As newspapers shrink staff, the number of reporters covering state government has shrunk dramatically, both across the nation and here in Olympia. We joke that soon the only one watching government will be the robotic cameras of TVW, the state's public affairs network. And no one laughs very hard.
The Seattle Times' Andrew Garber chronicled the growing emptiness at the press desks on the House and Senate floor.
In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.
The Associated Press office at the state Capitol keeps a printout with mugshots of reporters who recently covered the Legislature pinned to a wall. They mark off each reporter who leaves. Seven faces are now covered with smiley-face stickers.
The public-relations staff employed by state lawmakers and government agencies, many of whom are former journalists, vastly outnumber the reporters in Olympia who call them for information.
Some political bloggers are trying to fill that gap. Horse's Ass blogger David Goldstein is thinking of dispatching one of his political writers, Josh Feit, to cover Olympia's legislative session. Writes Goldstein:
The problem, of course, is the money. It’ll cost HA about $15,000 in salary and expenses to pay Josh to cover this four month session… and that’s on top of the money I ultimately need to raise to support myself. And I’d like to hear from you, my readers, whether you think it is worth it?