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From AJR,   March 1999  issue

An Online Trove of Statehouse News   


By Carol Guensburg
Carol Guensburg (carol.guensburg@verizon.net) is senior editor for the Journalism Center on Children & Families, a University of Maryland professional program - and a nonprofit. It receives primary support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Guensburg spent 14 years as an editor and reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after working for three other papers.     

Many in journalism circles, including this publication, have pointed out the decline in coverage of state government news. Now, one organization is doing something about it.

The Pew Center on the States launched a Web site, stateline.org, on January 25 that attempts to close the critical information gap. "The capital press corps is being downsized in most states at the same time that the number of dollars flowing to the states is increasing exponentially," frets Edward M. Fouhy, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan news and research center.

"What we're attempting to do [is] look at innovative state policy as well as report on it in general," says Fouhy, the project's chief architect. He notes five areas of particular concern: welfare reform, education, taxes, health care and utility deregulation.

Each weekday, stateline.org presents in-depth features and analyses from statehouse reporters across the nation and from the project's five staff writers in Washington, D.C. (Its managing editor is Gene Gibbons, a former senior White House correspondent for Reuters; its online director is Joanne Bowlby, who ran a New York University site for journalists covering foreign policy.) Supplementing these are daily roundups of state government stories from newspapers and other media, with links to Web sites for the complete articles. The site also provides background information and statistics on key issues from crime to transportation to poverty--visitors can compare specific statistics from up to five states at a time. The site also boasts a glossary to take the mystery out of bureaucratese.

Stateline.org is not a wire service, Fouhy says. Instead, the site serves as a resource for three distinct audiences: statehouse reporters, many of them vastly overburdened; policy makers; and what he calls "engaged citizens."

The Pew Center on the States, which began operating last year, is administered by the University of Richmond and funded for three years by a $4.2 million grant from Pew Charitable Trusts.

Fouhy says stateline. org addresses a public and journalistic need. He hopes it will "help end the isolation that people feel.... The states are all facing the same kinds of issues."