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In May, El Paso Times reporter Brandi Grissom per manently disabused her readers of the notion that the Capitol’s working environment resembles anything more sophisticated than a junior-high sleepover. Grissom broke a juicy story about El Paso Democratic Reps. Norma Chavez and Marisa Marquez, whose relationship had souredto put it mildlysince Chavez helped Marquez get elected last year. After Marquez joined a procession of legislators congratulating Chavez on her newly earned college degree, the elder stateswoman fired off a text message, insisting that Marquez stay away from a subsequent party in her honor: “U have treated me with the most calculated disrespect the entire time since yr primary election,” Chavez fumed. “I asked Joe to ask u to stay away. U did not. Piz do not go to my , noon reception. Or I will ask U to leave. U ridiculed my education every drunk opportunity u had. U R not my friend.” SESSION SNAPSHOT Sulu Hain International Headquarters Come Visit us for LUNCH! In addition to our organic coffee, pizzas, empanadas, pastries and pies, we now prepare made to order sandwiches, salads, and even black bean gazpacho. 3601 S. Congress off f. Alpine Penn Field under the water tower check our s,;e for monthly ca:efifir provide leads on which cases he needs to litigate. “What strikes me is how shallow the coverage is,” he says. “You see the governor say something and it is taken at face value, without any critical analysis or follow-up. It has been of great concern to me, actually very troublesome!’ Readers can argue till the cows come home about how strong state government reporting in Texas has been in the past. But there certainly has been brilliant reporting through the years, including stories that led to important legislation, exposed corrupt actors and derailed harmful bills. And there’s no question that during this session, several big issuesstorm insurance, the environment, regulatory agencies, poverty, health benefits for kidsneeded far more scrutiny than they got. “We can safely say that environmental reporting during the session was really thin. Energy reporting was pretty thin:’ says Ross Ramsey, whose online Texas Weekly has taken up some of the slack caused by newspaper cutbacks. The fundamental problem, Ramsey reminds anyone who thinks Texas can do with fewer reporters, is this: “We don’t know what [stories] we missed!’ That uncertainly grows from the fact that “specialty reporting” has been one of the casualties when news outlets cut back. In the late 19905, The Dallas Morning News had the luxury of assigning me to a specialized story: Scrutinizing Gov. Dubya’s plans to privatize the state’s welfare system by handing it over to giant defense contractors, most of whom were twitching with excitement about being paid billions to control social services in Texas. The Star -Telegram’s Dyer was able to do fearless, thorough reporting on the Texas Railroad Commission, including investigations into millions of dollars in questionable spending. “Jake Dyer was the last guy who really kind of made [energy] his beat, made regulatory agencies his beat:’ says Harvey Kronberg, whose Quorum Report has increasingly become requiredbut subscription-onlyreading for people who used to turn to bigger, older outlets for legislative coverage. “It boggles my mind when I think of how many stories go unreported now:’ says Hernandez, who is now attending law school instead of writing her usual end-of-session pieces. She mentions state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, who’s reportedly been under federal and state investigation for possible ethics violations. “He is not one to enjoy media scrutiny, to put it nicely. There is no one asking him questions. I think that is pretty incredible!’ Meanwhile, bowing to the new financial metrics, traditional media have made a relentless drive to “go local”giving Dallas readers, for instance, nothing but news about Dallas. In the past, some reporter could routinely convince her editors that a story not necessarily “about Dallas” or “about Houston” could be something that people in those cities would want to read and talk aboutbecause it had a human-interest quality or a stunning investigative underpinning, or because it was just a well-written and well-photographed piece. In 1997, I talked my Morning News editors into letting me go to the Rio Grande Valley to gauge the true effects of Gov. Bush’s social-services policies. I remember trying to measure the exact distance from the front steps of the state Capitol to the door of an abandoned, dilapidated school bus in Edinburg that a poor family had converted into a very unsafe homeand where folks anxiously wondered whether they could survive Bush’s “compassionate conservative” proposals. I wanted to put the precise mileage in my story to underscore how what happened in the air-conditioned hallways of the Capitol directly affected people with no running water along the Texas-Mexico borderthe kind of connection that’s rarely, if ever, made by the events-driven coverage today. And, of course, the piece was meant to be a preview of what the governor might later do at a national level. It’s unclear whether that kind of big-picture, narrative policy reporting is going to prosper again. The local-news philosophy that picked up pace in the late ‘9os moved along at warp speed this legislative session, and it shows no signs of stopping. “We JUNE 26, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11