Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fewer Capitol reporters mean less accountability

Just as major regional papers are scaling back or closing their Washington bureaus, smaller papers are eliminating their state-capital correspondents, leaving some to wonder how the public will hold representatives accountable. One answer: Even smaller papers need to pick up the slack.

Capitolbeat, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, found last year that the nation had only 407 full-time state-capital reporters, about eight per state. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports less news coverage of state politics and fewer reporters applying for credentials at statehouses, reports Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times.

Peters writes from the capital of the Empire State, "This journalistic exodus raises questions about whether politicians and special interests in Albany — a place with tremendous power and a history of how that power can corrupt — will be given the scrutiny they merit." (Photo by Nathaniel Brooks of the Times shows the name of the recently closed New York Sun being removed from the statehouse media list.) New York City, Buffalo, Watertown and Albany itself are the only New York cities with full-time capital correspondents. "In 1981, the Legislative Correspondents Association ... had 59 members from 31 news outlets," Peters writes. "At the beginning of this year, there were 42 journalists and 27 member organizations."

While capital coverage was once considered a necessity, increasing economic pressures mean that many papers see no choice but to cut their statehouse desk. This lack of coverage "deprives journalism of one of its sources of legitimacy: to be that watchdog,” says Evan Cornog, associate dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. “And it’s not as if we’re functioning in a transparent environment. People are working hard to conceal stuff.” (Read more)

For The Rural Blog's previous coverage of bureau closings in Washington and state capitals, click here, and here, and here.

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