Wither the statehouse bureau
The New York Times reports today on the woes of the dwindling Albany statehouse press corps, but its report could be extrapolated to almost any of the 50 states.
Watching editors increasingly write off state government coverage as irrelevant or a luxury continues to remind me how out of touch so many seem to be. If you want to talk hyperlocal journalism, I can't think of much more hyperlocal than that. Much more than Washington, the folks in Trenton or Boise, Tallahassee or Bismarck, Des Moines or Dover have far more power to reach into your wallet or pocketbook and affect your daily life. How much more hyperlocal do you want to get than that at a time when the feds are devolving large amounts of oversight and power to the states?
If you think the financial crisis or Iraq war or a bushel of other things blamed partly on the press' supposed lack of watchdogging things in D.C. cause you heartburn, wait until the boys and girls under the statehouse dome get the notion they can ride wild without the sheep dogs keeping watch. D.C. may give you heartburn, but the statehouse will give you a migraine like you've never felt before -- and it will be in so many tiny ways, like so many pinpricks, that you probably won't notice until it is too late.
Fortunately, Jeremy W. Peters of the Times shows us that graceful, vivid writing still is possible from the dusty statehouse corridors, even if it is a prelude to the dirge:
The statehouse correspondents association in Albany dates to 1900, when a group of reporters decided to host a farewell dinner for Gov. Theodore Roosevelt, who was leaving the state capital for Washington to become William McKinley’s vice president.
It is an organization known for clinging hard to vestiges of its past. Women were banned from being members during World War II, a policy that was not reversed until the late 1960s. Women were also not allowed to participate in the organization’s annual gridiron dinner until 1972. Now a third of the association’s members are women.
But through much of the 1980s, the organization still had the feel of a stodgy gentleman’s club. Nightly poker games with legislative staffers and lobbyists were a revered tradition, as was “the library,” a metal cart of liquor that was wheeled out every afternoon.
Today the liquor cart is gone. The poker table still sits on the second level of the association’s office space — a balcony known as “the shelf” that looks down on the main press room floor — but it is covered by a piece of particleboard stained with coffee mug rings.
Downstairs on the main level, the sets of wood and brass plaques that hang from a wall on the first floor name various recipients of the association’s reporting awards. But they read like a death notices column for the newspaper business.