Does anyone cover the news in Sacramento?

Does anyone cover the news in Sacramento?

California is perhaps the most significant state in the union both culturally and economically. One in every eight Americans lives here. In 2012, California’s GDP was $1.9 trillion — roughly the same size as that of Italy and Russia.  If we were a nation, we’d consistently be in the top-10 largest economies in the world. And the state’s capital, Sacramento, is one of the largest governments in the nation outside of Washington, D.C., often responsible for exporting good and often bad policy ideas to other states.

One would think with such importance that reporters and news organizations would have in place an incredibly large presence to cover the comings and goings of lawmakers and agencies in Sacramento. Yet, disconcertingly, the opposite is true.

In fact, the number of reporters covering state government is at a startling low. And a recent Pew study shows that number will likely continue to decline.

According to the study, national numbers of reporters covering state legislatures has dropped more than 35 percent since 2003, outpacing the overall drop in journalists from all fields. The Sacramento Bee, the newspaper of the capitol, has cut its state government reporting staff by almost half.  The same thing happened at the L.A. Times. Last December, Southern California Public Radio announced it would close its Sacramento news bureau and similarly, last August, ABC News announced the closing of its broadcast presence in the capitol.

The Pew study also exposed huge gaps in newspapers covering state capitols — only 30 percent of newspapers polled cover their state government at all.  Which means entire cities or regions read the news every day and see no significant legislative coverage. News stations are reducing the time the assigned reporters even spend on covering government. Only half of reporters assigned to cover state government do so full-time, and 15 percent of those assigned are student interns. If news organizations are not adequately reporting on how our state leaders are spending tax dollars and making decisions on our behalf, who will? Who Reports from U.S. Statehouses?

What makes our situation in California worse is how we compare based on the length of our legislative sessions.  California is one of just five states with a 12-month legislative session.  Texas, the state with the most reporters, and full-time reporters, assigned to the state government, has an average legislative session length of under 5 months.  Among states with a year-long legislative calendar, California has a significantly higher percentage of part-time reporters.

It’s not as if the Legislature isn’t giving reporters plenty to keep an eye on.  In 2013, the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to opening government, gave our state Legislature a “D” grade.  Important details about legislation, committee assignments and votes weren’t available anywhere on the state’s website.  The report showed it was nearly impossible to tell what was going on in our own government based on what they report themselves.

Despite ongoing scandals and ethics violations, a significant number of legislators in Sacramento have backed away from passing comprehensive ethics reform.  And the Legislature adjourned for recess earlier this year without touching the most pressing issue on its agenda: A reformed water bond agreement that has been awaiting approval since former Governor Schwarzenegger helped draft the legislation five years ago.  If there were more coverage of Sacramento, would legislators move faster on legislation like this? I’d like to think so.

Heading into the November election, we’re about to send a lot of new leaders to make decisions for us. And there are decisions of great consequence, from education funding, to insurance premiums, to drought preparedness, to business and regulatory policies, at stake. Citizens need to know what politicians and influencers are doing and saying in Sacramento to make informed decisions.  And a vibrant press corps is essential to providing such information.

7 comments

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  1. Donkey
    Donkey 31 July, 2014, 09:13

    The RAGWUS bureaucracies are not talking to the reporters because of backroom collusion, and many of the reporters themselves are in on spreading the statist view of government, I would venture to say that most reporters have never even read the Constitution nor care what it entails.
    All any freedom loving American needs to do is read their local code enforcement laws to quickly find out that you don’t own your property and you can be can be attacked, fined, jailed, or murdered over the most minor detail i.e. having left your trash bin out in public view.

    The truth is that more Americans have been killed by local LE since 9/11 happened than have been killed fighting the “war on terror.” And little is being printed about it, so ignoring government corruption is no surprise to this American. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 31 July, 2014, 11:44

    Sacramento is a hot scroungy pit of a town filled with brown bagging skin flints checking your regulations compliance…..

    Recently got a fix it ticket for late truck registration due to moving screw ups, overlooking need of smog check etc. etc.

    Went to CHP for sign off of completed paperwork….wow…six crew cut, burly, happy go lucky guys around the glass window eating some tacky looking birthday cake on paper plates….

    One cave man stamped and signed me off….and told me to send 25 bucks to the court clerk…..

    I bust out laughing……reminded me of a kangaroo court outside Norfolk, Virgina in the early 1960’s…..amazing flashback.

    Reply this comment
  3. lordonlow
    lordonlow 31 July, 2014, 14:37

    I’m a native Angeleno, and if we look at the sitch of arguably the most important of Cali’s cities it’s so ugly as perhaps best exemplified by our unfunded liabilities: $27 bil. Can you say “meltdown” boys and girls?

    Reply this comment
  4. ken
    ken 1 August, 2014, 12:58

    Excellent article! And very accurate from my perspective. While the point of the piece is that there is simply not enough news coverage of government at all levels, its a bit more complex. Here’s some points to consider:
    1. An increasingly uninformed and apathetic public is not getting information from traditional media choices. That means less revenue for the newspapers and magazines especially, and news operations have always been the first hit when revenue goes down. That’s sad but reality.
    2. What print journalism being done appears to be responding to events after the fact, taking news releases with a minimum of rewrite or questioning, or self-serving so-called documentary articles aimed at winning some award. Op-ed is not news either, as important as it is to the overall picture.
    3. Local TV news is a joke. I cannot think of one TV reporter or on-air commentator in Sacramento I would consider to be a real reporter. Standing in front of a building or some active background is a theatric device to add a degree of immediacy to reading some lines that could have just as easily been delivered from behind a podium. Get some tape of the real action, please. Fifteen to 20 minutes of weather in every newscast? Really! It is usually hot here. It will get cooler at night, maybe. And just about every day is the same. Unless there is a tornado, flood or other severe weather actually threatening people and the station is providing real-time information that can save lives, no need for more than 2-3 minutes of weather.
    4. Local radio news went away in the late 1960’s most places in America. That’s just a fact of life and economics. Talk radio is not news. Nor is talk TV. Nor are on-line blogs.
    5. The politicians and the bureaucrats are very much aware that no one is watching them. If there were some real news coverage and questions asked and improprieties exposed, we just might get better government. I’m not counting on that happening.

    For the record, I’m an old reporter and TV news director. I’ve told more than one reporter and editor that if they have not been threatened for what they were writing, sued, dragged from a meeting, arrested and had government agencies investigating them, they are not a real reporter. And I also found out over the years by showing up at an event or news conference a half hour early and listening around the edges, you may get a whole lot better story.

    I’ve been there and had all of the above occur in my life. I’m trying not to be too much of an old curmudgeon in my 60’s. I think I am losing that battle. I ask my journalism school what they are doing to develop investigative reporters and generally get some political correct answer or a blank stare.

    Your article got me going and that I like! Right on!

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 2 August, 2014, 12:02

    Fossil jabber…..

    Most Californians cannot read……get over it…

    Reply this comment
  6. SoCalSteve
    SoCalSteve 4 August, 2014, 18:14

    Thank goodness those of us in SoCal have a decent news station in KNX and the LA Times, which has maintained its Capitol staff.

    Reply this comment

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