Monday, September 22, 2008

Another Washington bureau is closing, putting more burden on local reporters to cover Congress

After Election Day, add Newhouse News Service to the list of the Washington newspaper bureaus that no longer exist, further reducing coverage of Congress and putting more pressure on reporters back home to do the watchdog journalism that is more important than ever. The demise of the bureau and others like it is lamented in an article in the current American Prospect magazine, by John McQuaid, who was at the bureau until 2006, when he took a buyout.

"It was the home for a dozen individual papers' Washington correspondents, who produced often deep district-by-district coverage of Congress and federal agencies," McQuaid recalls. "A separate staff of national reporters wrote stories exploring the fault lines of the American political discussion, including race, religion, and economics -- an experiment in reinventing Washington coverage, or at least intended to give it a good tweak." He notes the reporting of Jonathan Tilove, now at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, on race and ethnicity, which has been noted here. However, he adds, "The bureau's customers were mostly small and medium-sized newspapers with limited space and appetite for national stories," and they often failed to take full advantage of such reporting.

"Papers in San Francisco, San Diego, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Toledo, Houston, Salt Lake City, Montana, Wyoming, and Maine have all cut back or eliminated Washington coverage in the past two years," McQuaid notes. "Reporters for the Tribune Co. papers are fretting over possible additional cuts to their communal Washington bureau as owner Sam Zell wields the knife" at the company, which also has TV stations. McQuaid notes this comes at a bad juncture. "The federal government is more opaque and arguably more mistrusted than at any recent time. Just from the standpoint of brute journalistic force, multiple layoffs mean fewer knowledgeable eyes on the day-to-day business of Congress and the federal government, so more political and bureaucratic shenanigans will go unnoticed." (Read more)

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