In the Colorado State Capitol press room earlier this month, someone wondered aloud, “Will The Denver Post be the only newspaper covering the 2010 legislative session?”
The question isn’t as outrageous as it might have been a couple years ago. With print reporters’ numbers dwindling, by the time the Legislature wraps up its work in May, the Colorado Capitol print press corps could be half the size it was in 2006.
The old business cards still push-pinned in the cubicles of the state Capitol press rooms read like tombstones: the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the Longmont Times-Call, the Greeley Tribune. All had Capitol bureaus a couple years ago. This year, they report on politics from their home offices or opt to run Associated Press stories.
The casualties are continuing to mount. The dean of the Colorado press corps, Charles Ashby, will be laid off from The Pueblo Chieftain after this legislative session.
Today, Rocky Mountain News reporter Lynn Bartels reported that Grand Junction Daily Sentinel political reporter Mike Saccone is leaving to become spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office.
And of course there’s the Rocky Mountain News itself, which is in danger of closing down entirely–leaving a squad of A-list political reporters, such as Bartels, without a job.
If the Rocky leaves, the Colorado statehouse newspaper press corps would be left with reporters from only three daily newspapers: the Post, the Durango Herald, and the Colorado Springs Gazette. A couple of AP reporters and reporters from a couple of weeklies would also still be on hand.
The Post, which would be Denver’s only remaining daily newspaper if the Rocky folds, isn’t doing so well either. Last month, the Post asked newspaper unions for wage and benefit concessions.
Even coverage from online news sites, supposedly the future of journalism, has suffered. The Colorado Independent, the left-leaning political news site, laid off six correspondents last November. PolitickerCO.com, a political news site I worked at for a year, was shut down a few weeks later.
It’s worth noting that the malaise is largely limited to print reporters. TV coverage of the Capitol hasn’t noticeably suffered, and a couple of the press room desks once occupied by newspapers are being taken over this year by public radio reporters.
It’s also certainly not just a Colorado problem: Statehouses around the country have seen massive reporter layoffs, and Washington, D.C. newspaper bureaus have been decimated.
The mystery–some might say tragedy–of this is that demand for political news, if anything, is growing.
Why newspapers are failing and what, if anything, can be done to stop it is among the loudest discussions in journalism today. It’s a topic more appropriate for a lengthy magazine article than here.
But until an answer can be found, the Colorado press corps will continue to hemorrhage reporters, hurting bloggers, legislators, and the general public alike.