Abandoned Agencies  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   September 2010

Abandoned Agencies    

By Unknown
     


Jodi Enda's "Capital Flight" story in AJR (Summer) is an alarming wake-up call for the nation. She connected all the dots, vividly showing how powerful stories are being lost because news organizations have abandoned coverage of government in Washington. Many thanks to AJR for this comprehensive piece that should be must reading for every American publisher. Keep up the great work.

Jane Podesta
Executive editor
Media Gaggle
McLean, Virginia

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Thanks for such a thorough, disturbing article in AJR on the disappearance of watchdog journalism in Washington, D.C. Based on your reporting, it is clear this inevitability is occurring much more quickly than anticipated by most of us. Meanwhile, all-important regional, state and county entities are operating without oversight as well. The public for the most part seems unfazed.

As I read your article, I kept thinking of States News Service, where reporters once covered regional news out of Washington for newspapers around the country. The concept seemingly would work today for federal agencies. Each building?or at least most of them?would have a reporter feeding local news outlets around the country. The outlets would pay to play.

With some startup money, I am convinced such an approach could be self-sustaining and, as was the case with States, be an incubator for aspiring young journalists. Alas, at age 76, I am not about to take that one on. But I am sure that if the media companies put their minds to it, they could reverse the present coverage trend and benefit in the long run. Let's hope your good piece will be a wake-up call.

Jack Driscoll
Former editor
Boston Globe
Rye, New Hampshire

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I read "Capital Flight" with great interest, since I'm a federal agency and federal work force reporter with the Washington Post.

Though I can't cover them all, my blog (www.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye) and reporting that appears in the print edition focus primarily on the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Census Bureau and 2010 census, inspector general reports and congressional oversight. I have contributed to our coverage of the federal response to mine safety and the BP oil spill.

But according to Jodi Enda's article, I'm part of the current-day problem, since I blog and tweet and probably don't dive deep enough into some of these federal issues and agencies.

Regardless, I take great issue with her poorly researched report and the comments included from Gary Bass of OMB Watch. "Unless there is a silo-based issue [one that fits neatly into a beat], there isn't someone you can go to at the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and say, 'Look what OMB is doing,' " Bass said.

That's a crock. Bass seemed to forget that I've quoted him and his colleagues several times on the policy work of OMB, especially regarding the Obama administration's work on the open government initiative. They also know they have an open invite to reach out and let me know of their concerns, blog posts and other efforts. And they know that I'm one of three Post reporters who keep pretty close tabs on OMB's budgetary and management orders.

No, the Washington Post and other major newspapers no longer have dozens of reporters chasing the work and drama at federal agencies we wish we did. But I knew who to call the moment the Minerals Management Service and Mine Safety and Health Administration stumbled into the headlines, because I'd met and spoken with their spokespeople previously and written at least minimally about their work.

We're adapting, as painful as it is, and Jodi failed to call out the reporters at the major newspapers that continue to track federal agencies. That's a shame, considering the mission of your publication.

Ed O'Keefe
The Federal Eye
Washington Post
Washington, D.C.

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In your story on watchdog reporting, you credit the Los Angeles Times for coming out with an investigation in November 2009 of the Toyota acceleration problems.

It was disappointing that you failed to mention the in-depth Houston Press story ("Wild Rides") published eight months earlier on April 23, 2009, by staffer Paul Knight, in which Knight first documented the acceleration problems in the Toyota Prius and reported on the company's denials.

In his story, Knight talked to owners and got access to local police reports across the country to establish: There had been cases of unintended acceleration in Priuses nationwide; in some cases, owners were able to stop the cars, in others crashes resulted; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had done almost no investigations into computer complaints about the Prius; and Toyota dealerships declined to investigate the complaints and/or chalked them up to driver error or loose floor mats. Knight was a finalist in the 2010 IRE's local circulation weeklies category for this story.

It seems that if AJR and other journalism organizations are searching for the continuation of watchdog and investigative reporting, they might not want to overlook the alternative newsweeklies, which tend to do quite a lot, quite well, often with fewer resources than large dailies.

***

Margaret Downing
Editor
Houston Press
Houston, Texas

Great article on the demise of regulatory coverage. Very thorough. Even the trade papers (covering mainly for special interests) are nearly nonexistent in D.C. Good job on the story.

Marty Chase
Chevy Chase, Maryland

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