Staffing the Statehouses  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   August/September 2003

Staffing the Statehouses   

I read with interest the recent AJR article "Capitol Coverage" (June/July 2003), but the South Dakota numbers are off by one. I would like to point out that the Watertown Public Opinion has teamed with three other South Dakota dailies to address the decline in coverage of state and legislative issues. Kicking off the 2003 legislative session, three other dailies and the Watertown Public Opinion introduced a Capitol correspondent, Bob Mercer, to our readers. Mercer has a long history of working with the state Legislature, and he adds a terrific insight to state government we don't receive from the Associated Press.

It's important to note this because our investment in reporting on state government wasn't reflected in your table. I understand, as your writer pointed out, that your survey is "unable to capture every nuance of state government reporting." So you know, Mercer is a full-time Capitol reporter focusing on state government and based in Pierre, the state capital. While the larger dailies had the upper hand in Capitol coverage and are listed on your table, the rest of us have found a way to ensure coverage is as comprehensive and local as possible.

Jerry Steinley
Watertown Public Opinion
Watertown, South Dakota

Editor's note: This arrangement was not reflected in our charts because Bob Mercer acts as a wire service for the four South Dakota dailies. Wire services were not included in the count of statehouse reporters.

As I have read them these past several years, your charts on coverage of state legislatures are meant to measure the commitment of resources to such coverage. This year, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer devoted more resources to legislative coverage in Atlanta than at any time in the last seven years. But your chart suggests we blew town. We didn't. We assigned two senior reporters, each with more than 30 years of experience, to share Statehouse coverage in Atlanta. From the beginning of the legislative session to the end, one of them was there. Sometimes they both were. And, often, the one who wasn't there was working on legislative news back here in Columbus.

I understand that we were marked absent in your chart because you don't count shared coverage as coverage for the purposes of this report. Rules are rules, but in this case they produced an inaccurate result.

I confess to a little extra irritation on this point. In his big essay on state government reporting several years ago, Charles Layton took a jab at us for sending an inexperienced reporter to Atlanta. But this year, when we sent more than 60 years of experience to the capital and nearly doubled our commitment, it didn't count.

It's small, our one line in your big set of charts, and my complaint in the scheme of things. But for whatever whit it might be worth, let the record now reflect that the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer increased its commitment to Statehouse coverage in 2003.

Mike Burbach
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Columbus, Georgia

Editor's note: The survey counts only individual reporters who cover the legislative session the whole time. Half-time reporters are not included.



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