Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Capitol Press Corps Loses a Good One

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 19, 2009

The Associated Press is worth a lot less to New Mexico news organizations than it was just a couple of days ago — especially when it comes to state government coverage. That's because the wire service just laid off one of its two Capitol reporters, veteran Deborah Baker.

The AP isn't just losing a body with a pen and reporter's notebook. Baker's frankly one of the finest reporters I know. She's persistent, tough and fair. And knowledgeable. She's worked the Roundhouse just shy of 20 years.

Not to mention the fact that Baker, with her wicked humor and infectious laugh, is a joy to work with. It's hard to imagine covering a session without her.

Baker was one of 57 AP employees laid off nationwide, according to a report Wednesday in Editor & Publisher, a national journalism trade publication. "The layoffs follow last year's AP announcement that it planned to cut payroll by 10 percent by the end of 2009," E&P said. "The news cooperative has already reduced staff by 100 through buyouts this year, which ended in July."

The loss of Baker illustrates another ugly trend in the news biz — withering coverage of state governments around the country. Earlier this year, the American Journalism Review in a survey of statehouse reporters found that 355 newspaper reporters cover the state capitols full time. This is a decrease of more than 30 percent from the 524 capitol reporters counted in 2003.

And here's another sobering thought from New Mexico Internet-based reporter Heath Haussamen. Reacting to Baker's departure, Haussamen posted on his Twitter account, "The number of journalists covering the Roundhouse continues to shrink ... and the number of (public relations) flacks continues to rise. Sad."

Now why's that so sad? This way the state government can tell its story about all its bold initiatives without so many reporters nosing around, straying off topic and asking questions. What could possibly go wrong?

At least Barry Massey of the AP will still be around.

Not-so-rapid response: On Tuesday I asked the campaigns of all four Republican candidates whether they intended to go see former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin when she does her book-signing in Roswell on Dec. 1 and whether their respective candidates would be seeking the support of Palin, who even within the GOP is a controversial figure.

As I previously reported, two of the campaigns — those of Doug Turner and Susana Martinez — responded well before my deadline. Neither of them will be at the Roswell event because of prior commitments — and no, it's not true that either of them said anything about having to wash their hair that day — and neither will actively seek Palin's support for the primary race.

But the other two camps — those of Allen Weh and state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones didn't call.

Arnold-Jones herself called me Wednesday. She was campaigning in Grant County and didn't get my message until late. Like Turner and Martinez, the Albuquerque legislator said her schedule is full, so she won't be attending the book-signing. "There's no reason not to go, except my schedule," she said. "I think it would be interesting." Ask whether she'd seek Palin's support, Arnold-Jones said, "Well, I wouldn't turn it away, but I'm not going to hunt her down to get her support." Arnold-Jones said she doesn't think it's appropriate for elected officials "or even ex-officials" to endorse in primaries.

About 24 hours after last talking with a spokesman, I've yet to hear back from the Weh campaign.

Iglesias back in the spotlight: Ever since he was fired as U.S. attorney by the Bush administration, former Santa Fe resident David Iglesias has been no stranger to national news coverage. Now comes Esquire magazine, which just named Iglesias as one of the "Best and the Brightest" of 2009. And it's not just for standing up for himself during the whole Justice scandal. It's for his current work as an attorney in the military commissions at Guantánamo.

"Part of my job is to bring due process to the military commissions — and to make sure that true justice is obtained by the Gitmo detainees," Iglesias said in Esquire.

Which prompted the magazine to gush, "it's a statement of the essential American faith that lives in David Iglesias unbroken and unbowed: the faith that good men can redeem a bad system. And that he, David Iglesias, is a good man."