The new journalism is taking the shape of the old bureaus when it comes to beats. Froomkin has a staff of about ten, plus interns. Sam Stein, once an intern at Newsweek, covers the White House. Ryan Grim covers Congress. Arthur Delaney’s beat is money: budget, policy, fundraising.
“We’re not doing the stuff we can get on the wires,” says Froomkin, who came to Huffington Post after the Washington Post canceled his popular White House column on its web site. “We’re trying to do impact journalism.”
Talking Points Memo, a political Web site based in New York, has had one person in Washington sharing space with other reporters. “We’re in the midst of an expansion,” founder Joshua Micah Marshall says. TPM has opened an office with a bureau chief David Kurtz and three reporters: Brian Beutler is the lead congressional reporter; Christina Bellatoni handles White House coverage; Evan McMorris-Santoro writes about Congress and other Washington issues.
I asked Marshall how his bureau differs from the “legacy” operations.
“In many ways they are very similar,” he says. “The real difference is we have an approach to reporting that is suited to a web-native news organization.”
That boils down to “a rapid series of updates,” he says.
In February the Pew Research Center detailed the changes in Washington reporting. “Collectively,” it concluded “the implications of these changes are considerable. For those who participate in the American democracy, the ‘balance of information’ has been tilted away from voters along Main Streets thousands of miles away to issue-based groups that jostle for influence daily in the corridors of power.”
That may be true if you see only the loss of news services such as Copley and the closing of bureaus for iconic papers such as the Baltimore Sun. But the changes are less considerable and the threat to democracy not as dire once you factor in the growth in digital bureaus.
“The erosion is still much faster than the green shoots,” says Josh Marshall. “But we are growing.”
What’s definitely lost in the change from old school bureaus to web-based news operations is the coverage of congressmen in far-flung districts; they might not factor into the health care debate but could be steering contracts or sleeping with staffers. When Newhouse closed, Harrisburg and all of central Pennsylvania lost its window on Washington, a fate similar to the Hartford Courant’s loss of its bureau.
I asked Melinda Henneberger, editor of AOL’s Politics Daily, if she tried to cover regional issues on her Web site.
“No,” she said. “We’re trying to have a national reach.”
Perhaps its time to bring back States News Service.
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