packed press table at the state Capitol. nd then would come the inevitable 4. question: Where is everybody? Legislators weren’t the only ones who noticed. Political insiders who tinker ‘th all the oily machinery, out of t and below deck, were well aware e crushing cutbacks at traditional outlets that have decimated the of Capitol reporters. And they at each round of buy etirements left ers for that ma all threads that!, investigative g light o ve busin c peopl t some th’ m says. “You titutional kno would have se little tri em” the 20 goneaim VVCti tAtIt.tA., the many issues that afflict the chronically overlooked Rio Grande Valley. \(Her absence was painfully underscored in the June 11 New Yorker, which features a long investigation into why McAllen has the lowest household incon e nation and some of the high had lost Karen Brooks, -media job at Austin’s e Houston Chronicle, Ng,2eady combined its Capilith the one from the San press-News, announced on that it was cutting 90 jobs. t a lot of my time at the m doing criminal justic oritz says. “During th of the advocacy grou for avenues to get a point eir side of the story out ey would call me beca with them before. n energy repo ram Retorts depth pieces, period:’ says Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington is among those who’ve relied on the media to provide leads on which cases he needs to litigate. “What strikes me is how shallow the coverage is,” he says. “You see thegovernor say something and it is taken at face value, without ical analysis or follow-up. It of great concern W.; troublesome’ fain irough t led to d corrupt And this in latory is for. Scrutinizing Governor Dunyas plans. to privatize the state’s welfare system by handing it over to giant defense contractors, most of whom were twitching with excitement about bei paid billions to control social servi in Texas. The Star-Telegranr was able 4, Texas Railroae do fea v r e ie s s ti s, that aons of tic. incite , ing on q..<.,, riding. "Jak A really kirt; made regui, atorY nbean says l l, g ; ege Quorum R port has ia.rvO' ... ., ''' y become required ,..f Y who used to turn reading,. to b '' ets for legislative co when 1 think of nreported now .," now attending riting her usual She mentions D-Palmview, , some their how says law en UN-COVERED Where did all the Capitol reporters go and what happens without them? BY BILL MINUTAGLIO t got to be routine. Brandi Grissom of the El Paso Times would look up and see yet another lawmaker standing there, peering down at the handful of reporters scattered around what was once a jam-packed press table at the state Capitol. And then would come the inevitable question: Where is everybody? Legislators weren't the only ones who noticed. Political insiders who tinker with all the oily machinery, out of sight and below deck, were well aware of the crushing cutbacks at traditional news outlets that have decimated the ranks of Capitol reporters. And they knew that each round of layoffs, buyouts or retirements left fewer reporters to monitor that machinery and spot the small threads that can lead to important investigative stories or analysis shedding light on the dark corners of legislative business. "The specific people who had expertise about some things are not here Grissom says. "You just miss a lot of that institutional knowledge. People who would have been keenly aware of those little triggers are not there to see them:' As the 2009 session opened, some veterans were missing from their usual stations. John Moritz, who had expertly bird-dogged a variety of issues for seven sessions, was no longer representing the Fort Worth Star -Telegram, whose four-person Capitol bureau shrank to one. Jake Dyer \(who also happens to be one from the same paper, taking with him years of experience drilling down on state regulatory agencies like the cozy Texas Parks 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 26, 2009 & Wildlife Commission and the often-secretive Texas Railroad Commission. Elizabeth Hernandez, who exposed abuses of children and power at the Texas Youth Commission for Freedom Communications' papers in South Texas, was goneand so was her ability to cover the many issues that afflict the chronically overlooked Rio Grande Valley. \(Her absence was painfully underscored in the June ii New Yorker, which features a long investigation into why McAllen has the lowest household The Dallas Morning News had lost Karen Brooks, who took a new-media job at Austin's KXAN.com . The Houston Chronicle, which had already combined its Capitol bureau with the one from the San Antonio Express -News, announced in midsession that it was cutting 90 newsroom jobs. "I had spent a lot of my time at the Star -Telegram doing criminal justice reporting," Moritz says. "During this session some of the advocacy groups were looking for avenues to get a point of view or their side of the story out there, and they would call me because I had worked with them before:' But Moritz, now an energy reporter for the online Quorum Report, had to tell the advocates that his new gig didn't allow him to sink his teeth into their plight. "I had to tell them that I could nibble around the edges," he says, "but to fulfill my new mission, I had to be true to it:' At least Moritz still had a Capitol reporting job. The dearth of reporters at this year's session left newspapers and broadcasters, even more than in the past, scurrying to follow the politicking as if it were a horse race. Many Texas papers were hard-pressed to provide even episodic daily coverage, let alone the longer, analytical pieces that decipher the myriad obfuscations at the state Capitol. "There are certainly a lot fewer in-depth pieces, period," says Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington is among those who've relied on the media to
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