Friday, December 19, 2008

Olympia press corps is a dying breed

Andrew Garber's article in today's Seattle Times is a must-read for anyone interested in government or media.

Those of us working in the Legislature have been watching sadly as fewer and fewer reporters occupy the press offices in what we fondly call the "White House" and "Blue House" next to the Capitol.

Garber reports:

During the past 15 years, the state population has increased by 25 percent and the amount of tax money spent by the state has more than doubled. Yet the number of print, television and radio journalists covering the state Legislature full time has dropped by about 70 percent.
It is a long-term trend that accelerated this decade and finally fell off a cliff this year because of plunging advertising revenue in face of the recession and a changing media landscape.
In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.
Garber makes the make the point (and legislators like Rep. Hans Dunshee agree) that having knowledgeable reporters around to keep an eye on the goings-on in the Capitol is essential. The scrutiny keeps lawmakers honest.
For those of us who work in the Legislature, we would add the point that reporters also keep each other honest. When fewer of them are trying to cover the same amount of news, it's harder for them to make sure their facts are straight and their stories are objective.
So the seasoned, can't-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes Dave Ammons is no longer around to drill legislators about the nitty-gritty details of budgets and bills? The Columbian apparently won't be sending Kathie Durbin up from Vancouver to be embedded in legislative life for the few months of session? How much does it matter? When we see this same trend across the country and in the D.C. press as well, what does it mean about the Fourth Estate's ability to keep tabs on Congress and the White House?

This is the kind of story that really makes you think.