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Bloggers Can't Fill the Gap Left by a Shrinking Press Corps
Even that flow is more constricted. "There are issues that just don't get covered anymore," says Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. "What you want is an informed and engaged population, but with less manpower and less space, there just isn't the opportunity to talk about many topics that lie beneath the marquee issues."
At many papers, including The Post -- which has maintained its longtime staffing of two-person bureaus in each capital, with a third reporter added when the legislatures are in session -- much state news now appears only online. Editors say that's a way to serve the public with targeted reports that aren't subject to space limitations. "Because of the Web, we've actually increased the number of words that we write about state government and politics," says Robert McCartney, The Post's assistant managing editor for metro news. Reporters who may find it harder to get stories into the paper write in more detail, often several times a day, for the Virginia Politics and Maryland Moment blogs.
Critics say that shift serves only the elite that's intently interested in state news, not the broader audience. "The insiders are still getting a full report on the blogs, but the rest of us see only what we want to see instead of the news we need to see," says Bob Gibson, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and a former politics reporter for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville.
Many bloggers say that far from being able to replace professional reporters, they actually suffer from the diminished flow of state news. "What I can't offer on my blogs is the relationships, the institutional memory, the why, the history that reporters who know the capital can bring to their stories," says Waldo Jaquith, who blogs on Virginia politics and runs a site, RichmondSunlight.com, that tracks every bill. "Newspapers can describe the candidates for governor in a more balanced, deeper way because you don't have a dog in the race. We bloggers do."
A combination of media revolution and economic collapse is dismantling our news infrastructure, especially at the state and local levels. "Someday, people will wake up to the depletion of the press corps," Gibson says. "I don't know if the result will be corruption or demagoguery, but the interests of the people are not being represented anymore."
But as long as people buy property, look for jobs, send kids to school and pay taxes, they will need credible information about state government. Something will rise to fill the news vacuum, someday. In the meantime, the lobbyists are getting the news they need. The voters, not so much.