One of the notable developments in New Jersey statewide government and politics in recent years, becoming acute in 2009, is the evisceration of traditional journalism that has covered NJ's statehouse and state-wide politics.
New Jersey residents used to have many opportunities to get news about their state government and state-wide campaigns. New Jersey's flagship state newspaper was the Star-Ledger, but residents in every region had their own strong, independent regional daily newspapers, covering state-wide news. The Atlantic City Press, Camden Courier-Post, Trenton Times, Home News Tribune, Somerset Courier News, the Bergen Record, at one time not too long ago had veteran reporters in the Statehouse.
Today's statehouse news media is a shadow of its former self.
Why does it matter? It is clear that as state government and politics has gotten more complex, the opportunities for average people to understand it from credible, unbiased sources, is diminishing fast.
It used to be that statehouse reporters would literally spend weeks travelling with candidates and campaigns, which was indispensable to giving readers an honest, fair and thorough view of the candidate, his or her style, and the campaign itself.
The dearth of media makes it quite easy, and in some ways inevitable, for coverage to be influenced by negative or positive stories "spun" by the campaign or its opposition. The few reporters remaining are almost required to "chase the herd "of their colleagues on stories, instead of generating original reporting.
This is not a knock on the reporters who are left standing. I think most, though not all, are superb professionals who are honestly trying to meet or exceed the standards of excellence set by themselves in the past, or their predecessors.
Yes, we probably don't miss the Star-Ledger's "Action in Trenton" section, which too often covered obscure bills that were destined for the dustbin. But voters are being denied honest evaluations of candidates' and legislators' positions on issues that matter most to them.
The public is losing its window into their own government. And that is a trend that should scare everybody. Pretty soon the only people who will succeed in New JErsey politics are those politicians that can out-spend everyone and dominate and manipulate the last place voters still get their information — paid media.
Oh sure, many of the best statehouse reporters have set up shop on the web, in one of 2 very good websites – www.newjerseynewsroom.com and www.hardnewsnj.com. But this will not replace the hundreds of thousands of residents who used to be exposed daily to the news.
And the open marketplace of the internet has also become a breeding ground for false or misleading information, which will only frustrate the voter genuinely looking for honest information.
I have often wondered whether the print media's decline was inevitable, or whether the print media drove itself out of a market by covering stories that don't interest real people.
This year's gubernatorial election is a perfect case in point. The media devoted a ton of ink to the Carla Katz email saga, but virtually ignored a recent press conference by Governor Corzine's campaign on health care issues important to NJ residents.
The media is spending a lot of time on whether Karl Rove spoke or didn't speak with Chris Christie, but zero ink on Chris Christie's ideas on taxes and jobs, which every poll indicates are the top 2 issues for more than 70 percent of the electorate.
Maybe if the press wrote about what concerns real people, they would still have market share.
When they say, "we have to write about scandal because that's what sells newspapers," maybe they were wrong all along.