Sunday, January 04, 2009

Death And Life In The Pressroom



Newspapers have lost interest in covering legislatures. Can Web sites replace them? We don’t know yet.

If you want to know what the dying days of a journalistic era look like, mount the marble steps to the fourth floor of Connecticut's grand old state capitol, climb the narrow stairway to the pressroom, and you'll see. Mostly, it looks like a mess.

In a large room whose inhabitants once joked that someone always had to be out reporting for everyone to fit inside, space is no longer an issue. The New York Times hasn't had anyone here for over a year and a half; its desk is piled high with mail for various Times reporters who have long since moved on to other beats. The vacated Norwich Bulletin desk has become a repository for stray press releases. The Greenwich Time and Fairfield Bulletin desk hosts a collection of Coke and Dr. Pepper bottles that await recycling. Telephone books, state budgets stretching back a decade or more, old campaign posters, front pages from newspapers that no longer keep a reporter at the capitol — all are strewn around or line the walls.

The Hartford Courant, long considered the newspaper of record in Connecticut, still has a bureau in the pressroom, but where there used to be more Courant reporters than desks, there are now two desks for each reporter. A yellowing full-page ad from 1998, taped to a filing cabinet, features the Courant's then-four-member statehouse corps standing on the capitol steps with the tagline, "If It Matters to Connecticut, It's In the Courant." That seems almost like satire now, given that the Courant cut 60 jobs and the space it allots to all news by 25 percent a few months ago.

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