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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Newsroom bloodletting continues

Okay, I understand there are newsrooms that have been bloated for a while. And I don't disagree that a little trimming is good for the bottom line and the increased productivity and opportunity for the remaining journalists. But this one cut struck me as alarming and here's why.

The Bangor, Maine, paper has made the decision to lay off its one statehouse reporter. Instead of having its own original reporter, editors will rely on the fine folks at AP. Although I have no doubt that decision will cut costs in the short run, I also think it's a terrible mistake to lose your newsroom connection to the statehouse because at the very least you're shortchanging readers and at worst you're reducing oversight and creating an environment that could breed corruption.

If you think I'm overreacting, just look at the mess of scandals that have plagued Ohio state government. But it goes beyond that.

Other than your local school board or city council, no other area of government impacts daily citizen life more than state government. Issues are decided related to school funding, job creation, higher education, public assistance, insurance, tax rates, public health, the environment, roads, bridges and waterways, parks and beaches. Those are only the tip of the iceberg because at least in Ohio, state government also has debated who can marry, who can adopt children, the role of religion in public life, what is taught in our science classrooms and how many tests your kids have to pass to graduate high school.

The powerful of our state government have twice helped to determine the Presidential election. Some of those same people are now headed to jail. The entire Coingate mess came to light years after the original red flags were sent in an audit. Why? Probably because there are fewer and fewer reporters working in the statehouse bureaus, developing sources and expertise on certain beats. In other words, no one was watching the pot of spaghetti until it bubbled over.

Good public journalism needs to do more -- not less -- in reporting about how state government impacts our lives. Editors in Bangor just made it easier for state officials to be less accountable to the citizens of Maine.

1 comment:

K-Oh said...

Great post, Wendy--and I agree, bad bad trend. Why don't you submit it as an op-ed all over the place?