Posts about savingnews

Who’ll cover the state

Throw Marc Fisher’s Washington Post column atop the pile of columns from all over declaring that bloggers won’t replace newspapers. Careful that it doesn’t topple on you. I wish there were a pile of equal size making that argument about bloggers and papers, but I can’t find it. It’s a red herring in a barrel. But rather than one more time trying to shoot down another attempt to shoot down this nonexistent premise, let’s look at Fisher’s real challenge – how will state government be covered – and see whether there aren’t new answers, with or without bloggers. He writes:

In one hour in the Virginia House the other day, I watched debates on raising the cost of vanity license plates (the No’s won), letting employers pay workers with debit cards rather than paychecks (Yeses won), and making it a felony to hang a noose on someone’s property (approved). Hardly earth-shattering issues, but each has an impact on people’s lives. Yet none got any press; a couple of years ago, they would have.

OK, start here: I’d recommend that Fisher should have headed across town to the Sunlight Foundation’s Transparency Camp. I think transparency as a default for governments at every level is the first answer: every piece of legislation online and every debate and committee meeting recorded and shared. That alone won’t yield reporting but it would enable journalists and citizens anywhere in a state to monitor bills and topics and share what’s notable.

Then the services of one or more reporters or bloggers should be shared by every publication in the state. A capitol bureau is hardly a differentiating feature for a paper. We’re headed this way with, for example, the consortia of Ohio and New York/New Jersey papers now sharing their content statewide. So imagine if a journalist’s coverage appeared in every paper and on every site of news organizations in the state with a share of revenue for advertising on it to the reporter. That might – just might – cover the cost. We’ll see. At the Norg unconference in Philadelphia three years ago, thee was discussion about this structure with a blogger who was covering Harrisburg.

Next, local reporters and bloggers can do a better job covering the activities of their representatives. I’d like to start by seeing the voting record of my state reps; it’d be easy to set up RSS feeds for every district that local bloggers could include and discuss.

Covering legislatures is the easier part of this. Covering executive-branch bureacrats is harder but I think that coverage will shift from the geographically based – that is, by people in the state capital – over to topically based – that is, a local green reporter or blog watching the state’s environmental actions.

I don’t have a buttoned-up plan to replace the coverage of newspaper statehouse bureaus. But it’s already true that they are shrinking and so rather than just complaining about that – and pointing out for the Nth time that bloggers won’t replace their headcount – we need to look at how the functions of covering state government can be fulfilled in new ways.