Star-Ledger doubles statehouse bureau staff

Star-Ledger announced some news of the own last night. They’re doubling their staff at their statehouse bureau to cover Gov. Christie, the legislature, and the NJ Supreme Court. And, for their part, Politicker is launching their State Street Wire March 1. More coverage isn’t necessarily better coverage. And we compete with both, for readers and to provide context for those readers. But I’m glad to see this happen in commercial news coverage because they’ve taken a lot of hits over the last few years, and both the Ledger and politicker have, and I read them both.

Three years ago, Star-Ledger laid off 40% of its newsroom staff, which the New York Times noted at the time was one of the largest reductions in a single move by a major American paper. The Times had just had its own round of editorial layoffs – a first for the Times – and was soon to lay off another 100 newsroom staff, and the national paper of record no longer covers New Jersey news as closely as it once did. Across the country newsrooms were and are hurting; advertising down, and costs up – from bedrock papers like the Times and Ledger to smaller, locally-essential weeklies. The Delaware Valley News, which covered the river towns along the New Jersey and Pennsylvania banks of the Delaware, closed three years ago too – the first paper I ever worked for. Around the same time, Politicker’s national expansion took a dive, shutting down 12 state sites. (Juan Melli, who became Associate Editor at politicker.com 3 years after founding Blue Jersey, was out with that round of layoffs).

With massive shifts in editorial staffing have come changes, new ventures like newjerseynewsroom.com, formed out of the ruins of the Star-Ledger layoffs by journalists whose experience “adds up to over 1,000 years”. And into the reporting void, hyperlocals are springing up to catch news a new way, in very focused geographical areas. Citizen’s Campaign’s new NJ Hyperlocal News Association is helping hyperlocals develop, an effort Blue Jersey is involved in, in our own small way.

The latest bad news for newspapers came in a one-two punch over the last few days. It was the last day at work for nearly half of Gannett’s editorial staff with job losses at Courier News, Home News Tribune and Daily Record. One of those let go, Daily Record’s political columnist Fred Snowflack, who outed himself as a Democrat on his way out the door. And – bad timing – that bill that would allow municipalities to post legal notices on their websites rather than requiring them to pay newspapers for the service. Newspapers, the Star-Ledger in the lead, are charging that this is less a cost-cutting option for government and less an effort by government to control their content and cripple them financially. Jury’s still out on that one, for me.

So, I’m liking new reporting muscle at the state house. Good luck, Star-Ledger. Politicker too. Good luck.

Comments (3)

  1. Bill Orr

    As one who follows Statehouse news more closely than local news I welcome the Star Ledger’s plan to double its staff. It’s been apparent that its resources have been stretched especially when multiple events take place during the day in Trenton. This Statehouse Bureau is already the primary provider of this news to the Star Ledger, the Record and affiliated papers. There may be an effort here not only to increase coverage but to gain more newspaper companies to use its services and as a result move toward a more monopolistic position. Other newspaper like the Asbury Park Press and the Press of Atlantic City use the Associated Press to supplement their own coverage. From the Ledger’s article it was unclear whether it was adding to staff or relocating existing reporters. What happens in Trenton, however, is important. The Ledger statehouse group, which has lost some of its best reporters in the past couple of years, may now be able to retain staff and add savvy new individuals.  

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