Who’s Watching Your Statehouse? No One. – The Daily Beast

30
Jul

Who’s Watching Your Statehouse? No One. – The Daily Beast

For generations of journalists, covering the statehouse has been a prestigious beat. It typically came with a desk in the building, and ample access to lawmakers. It was not an assignment for a novice. You worked your way up to it, and you had to be good. Bringing down a governor, exposing corruption—all in a day’s work. The statehouse is where reputations were made and politicians ran scared, knowing multiple news organizations could be on their case.

But that era is ending, a casualty of newspaper economics and a changing society. On a good day, state news is under-covered, especially compared to its importance. While multitudes of reporters in Washington chronicle the gridlocked Congress, the number of full-time reporters covering 50 statehouses has fallen to roughly 300, down from 500 in 2003, according to the Pew Research Center.

When Walter Jones started at the Georgia Capitol in 1998, if one outlet broke an investigative story, all the others chased it, each taking turns advancing the story. And in the end someone would resign, get fired, or indicted. Now, there are no reporters to advance a story so that only one outlet is doing all the work, allowing the subject of those stories to merely dismiss them with, “Oh, that paper has never liked me,” says Jones.

He used to work with multiple reporters, now he’s in a one-man bureau for the Morris News Service. His editors are more likely to tell him to stand down on a big story a competitor breaks, telling him to give them something they can’t pick up from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Without a critical mass of media, the politicians can get away with claiming the Atlanta paper has a vendetta against them. They win reelection with paid television ads. “If people would just read their newspapers instead of getting information from television ads,” the politicians would have to work harder to fool the people, he says. “We’d all do better if we ate our spinach and vegetables too.”

via Who’s Watching Your Statehouse? No One. – The Daily Beast.

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