Shameful Neglect In Covering The States  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    TOP OF THE REVIEW    
From AJR,   July/August 1998

Shameful Neglect In Covering The States   

No stories there? Look again, editors.

By Reese Cleghorn
Reese Cleghorn is former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland.     


Zell Miller was a skinny, crewcut, ambitious kid from the mountains when he entered Georgia politics. He must have started running when he was born, and you knew early on that he would never quit. As some of us looked on with wonder in 1961 he made it to the state Senate. Now he is one of the country's most successful governors.

He is as savvy as anyone in politics about how government works and how it affects people. He came out of a poor Appalachian county where what government did, and didn't do, mattered a lot, and everybody knew that.

Read what he says (on page 47) about the press' failure to inform people. It's not just drivel from someone who feels badly covered. He talks about the days when his state capitol had fewer than a dozen significant lobbyists; now more than 1,000 are registered. If the press doesn't get it about the importance of what goes on there, the big interests do. But the press corps is tiny.

Atlanta is not the only state capital where the print and broadcast press makes only feeble efforts to connect people's daily lives with what's happening in hugely expanded, multi-billion-
dollar state governments.

The third installment of our series on The State of the American Newspaper lays out this failure with more hard evidence than has ever been brought to bear on the subject.

Now: Here is a story about swimming upstream, with success.

In 1990, when a lot of papers were deemphasizing coverage of state capitols, Maryland's journalism school established a Public Affairs Reporting Program, with advanced reporting bureaus in Annapolis and Washington (for Maryland-related stories).

Four days a week the students report, with no other classes. On Mondays they take seminars on state and federal government. The AP's Walter Mears has been teaching one of these seminars; soon Haynes Johnson, who succeeded Hodding Carter as holder of our Knight Chair in Journalism, will be teaching it.

The other seminar is usually taught by a former governor and a former state senator. These people know how things work and what the stories are.

At first some of our clients told us not much went on in Annapolis except during the three-month legislative session. Well.

Our Capital News Service has the biggest bureau in Annapolis, including those of the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, with seven or eight students each semester working full time under a seasoned faculty editor. The bureaus put out 500 to 600 bylined stories each academic year. Almost all are printed by one or more of the 16 daily clients: 13 in Maryland, two in Washington and one in Pennsylvania. Soon we will expand the small broadcast component.

Clients are using reams of stories that otherwise would not have appeared in their pages, sometimes leading the paper. So the "no-news" capital of a small state turns out to have plenty of news.

A little bragging: With all that close attention and deadline pushing, and all those clippings to show, the students get good jobs right out of the gate.

A lot of news organizations are missing it. A lot of readers are missing out.

###