I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Sheriff Solano criticizes local media’s arresting legislative coverage
The New Mexico Legislature adjourned its 60-day session last Saturday at noon after the usual flurry of activity in the session’s waning days and hours.
That flurry of activity was well-documented by NMI, among other news outlets, and the legislative postmortems have been pouring in ever since, even as Gov. Bill Richardson has only begun to sort through the 339 bills passed by the state’s duly elected lawmakers.
Not only is the media-savvy law enforcement man an already-announced candidate for the 2010 Democratic Party nomination to be the state’s next lieutenant governor, he also happens to be a prolific and thoughtful local blogger.
Among all of the state’s elected officials who blog, Solano is arguably the best.
His take on the ’09 legislative session? That the media won, according to a provocative post he published yesterday.
How does he figure that, you ask?
Here’s how: “In newspapers, TV, blogs, and live-blogging, the press pushed for Live web cams in the legislature, open conference committee meetings, double-dipping legislation, and ethics reform.” He added that “the news media hounded lawmakers on these issues relentlessly.”
Arguing that the media “wielded an exceptional amount of influence” this year, Solano also suggested — very seriously, it seems — that perhaps reporters and bloggers should have to register as paid lobbyists in the future.
And Santa Fe County’s top cop points to what he sees as clear evidence of journalistic self-congratulation:
You can read the blogs and news stories after the previously mentioned bills were passed and you will see a more than sufficient amount of celebrating.
While he doesn’t cite any specifics to back that point up, it’s clear that quite a few local journalists did agitate for more legislative openness and transparency — which, to be fair, is part of the ethos of nearly every working journalist.
Many journalists I know make the argument that those two values — openness and transparency — are absolutely fundamental to an informed citizenry, particularly when government decision-making is the subject of news coverage. Without it, citizens are too often left in the dark.
It seems only natural to me that news outlets were drawn to legislative proposals to allow webcasting and open conference committees — because those two open-government initiatives lead to the public knowing more about what their government is doing (or not doing) in the rarified confines of the Roundhouse.
While Solano paints with an awfully broad bush by adding double-dipping legislation and so-called ethics reform to his list of the local media’s pet causes, I think the bigger reason those issues attracted more attention than other proposals is because they were controversial, were pushed (or opposed) by loud, well-organized constituencies, or fit into a larger narrative of holding powerful people and interests accountable for their actions.
All of the above constitute reasons why some legislation was deemed more newsworthy than others.
And therein lies at least one media bias that Solano is right to point out — that the very decision of deeming something “newsworthy” involves making a judgment. Deciding what’s a “top story” and what’s not, involves making a judgment.
Solano, conversely, describes that as “pushing an agenda.”
NMI’s Heath Haussamen was probably one of the New Mexico journalists he had in mind when he typed up his post. After all, Haussamen has been dogged in his coverage of both legislative webcasting and open conference committees.
In a commentary published just before the legislative session adjourned, Haussamen described the first-ever approval of officially-sanctioned Roundhouse webcasting as “a quantum leap forward for a Legislature that has been accustomed to operating, in such a vast and poor state, without most citizens understanding how they do business …”
Likewise, he’s also written glowingly about the need to open legislative conference committees — so that the public knows how exactly its elected officials go about reconciling different versions of the same legislation.
Reasonable people can disagree about the relative importance of such initiatives. I, for one, can see both sides of the debate over opening up conference committees — and why good politicians may sometimes need to ply their age-old trade behind closed doors to reach a difficult compromise. That way, of course, there’s little incentive to grandstand.
Conference committees at the federal level, by the way, aren’t open to the public.
The point here is that the “media” isn’t monolithic, despite Solano’s aforementioned broad brush.
And perhaps the larger point is that if the media is doing its job — providing accurate information, connecting dots, and holding power accountable — it’s not the media that wins.
It’s the public that wins.