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Perils of a depleted State House press

 

As I've written before, it's great that blogs such as Hard Deadlines and Rhode Island's 12th have sprung up to cover areas that tend to get short-shrift from the Prov-centric RI media. And last Sunday, during his appearance on Newsmakers, Matt was fairly optimistic that bloggers will continue to focus more closely on municipal politics.

Yet it's not good for the public interest when newspapers cut and cut, particularly in as important an area as legislative coverage. (Say what you will about the ProJo, but credit it for maintaining its three-person State House bureau.)

From Governing (h/t Romo):

What's happening in Hartford is happening in a lot of places these days. Newspapers and radio stations are either abandoning or slashing their presence in Albany, Trenton, Springfield, Denver, Tallahassee, Austin, Sacramento, Oklahoma City — you name the capitol, the press corps is shrinking. Newspapers that once sent five people to cover state government are down to two and are pruning the space they get on the page; smaller papers have bailed out entirely; commercial radio is following the route television took years ago, parachuting reporters in for only the most attention-grabbing stories.

The move to online coverage is well underway, and the assumption in Hartford and elsewhere is that it will eventually provide a workable system, but at the moment the ground that's been lost — in the investigations not launched, the tips not followed up, the decades of knowledge and experience that have walked out the door with buyouts or pink slips in hand — has yet to be regained.

At a gathering in November of the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, a group of journalists who cover state government, attendees were met with the news that two of their board members had lost their reporting jobs and that, in a bid to boost sagging revenues, the board was considering opening up membership to lobbyists and other non-journalists who write regularly about state government. Not surprisingly, the suggestion provoked a debate that was both heated and sorrowful.

"I haven't seen the emerging model for state coverage yet," says Chris Bigelow, a college librarian who maintains a widely read public-affairs blog called Connecticut Local Politics under the name Genghis Conn. "There's still a big gap in coverage."

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