Statehouse press, social media

Dateline: Tue 18 Mar 2014

TV political reporter Jim Shella of Channel 8 has a good column in the Indianapolis Business Journal's Forefront tab, addresssing the declining numbers in the once-prestigious press corps covering the Indiana Statehouse.

He points out that the press corps is "a much smaller group than it used to be. Among those no longer in the group are the Post-Tribune of northwest Indiana, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Indianapolis News and a second Evansville paper....A Gannett News Bureau closed up a few years back and WTLC radio left.

"Where the Star used to have five or six reporters, there are just two."

Ouch. The criticisms are on target, but Shella also allows that social media and live online coverage of Statehouse shenanigans, plus archived material, may well help keep keen citizens informed.

Of course, like others who have commented on Shella's piece, I lament a general decline in reporters in the news field. But when the press is not the government watchdog -- when it's instead serving up what are essentially feature stories -- then there's trouble in River City.

Shella's argument is "You can't substitute for things like content, analysis and institutional memory" when it comes to reporting news. I agree. On the other hand, sometimes seasoned journalists become so bogged down in their own "press" that they forget the clarian call of truth and objectivity. That's where independent bloggers or even new kids on the block may make strides.

It's a mixed bag. No question, we have lost ground when it comes to traditional watchdog rank-and-file journalism. Have we made up that loss with alternative coverage? No, but maybe some day it will be so.

In the meantime, I personally fault local media -- OK, the Star -- for not reporting more thoroughly on how that gun bill allowing weapons on school parking lots ever got through. I've read it was an NRA-powered project, but how about the names of the legislators who caved in? What is their thinking? This isn't just my complaint; an acquaintance who worked to stop the bill said she was appalled at how little coverage there was, and how indifferent the Star was to her concerns. (I am not anti-gun, but the logic of allowing weapons on school grounds continues to elude me).

On the other hand, the Star's last two standing government reporters, Tony Cook and Barb Berggoetz, have written an insightful, behind-the-scenes piece on Page 1 this morning regarding Rep. Eric Turner's successful effort to kill a bill that would have hurt the family business.

That was good stuff.

But to have more reporting like that brings us back to Shella's main argument, and he is correct -- we need more reporters. Whether they are bloggers or traditional media types does not really matter. As long as someone is playing watchdog.

 

Comments

Duke Young [unverified] said:

Although licensed, I rarely carry a weapon and I can see some logic in the desire to limit access to guns in school parking lots. However, this is just more of that liberal do-wop that inconveniences those good citizens who do carry weapons while doing absolutely nothing to discourage the bad guys and gals who have no concern whatsoever about what is lawful......Political junkies who can't get the full story about the theft of taxpayer money by the Repubs and their large law firm enablers (The Demos are slavering to get their chance to do the same) can read two blogs by disenchanted republican lawyers who dig the real dirt: advanceindiana.com and ogdenonpolitics.com. The first is very heavy on conspiracy theories and the second is having some mysterious trouble with the Indiana Bar, but both seem to be solid reporters.

2014-03-18 17:39:14

Matt Stone [unverified] said:

My issue with the state house coverage is that it is a complete sham. The powers-that-be pick out one or two topics or bills to be hyper focused on and that will gather up all the air time. Depending on the reporter or the outlet, the reporter might not be as free to report on what he/she wants so I don't completely blame them.

This process of selective hyper focus means a lot of stuff flies under the radar, either passing with flying colors with little due diligence, or being killed by leadership via committee assignment.

Besides some very brief reporting on the difference between the House and Senate version (with a compromise of striking light rail and striking the corporate tax) and some initial amendments that would've benefited the Ballard administration, the central IN mass transit bill almost completely under the radar.

HB1351, the drug testing of TANF recipients, again almost completely flew under the radar. The initial EBT/SNAP regulations attracted some mainstream media attention and that was eventually separated into another bill that died in committee. While 1351 didn't pass, it died at the last minute in the Senate when they didn't concur with the conference committee in a tie 24-24 vote.

I could go on, but a lot of good bills or at least bills that deserved a discussion, weren't given the proper respect. And other bill got too little sunlight and we aren't better for it.

2014-03-18 19:41:48

Matt Stone [unverified] said:

My issue with the state house coverage is that it is a complete sham. The powers-that-be pick out one or two topics or bills to be hyper focused on and that will gather up all the air time. Depending on the reporter or the outlet, the reporter might not be as free to report on what he/she wants so I don't completely blame them.

This process of selective hyper focus means a lot of stuff flies under the radar, either passing with flying colors with little due diligence, or being killed by leadership via committee assignment.

Besides some very brief reporting on the difference between the House and Senate version (with a compromise of striking light rail and striking the corporate tax) and some initial amendments that would've benefited the Ballard administration, the central IN mass transit bill almost completely under the radar.

HB1351, the drug testing of TANF recipients, again almost completely flew under the radar. The initial EBT/SNAP regulations attracted some mainstream media attention and that was eventually separated into another bill that died in committee. While 1351 didn't pass, it died at the last minute in the Senate when they didn't concur with the conference committee in a tie 24-24 vote.

I could go on, but a lot of good bills or at least bills that deserved a discussion, weren't given the proper respect. And other bill got too little sunlight and we aren't better for it.

2014-03-18 19:41:51

hendy [Member] said:

The fox has been in the henhouse for years at 2 N Cap. Neither party's really been immune. This year's crop gets big points from railroaders because while there's an air of tension, there's little democracy left there-- a point well taken by Republicans when Dems are in office.

This is the era of the soundbite, the website headline, and the devil of the details is lost because no one has time for it, and it no longer need sell newspapers, and all but a handful of broadcast networks do much-- some of them in fear of their own funding if they probe too far.

Guns on school property? Probably not needed. No superheros with a 9mm will save a day anyway, although they think they're all sheriffs, out in some Western movie, ready to save the day. Not gonna happen, but you can't stop cowboy thinking. It was easy to slide it past the noses of Hoosiers. Outcry makes no difference. Money and theological agenda are the drivers.

2014-03-19 17:02:28

Duke Young [unverified] said:

Sadly you are right about the make-believe sheriff mentality.
Even if you are highly trained and have a full understanding of the situation you are in, you are likely to have a bad result if you pull your weapon. You could shoot the wrong person, have the gun taken away from you and used against you, or you could be involved in some nasty civil or criminal law suits no matter how pure your intentions were. The only possible advantage of an armed citizenry is that maybe those few criminals who are not suicidal will hold back some of their criminal activity for fear of getting shot....Just read part of a book about the "typographic mind." In the 19th century farmers and ordinary townsfolk would go to county fairs and stand for 3 hours in the hot sun listening to orators and apparently comprehend what they were saying and actually score debates. Now everything is "short attention span theatre."

2014-03-20 13:17:31

Duke Young [unverified] said:

Sadly you are right about the make-believe sheriff mentality.
Even if you are highly trained and have a full understanding of the situation you are in, you are likely to have a bad result if you pull your weapon. You could shoot the wrong person, have the gun taken away from you and used against you, or you could be involved in some nasty civil or criminal law suits no matter how pure your intentions were. The only possible advantage of an armed citizenry is that maybe those few criminals who are not suicidal will hold back some of their criminal activity for fear of getting shot....Just read part of a book about the "typographic mind." In the 19th century farmers and ordinary townsfolk would go to county fairs and stand for 3 hours in the hot sun listening to orators and apparently comprehend what they were saying and actually score debates. Now everything is "short attention span theatre."

2014-03-20 13:17:34

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