All those stories you see about newspaper cutbacks are far from academic or theoretical: They directly affect what you know, and directly affect any attempt to keep watchdogs on the people and organizations in power. That point comes home strongly in a Seattle Times article out today.
There were in 1993 some 34 full-time reporters at the Washington statehouse at Olympia, many of them from newspapers around the state. That number fell in half by last year, and couple drop below 10 next year - a stunning fall of more than two-thirds in 16 years. Papers like the Vancouver Columbian, whose circulation area takes in upwards of a third of a million people, will have no one watching their delegation or local interests at Olympia. The Tacoma News Tribune has gone from two (full time) reporters to one, and the Times itself from three to one.
Whose interests are being served by that?
The situation seems to be less severe in Oregon and Idaho, which at this point may have larger statehouse press corps for population size than many states do - albeit not large.
Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian wrote us, "I don't think it has been as dramatic in Oregon. We have just about the same coverage of the capital as before. It's a little hard to count, though, because we have people shuttling in and out of Salem because it's relatively close to Portland. During the session we'll probably have a half dozen people doing some legislative coverage, but there will probably just be three there full time."
In Boise, veteran Statehouse reporter Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review indicated change hasn't been drastic, but it has been happening:
"We're about where we were last year in Boise, but we've seen a gradual drop over the years. The Idaho State Journal in Pocatello and the CdA Press stopped sending a reporter last year, the same year I lost my intern and the Statesman went down to one full-timer. (The Press hired a freelancer last year, but didn't this year.) AP has downsized its Statehouse presence to two full-timers, one an intern, as of last year. And the only broadcast media with full-time presence at the Idaho statehouse any more is Idaho Public TV. The commercial TV and radio folks still show up, but don't maintain a fulltime presence."
Fingers crossed, then, that we're finding a floor here, rather than about to crash through a new lower level . . .