, and your interest in history. And let’s pick it up there.

Leahy: Ok. So, I think I told you earlier before we lost the connection, Tom. Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re not a liberal by twenty and if your not a conservative when you’re forty, then you don’t have a brain.” (Leahy chuckles) I suppose I’ve followed that path. (Sumner laughs) But I’ve always been interested in America.

Sumner: And you know it was interesting that when I said, “How’d you become a newsie?” And you said, “I’ve always been interested in history.” Is news as it’s been described as history’s first draft?

Leahy: I think so. Don’t you think? It is at least, it’s documented evidence at least what somebody said about what happened. Of course the problem with news today, what is true and what is not. And it needs to be fact-based. And the reason I got into this, and of course, I’ve been an entrepreneur and you want to make money doing this, this is just I can’t help myself. (Leahy laughs)

Sumner: You’ve got the bug.

Leahy: I got the bug. I’m interested in it. And I want to promote the truth. I want to write the truth and I want to share that with people in Michigan and around the country. And I think it’s an important thing to do because not enough truth is getting out there these days.

Sumner: And that’s something that I really wanted to bring up and ask about because A lot stuff because of the internet, because of the immediacy of it we’re seeing a lot of headlines in real-time. You know, stories start hitting the news while things are still actually happening. We’re not reading it in tomorrow mornings paper when it’s all played out. How do you fight the temptation to be first more than right?

Leahy: Well yeah. That’s a very good question. And there’s a balance there. We try very hard to only publish facts that we have confirmed. Now if we make a mistake there’s a corrections policy as you know and people can talk to us and say, “Hey, you made a mistake in this.” And we fix it right away if there is a mistake. So we haven’t had many correction requests and those that were bad we obviously right away in the two and half years we’ve been operating. It’s one of my pet peeves Tom, what you just talked about.

Don’t get a story out with just some rumor or a Tweet that’s not confirmed. You just can’t do that. And we don’t do it. And sometimes other people will come up with a story and they’ll hit it, and they’ll get it wrong because they don’t verify the sources. And that’s the role of the editor. That’s what we try and do. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it so far. And of course people who go to TheMichiganStar.com in your listening audience can take a look and see what we do starting tomorrow, they’ll be able to judge for themselves.

Sumner: Well yeah. I had a guest on the show once Michael who was an FBI profiler. And we were talking about some high profile active shooter event and she said something that just gave me chills. She said, “Well the first news reports are always wrong.” As if it was as matter of course in the rush to get it out there.

Leahy: Hmm hmm.

Sumner: They haven’t taken the time to check and validate how many shooters were there. How many…

Leahy: Yeah. That’s one of the things we try to address here Tom. We’re excited actually about the opportunity to weigh in and report on news that’s important to your listeners in Michigan. And one of the things about our company if you don’t mind…

Sumner: Yeah please.

Leahy: Couple of other things besides news. One of the things is we publish textbooks for kids in secondary schools. Which is interesting.

Sumner: It is interesting.

Leahy: In particular we have one set of textbooks. One textbook that addresses, it’s our Guide to the Constitution and Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students. Because as you know civic literacy across the country and particularly among high school students is not particularly high. And so that book, our next edition of it is going to be published this next week or so, we use that as a basis for a very innovative thing that we’ve done down here in Tennessee. For three years we’ve held a Tennessee Star Constitution Bee which is for secondary school students.

Sumner: Oh, good for you.

Leahy: And we use the book as a basis for that. And that Constitution Bee as it turns out the winner typically gets a college scholarship. Last year it was three thousand bucks for the winner. A thousand bucks for the second place. And five hundred bucks for the third place. But they also get a free trip to Washington, D.C. for themselves and for a parent. In 2018, our winner went up and was at the Capitol.

One kid by the name of Cooper Moran who was at the Capitol and he was in the Capitol rotunda on July tenth, two thousand eighteen, the same day that Vice President Mike Pence walked then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the Capitol to meet with the Senators. And our champion got to shake hands with both Pence and Kavanaugh. (Sumner laughs) It was quite an event for them.

Sumner: I bet. I bet that was great. I especially am interested in the emphasis you put on local and state news as will be reported staring tomorrow on The Michigan Star site.

Leahy: Yeah. Absolutely. And by the way, one of the things that we do here down in Nashville is I co-host a morning radio program with Steve Gill our political editor. And what we do is five am to eight am, so I’m up pretty early Tom! (Both men laugh) But if we do an interview there we do the transcript and we turn that into the story. So I’ll give you this open invitation Tom. If you have a political story you think our readers might be of interest. Just send us the transcript and we’ll turn into a story and you’ll see it on The Michigan Star.

Sumner: Well, I will take you up on that. And I hope that on the flip side of that you would like to be a guest again from time to time to talk about things that are coming.

Leahy: You got it. Anybody that played with Dell Shannon and The Drifters is my kind of guy Tom.

Sumner: That has opened so many doors for me, Michael. (Leahy laughs) They were all back doors. (Sumner chuckles) In addition to the work that you’re doing now. You’ve written a number of books and I wanted to make sure to mention that. Because whenever I have guests on I always want to give them an opportunity to let listeners know where they can find out more about you and your work. And you know some of the other things that you’re doing besides what we’re talking about. Do you have a website?

Leahy: You know I do but it’s actually down right now for maintenance. (Sumner laughs) But I can tell you the name of the books. I had one real when you say books that I’ve written. I self-published several books but there’s one that I’ve written with a real live publisher. Harper-Collins imprint Broadside Books in two thousand twelve.

Sumner: Oh wow. I’ve heard of them.

Leahy: Yeah. Published a book that I wrote called Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement. And it’s a pretty good book. If I do say so myself. Very interesting. Describes how the Tea Party movement came about. What it’s goals and objectives were. And how those goals and objectives were absolutely consistent with the Anglo-American tradition of constitutional liberty.

And so it goes down to the three core values of the Tea Party movement: fiscal responsibility, free markets and constitutionally limited government. It really just describes what the ideological origins are. Now I must say there’s a very famous book, as you’re a history buff to I think, Bernard Bailyn, a Harvard professor that I never had, but was there when I was at Harvard. He wrote a book called The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Which was a classic. I sort of looked at that as a model in writing that particular book.

Sumner: This is absolutely fascinating. So the site, The Michigan Star goes up.

Leahy: The Michigan Star.com. You bet.

Sumner: You feel like teasing any of the big headlines for tomorrow’s edition. (Sumner chuckles)

Leahy: We’re not going to start off with a blow out sort of story. We’re just going to do what we do and report on stories of interest of people who are conservatives and support the Trump agenda in Michigan. And so we’ve got several cued up for that. One of the things we do, I do want to go into this Tom, or share this with you, we periodically do public opinion polls in our various operations. In Tennessee we’ve done, I don’t know, maybe a dozen or so in the two years we’ve been operational.

And they’ve been very good polls in terms of predicting election results. We do intend to do polls in Michigan and I think probably next month we’ll be doing a presidential preference poll. A general population poll of the 2020 presidential election between President Trump and whoever the top four or five challengers are at the time. And then we’ll do a poll of probably John James. So that’s all in the works.

Sumner: Well it’s going to be fascinating to watch. And I’m glad you’re doing this because I agree with you that the switch to online news and online media has left a void in especially in local coverage.

Leahy: And you’ll relate to this Tom. If you look at why does that void exist? Well, I think you can see that there’s a duty, I would say that there’s a duty of a mid-sized local business to advertise in a media outlet so that freedom of the press can be preserved. What you have now is local news is really not being reported because all the local news outlets owned by these large companies that are out of state and they aren’t really promoting an in-depth coverage of local news.

Even if you look at a local business, they look at their advertising cost-effectiveness and quite frankly some of them are saying, “Well, I can get a more effective return by doing a Facebook ad that’s very targeted.” And there may be some truth to that. One of the challenges we have is to make sure that local business or regional businesses are aware of the Michigan Star and understand perhaps they have a civic duty to help advertise in a local media outlet.

Sumner: Well Michael this has been fun talking with you and like I said I hope we get to do it again. It was pretty last minute how this came about and I appreciate you making yourself available to spend this time with me this morning.

Leahy: It’s great to be with you. And when I’m up in Michigan I’ll stop by and we can do something in the studio.

Sumner: That would be great.

Leahy: Delighted to be with you, Tom.

Sumner: Well Michael, good luck with the launch. Now, what does that mean, a launch?

Leahy: The Michigan Star.com. Instead of just seeing one page that says coming soon, you will see all of our stories. Typically we’ll do twelve to sixteen stories a day. And every night midnight we’ll do what we call the ‘flip’ and we have 16 new stories. Roughly.

Sumner: Is there a button you push. A switch that says we’re live? (Sumner chuckles)

Leahy: Ah, yes. There is. That button will be pushed early this morning. Or early tomorrow morning.

Sumner: And I’m looking forward to it. Michael, thanks again.

Leahy: Glad to be with you, Tom.

Sumner: You take care.

Leahy: Thank you.

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