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Thursday, November 19, 2009

NM Media Beat: Thinning Reporter Ranks In Santa Fe; On-Line Watchdog Barks; Will There Be More? Plus: Berry Juggles Fire; That & More On Transition 

News coverage of the state capitol took a major hit this week as industry insiders passed word that longtime Associated Press reporter Deborah Baker was included in the national layoffs the AP announced. Baker had been on the Santa Fe scene some 20 years. Her departure means bureau chief Barry Massey is the lone Santa Fe staffer for the storied AP which started distributing news over 160 years ago (An editorial assistant in the ABQ bureau also was also laid off).

We were struck by Baker's sudden departure because we had only recently mentioned to friends the obit she had written of former Governor Bruce King. It hit all the high points, had just the right pitch--and important to the AP--was on the wires within a couple of hours after the announcement of King's death.

And there was an AP piece she penned on complicated capital outlay issues. We leaned on that for our own analysis.

The AP is the main link for government news for many New Mexicans outside the ABQ/Santa Fe media market, and Baker's departure will have particular impact there.

But it's not just the AP hurting. The ABQ Journal now has only one full-time capitol staffer. They do send up troops for the legislative session and at other times when needed, but they used to have several full-timers up there. The Journal has protected its franchise by not dismantling its investigative reporting division which often finds itself uncovering government shenanigans. But if the shoe drops there, the politicians will have even more free rein.

The AP has proven irreplaceable, even as new sources of "journalism" appear. The wire service is the one source that you know is not agenda driven. There seems to be a school of thought these days that it's how you write a news story that matters, but we all know the decision of what to write is a key editorial decision.

What we are now getting as a replacement for traditional newspapers is "agenda driven" journalism financed by philanthropy from individuals and institutions on the left and right (More on that below). Which is fine. But it's not always objective news gathering. No way. No how. On the other hand, the AP is financed by fees from subscribing newspapers and other media outlets. It is not out to save the world, but just report about it.

The AP covers the news without ideological concerns. It does not advocate. And going into this new information paradigm, we are going to need that more than ever. That's why these layoffs here and elsewhere are unsettling.

WATCHDOG GROWLS AT DI
Scarantino
New Mexico's first on-line investigative news site comes not from a traditional journalist, but from a lawyer. ABQ Republican Jim Scarantino, who has been an on and off commentator for a number of media outfits--including the ABQ Journal--shook things up recently with a report on the spending of some 2003 federal stimulus money by Lt.Governor Diane Denish. It was another sign of the slow, but certain migration of all aspects of journalism--even complicated ones like investigations--to the Internet. The on-line report from the New Mexico Watchdog made its way into the dead-tree editions of the newspapers who are suffering from so many cutbacks that they may welcome another voice doing some digging--even if it is not their own.

Denish and company called Scarantino a right-wing nut job, but that did not stop the story from making real news or from her having to respond to what she said were the report's inaccuracies. Also, one of Di's GOP rivals scored statewide TV coverage by citing the report.

Scarantino, an unabashed conservative, is supported by the like-minded Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), which under the stewardship of Paul Gessing has made significant strides in influencing the conservative agenda here.

Scarantino takes no advertising, only funds from the non-profit, a new media model. A similiar nonprofit model is the NM Independent. However, the Independent, backed mainly by foundations of a liberal or "progressive" bent, has positioned itself as a daily news source, not an investigative operation. But the competing conservative RGF may have an edge, if the goal of both outfits is to help shape the public affairs agenda.

Scarantino is a one-man band who is not reporting every day, but like ABQ Journal investigative reporters is given time to develop his stories. He then hits with a splash. The Independent, staffed with several full-time and part-time reporters, is not affording itself that luxury. Instead, it is covering many of the same breaking news stories as the Journal and AP. Would foregoing some of that replication and incorporating the Watchdog model give it further reach?

If the conservative Watchdog scores more coups, will the Independent's sponsors bark back with their own investigative themes aimed at their progressive audience? The answer will be on-line.

TV NEWS

No, we haven't seen the ratings for the 10 p.m. KOB-TV news since Jay Leno became host of the lead in show. Leno's poor ratings performance is drawing boos from a number of NBC affiliates who are seeing their ratings drop because Leno does not draw audiences similar in size to the dramas that formerly populated the prime time spot. KOB has been running a close second to #1 KRQE for several years. We will see where things stand at the end of the current November ratings. If Jay craters here, it may give KOAT, #3 at 10, a shot at the runner-up spot. But industry experts say the audience is so fractured nowadays it is uncertain what stations those drama fans would drift toward.

BREAKING CITY NEWS


First, this clean-up from Wednesday:

City Councilor Debbie O'Malley says she supports the reappointment of ABQ Police Chief Ray Schultz. She says a TV news report that stated she did not support Schultz was inaccurate. We keyed off that report and blogged that O'Malley was opposed to Schultz. However, the Democratic councilor does say --as we blogged---that she is firmly against the appointment of current city chief administrative officer Ed Adams as the city's chief operating officer. Mayor-elect Berry is reported to be considering such a move.

Let's get into the Adams play. Insiders are wondering if Berry pushes Adams down O'Malley's throat whether she will bolt and oppose his nomination of David Campbell as chief administrative officer. Right now, Campbell is poised to win council confirmation on a 5 to 4 vote when the new council meets Dec. 7. But the Republican mayor needs Democrats, including O'Malley. Three GOP councilors are opposing Campbell. If Berry keeps Adams on the 11th floor, O'Malley could join with the three R's, persuade one of her fellow Dems to also oppose Campbell and that would be that.

Adams is a Republican, but he is so close to Mayor Chavez they can smell each others mouthwash. That is rankling those like O'Malley who want a clean break from the past. They are not buying the argument that Ed can change his stripes now that Berry is the new zoo keeper.

Berry is now juggling fire. A rejection of Campbell would be a near-crippling blow. If Adams has a deal where he has to have a city gig, we notice that there is still no permanent airport director. Maybe that's the way to put out those flames that are starting to singe Berry's brow. We'll see.

BERRY PICKING
Barbara Bruin
The mayor-elect continues to unveil his key appointments. Here's the latest round: Robin Dozier Otten as director of Family Services, Barbara Bruin as director of Animal Welfare, Jorja Armijo-Brasher as director of Senior Affairs, Barbara Baca as director of Parks and Recreation and Eugene Moser as director of Human Resources.

Barbara Bruin, a native of Roswell, is a University of New Mexico School of Law grad who has recently headed up the NM Alliance for Legal Reform, a nonprofit with a conservative bent that aims to be a thorn in the side of the trial lawyers. Sheriff White sits on its board of directors. She's also worked on Capitol Hill and with the US Department of Justice. Her father, Jim Bruin, is a well-known Roswell attorney who served a term in the state Senate in the 60's. The new director of Animal Welfare has been long involved in animal protection causes. She is a member of the board of Animal Humane NM and has two cats--Frank and Tony.

Robin Dozier Otten, also a UNM law school grad, is a public affairs consultant. She served with incoming public safety director Darren White in the Guv administration of Republican Gary Johnson. She was Secretary of Human Services when White was head of the Department of Public Safety. She ran for the GOP nomination for US Senate in 1994.

Jorja Armijo-Brasher is a city government veteran who replaces Blanca Hise who managed Mayor Chavez's 2001 campaign and shortly after took the senior affairs position. Armijo-Brasher has been manager of the city's Child and Family Services Development Division. She is the wife of GOP Bernalillo County Commissioner and KANW-FM radio general manager Michael Brasher.

We told you Monday about Gene Moser, an analyst with the Legislative Finance Committee, who was named Human Resources director. Check that blog for details.

Barbara Baca, the new head of parks and rec, is a Recreation Division Manager with the department
.

MORE ON DOUBLE DIPPING

Schultz
We told you this week that the new mayor will not ban double-dipping. We cited the employment of retired state worker Tito Madrid as head of constituent services who will receive both city and retirement checks. But some double dipping is apparently not kosher with the mayor-to-be.

Police Chief Ray Schultz, paid $145,000 a year, will no longer draw the police pension he has been getting along with that handsome salary. Berry has yet to say what the chief will make. Also, there have been no reports yet on what chief administrative officer designate David Campbell will take home or the salary of public safety director Darren White. The mayor makes about $110,000 a year.

Should anyone other than the police chief and chief administrative officer make more than the mayor?

For fiscal conservatives one of the first tests of Republican Berry will be whether he comes with a smaller mayor's office budget than Mayor Chavez. He should be able to do that while applying realistic salaries to White, Campbell as well as Schulz.

CYA

We want to do some CYA (cover your ass for the uninitiated) on the city budget outlook. We recently linked to a newspaper story quoting finance officials from the Chavez administration as predicting no layoffs or furloughs of city employees will be needed to reduce the deficit. They are putting the shortfall for the budget year that ends June 30 at about $10 to $12 million. But not everyone agrees. Some city councilors believe the deficit could hit $30 million. That's a huge sum considering that cuts of that amount would have to be done over a six month period. If we go north of $20 million, look out below, city workers.

And one other note. The psychological taboo surrounding furloughs of New Mexican government workers has now been broken by Big Bill. That may make it easier for Berry to go that route if he chooses. As for layoffs, expect Berry to go there last, but don't rule them out until we get concrete numbers on just what kind of deficit we're facing.

GOODBYE, BRUCE

TV news is reporting that former President Clinton plans to attend the funeral of former Governor Bruce King Saturday at Moriarty.

New Mexico senior US Senator Jeff Bingaman took to the Senate floor Wednesday to mourn the passing of King who died last week. Here's an excerpt and here's a link to the video:

He was gregarious and kind. He never knew a stranger. He shook every hand in our state, whether there was a voter attached to it or not. People were delighted to see Bruce coming and to hear his famous reply when asked “How are you doing, governor?” He would reply, “Mighty fine” regardless of the circumstances that the state and he were facing. Our friendship extended for 40-plus years. And along with my fellow New Mexicans, I will miss him greatly...

Senator Tom Udall also honored the former Governor in a Senate floor speech.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Since we've been talking about media today, how about some self-criticism? Well, the best part about this blog is the unique information you get on state politics. It's stuff you won't get anywhere else and certainly not with the context and analysis you get here from the state's best political minds. The worst part is our weakness as a grammarian and speller. With no editor looking over our shoulder, we let some big ones slip by. For example, yesterday we posted "your" instead of "you're." And someone really needs to invent a souped up spell checker for us.

In that regard, we appreciate your indulgence (and emailed edits), if not your pity.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments. Interested in advertising here? Drop us a line.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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