D.C. bureaus slipping away

Many newspapers facing budget cuts look first to scale back their Washington coverage.

It’s no secret that because of declining advertising revenues and increasing competition from online sources, newspapers across the country are being forced to make large cuts.

Sometimes these reductions come at the cost of losing employees or even whole departments.

Many newspapers, such as the Star Tribune, have physical bureaus in Washington, D.C., where reporters work every day to produce coverage of the government in relation to their home states.

But with increasing pressure to save money and eliminate excess, the first place many publications seem to be looking to scale back spending and efforts is in their on-site governmental coverage.

There seems to be a certain feeling among the newspapers needing to make cuts that the bureaus are expendable and in many cases even the first to go.

Some editors point out that governmental resources are much more readily available now than they were before the digital age. The mentality seems to be that with electronic transcripts, mass e-mail and digital voice recordings, many newspapers can get as much information from home as they would sitting in the meeting room.

Or newspapers can just as easily defer to the wire service they subscribe to, dumping the latest wire article, word for word, into the pages of every newspaper that can no longer afford a sufficient D.C. bureau.

But that’s just the problem. Eliminating these vital bureaus creates a culture of sloppy journalism and worse, a blind acceptance and regurgitation of what governmental officials supply to news reporters.

To think that the sort of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Watergate journalism from the ’70s would occur if they had been writing off press releases and information duplicated and sent to their newspaper is preposterous.

Of course there is a place for news services, and of course many similar stories can be expected if all newspapers write articles on the same topics, but original reporting needs to be celebrated, encouraged and enforced.

If the first place newspapers continue to look for cuts is the bureaus that are intended to be close to our government and its officials, what does that say for the future of our Washington coverage? Will we really be able to have any semblance of a watchdog culture, which is already slipping further and further from the great strides it achieved in the Watergate years?