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The real problem at the Statehouse bureaus

Wednesday, Jan 11, 2017

* We talked again last week about the exodus of Statehouse reporters, which is now up to seven over the past couple of months. I received a few e-mails on this topic from a current and a former reporter that I thought I’d share with you.

This is from a current Statehouse reporter, with a slight edit to disguise the person’s identity…

I think the seven departures from the press room are an unfortunate coincidence. Nobody has said, I can’t take it anymore, I have had it with this administration. The only person who quit the press room that I know of for that reason - the administration was Blagojevich’s.

The ones who will be missed in that group, Jamey, Riopell, and Amanda, are advancing themselves / making more money.

Seth was doing something nobody else was, photography. Not exactly apples to apples imo tho Seth is a great guy.

Ivan was only here a year and, more importantly, apparently won’t be replaced.

Kelsey and Ed are advancing themselves and presumably making more money. Good luck to them. The Kelsey departure would make two folks leaving WCIA, as they have yet to hire someone (as far as I know) to succeed Matt Porter. I say “succeed” because you simply cannot replace Matt Porter!

Amanda’s departure is the end of the world because Amanda.

The more troubling part to me is when organizations decide to quit staffing the press room after people leave.

That last sentence and the fact that Ivan Moreno at the AP may not be replaced are the most important parts as you’ll see in this next e-mail from a former reporter…

There’s always been constant turnover. The difference is corporate media downsizing and the decision to leave positions vacant when that turnover occurs.

Yep.

* That former reporter continued in a follow-up e-mail, which has also been slightly edited…

Consider this …

Don Thompson went from the Pantagraph, to the Daily Herald to AP Sacramento.

When Don left the Pantagraph it opened the door for Kurt Erickson to come to the press corps. [Erickson has since left for a job in Missouri.]

Don leaving the Daily Herald opened the door for John Patterson to move from the Lee Bureau to the Daily Herald.

Those doors have been closed, locked and boarded over.

There is no Pantagraph standalone bureau.

And now it appears there is no Daily Herald bureau.

Despite the fact that the Daily Herald bought a ton of newspapers in southern Illinois, it appears it won’t keep its Statehouse bureau open. And while Lee Newspapers still has a presence, the papers it serves have far fewer reporters. The Post-Dispatch, another Lee paper, also lost its bureau chief a while back.

So, fewer reporters at Lee, the AP and possibly at Illinois Public Radio, while the Daily Herald has gone to zero. We’ll see what happens at WICS and WCIA. The Illinois Radio Network was bought by the Illinois Policy Institute, and it can’t get accredited to cover the House and Senate. The Tribune used to have two full-time folks in Springfield, now it has one. The Sun-Times has a Statehouse reporter, and while she does a very good job, she lives in Chicago.

* I pulled up the 1991-92 Blue Book and checked the section for the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association. We had 47 members back then. It’s a tiny fraction of that today. Times change, and not always for the better.

I was in South Dakota a few years ago and visited the state capitol building. The press room is in the basement, so I went down there to check it out, but it was empty and locked. I was told that reporters were only dispatched to the capitol for session days and important events. We’re not there yet, but that kinda spooked me.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


24 Comments »
  1. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:06 pm:

    That’s OK Rich, I’m sure IPI has some “correspondents ” who could fill those slots.


  2. - Groucho - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:08 pm:

    The really disappointing and sad part of this is that the reason papers don’t value these reporters is that the people who buy the papers ultimately don’t value it either.


  3. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:09 pm:

    Wasn’t there a study not that long ago about where a states capitol city is correlates to the amount of corruption? If the capitol was the largest city then it was less corrupt. Illinois ranked pretty high. I think journalistic as opposed to media coverage must factor in heavily. Thanks again Rich.


  4. - Finally Out - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:15 pm:

    Sad to hear this. Going to be tougher than ever to find some news objectivity. The role of the CapFax is going to be more important than ever for a lot of us.


  5. - PublisServant - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:26 pm:

    Rich, no matter what they offer you, don’t go into PR for Rauner, Griffin or any of the other rich guys buying up the media currently.


  6. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:28 pm:

    ===no matter what they offer===

    Ain’t nobody gonna hire me for PR work. lol


  7. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:30 pm:

    Between 2003 and 2014, there was a 35% decline in the number of reporters in statehouses across the country, according to Pew.

    The times they are a-changin’ on news delivery and consumption. Caveat emptor — lot of snake oil out there.

    Most people walk around with literally the breadth of human knowledge in their pockets and at their fingertips.

    The downside that to that is any whack-a-doo can put lunatic “news” on the Internet that “a lot of people agree with,” as if that somehow gives it credibility, without any standards or vetting.

    The worst is when the traditional press report lies because “someone said it.” Look at the Obama birther issue: a “lot of people believed it” so every media outlet in the country “reported” it, for years, whenever some charlatan said it, even though it was an easily provable lie.

    http://www.journalism.org/2014/07/10/americas-shifting-statehouse-press/


  8. - Flapdoodle - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:31 pm:

    Honeybear makes a good point — media coverage is not to be confused with journalism — but you can’t get to journalism without media coverage. And the trends in media coverage are decidedly discouraging at a time when both national and state politics demonstrate increasing concentrations of power among economic elites far removed from, and unmoved by, the lives most people live. The media have not always lived up to the ideals of a true journalistic “fourth estate,” but we will not have a healthy, open, accessible, transparent democracy without the media and at least some independent journalists.


  9. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:35 pm:

    ===Ain’t nobody gonna hire me for PR work. lol===

    I don’t know, you do a pretty good job for Lutheran Services…Just sayin


  10. - WTF - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:36 pm:

    At a time when newspapers seem, more than ever, inclined to editorialize about what is (and isn’t) happening in Springfield, they are less likely to send a journalist to find facts. Should we assume they will be relying on phony “think tanks” and “watchdogs” for their source material?

    Great.


  11. - m - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 12:41 pm:

    No Pantagraph bureau? What about Dan Petrella?

    Sad that there is no Daily Herald bureau anymore.
    It seems to me like it’s become too easy for multiple outlets to share less reporters. That would seem to be good news for the AP, but it doesn’t seem like that is the case if they’re down to one.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that blueroomstream has made it easy for newsrooms across the state to cover Springfield without being here, they feed a lot of newsrooms. It’s not the same as being there of course though.

    Metro Networks also shut down their bureau a couple years ago.

    The old press room wouldn’t be very full today at all.

    Wonder if there’s also a little bit of diminishing returns going on. Not sure how many people are actually reading or watching the deeper stuff. If you can’t fit it in a tweet, it’s too long…


  12. - In a Minute - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:32 pm:

    My observations of the Springfield press corps always been from a distance (first Chicago, now even farther than that)and not always favorable. As a group, it always tends to focus on personalities and setting up fights (Rauner vs. Madigan, Jim Edgar vs. Pete Phillip vs. Madigan, Blago vs. Everybody). As a group they were very clubby and protective of the insider culture. If there are fewer people doing that, it is no big loss for the average Illinoisan.
    In its place have sprung up some pretty good policy shops from across the ideological spectrum that do a good job of focusing on numbers and other objective data to tell the story. Its not as exciting as the stories about fights, but its where I get my jollies.


  13. - LocationLocation - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:34 pm:

    Yes, the news agencies are downsizing and that is a big part of the problem. Another part of the problem is the population remoteness of Springfield. Springfeild is the most population remote capital in the country. A Harvard University study, “Isolated Capital Cities, Accountability and Corruption: Evidence from US States,” showing a strong correlation between isolation of a state’s capital city and federal convictions of public officials for corruption-related offenses. Part of the reason for this is that it is harder/more expensive for newspapers to cover a population remote Springfield. They provide valuable accountability and oversight. Also, it’s harder for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable because it is so far away from the population center of the state.


  14. - Dome Gnome - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:36 pm:

    The biggest disruption to my Springfield news consumption has been the paywall put up this year by BlueRoomStream. I crave original sources, but I’m just an ordinary citizen and I can’t justify paying those fees. The ilga website doesn’t archive and it also doesn’t dabble in press conferences. I don’t need reporters interpreting events for me, as long as I can sink my teeth into primary sources of information.


  15. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:38 pm:

    ===population remote===

    I posted that when it came out. Would you move the capital city to Chicago?


  16. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:46 pm:

    “No Pantagraph bureau? What about Dan Petrella?”

    the Pantagraph used to have it’s own, one-reporter bureau before Lee bought it. Lee also had a bureau with two full-time reporters and one part-time reporter.
    Now the Pantagraph is part of Lee and the Lee bureau is down to one reporter.


  17. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 1:49 pm:

    –“Isolated Capital Cities, Accountability and Corruption: Evidence from US States,”–

    Yeah, that’s a doozy of virtually impenetrable esoterica. Why do some academics write like they’re from Mars? The purpose is to communicate.

    When did they start writing this door-stopper, anyway, in the horse-and-buggy days? Seriously, what does “distance” have to do any more with communications and oversight?


  18. - Roman - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 2:42 pm:

    This is happening everywhere, it is why fake news is thriving.


  19. - locationLocation - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 2:52 pm:

    —Would you move the capital city to Chicago?—

    Probably not. Chicago is not the population center of Illinois as defined by the study. However, it is much closer than Springfield.

    The closest city near the population center of Illinois is Morris, and the closest big city is Joliet.

    I suppose the best location would be somewhere nearby that is close to highways I-55 and I-80. Ease of travel for citizens would be the biggest concern along with the cost to relocate. Perhaps repurposing any one of a number of the state or local government owned lands in the area.

    If you believe a capital should be close to the people so they have better access to democracy, in addition to media, this should be something considered by the people of Illinois. Especially, considering the appointment of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.


  20. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 3:06 pm:

    – Chicago is not the population center of Illinois as defined by the study. However, it is much closer than Springfield.

    The closest city near the population center of Illinois is Morris, and the closest big city is Joliet.–

    Given all that, kind of a whack-a-do study, on balance.

    I mean, seriously — the seat of government being in Morris or Joliet would mean less corruption? It sure as heck wouldn’t make it easier for most Downstate media outlets to cover state government.


  21. - DuPage Dave - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 8:02 pm:

    Kaskaskia, Vandalia, Springfield- the idea of moving north was well understood 200 years ago. Once they buried Lincoln, though, they put the brakes on. Many a time as I head down 55 I ask myself why the capitol isn’t in Pontiac by now, at least.


  22. - Former Merit Comp - Wednesday, Jan 11, 17 @ 9:54 pm:

    I have a son in law who has a masters in journalism, did his internship reporting on state government when Quinn was in office and he did a great job. I worked for the state 30 years so I greatly appreciate concise reporting which is why I hang out at this site. It breaks my heart that so many of the general public are satisfied to eat whatever is fed to them news wise and don’t take the initiative to educate themselves. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone and the people are worse off for it. This info makes me so sad.


  23. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 12, 17 @ 11:44 am:

    Maybe part of the press room can be turned back into committee rooms, the way it was in the 1970’s.


  24. - The young gov - Thursday, Jan 12, 17 @ 9:00 pm:

    I think about going back to school for a masters in public policy or administration, but then I think about how I have learned more from many of these statehouse reporters than I did or would learn in graduate school. The reduction is horrifying to me. I hope it’s discussed on State Week this week.


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