Friday, March 11, 2005

New Mexico Follies and Statehouse Reporters In Search Of A Living Wage

Having done some time in the press corps in the state capital in Albany, I've been witness to the silliness and outright stupidity that overtakes even the best-intentioned lawmakers. Those who toil in the statehouses often do it for little glory and even less money.
But that doesn't mean they should be excused for being lunkheads. They include those in the New Mexico House who last week voted to require newspapers to run death notices upon request. To prove there isn't much to do in Santa Fe during the winter, the measure was approved 40-15.
I'll spare you the screed about the First Amendment, yada yada. Still, it's scary to think somebody came up with this idea, another person drafted the bill, which made it through committee and somehow made it to a floor vote, where it passed by a landslide.
We can take some solace in the fact that Gov. Bill Richardson will in all likelihood veto this sucker hard should the Senate be foolhardy enough to send it to him. This is a guy who makes sure his velvet glove is good and snug before he cozies up to the media. The feeling is apparently mutual.
An article in the latest American Journalism Review revealed that Richardson has hired 21 local journalists to serve in various posts in his administration. While some said they were simply looking for a new challenge or better hours, nobody complained about the extra dough flowing into their checking accounts.
Of course, this is nothing new. When I was in Albany in the 1980s, many of my colleagues on the third floor of the capital in Albany had it pretty easy. Their papers mostly sent them there more out of a sense of obligation rather than because they were compelled by what actually happened in state government.
Journalism salaries being what they are, it isn't hard to lure reporters with a solid paycheck, better hours [unless you worked for Mario Cuomo] and not having your stories relegated to B-6. Pangs of regret by those who left for flackdom -- and there were dozens -- were virtually nil save for those who likely wondered why they didn't do it sooner.
Still, 21 reporters, editors and producers making an exodus to Santa Fe en masse is a bit striking, especially in a relatively small media market like New Mexico. And don't think newspapers and broadcasters will sit up and take notice and raise salaries, having been stung by this talent drain. There'll always be someone else to fill the jobs and for less money, at least until the next media-savvy governor comes along.

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