It’s not easy to follow what’s happening when the state Legislature is in session, as it is now. The lawmaking process itself is complex. Many bills are introduced each session, most destined for the dustbin because they will never get so much as a committee hearing, but offered nevertheless to please constituents or make a political statement.
How a bill eventually becomes law — after consideration, concurrence and passage by the Senate and House, then signing by the governor — can be routine and widely supported, or divisive and controversial.Those are the ones that tend to get the headlines.
As hard as all that action can be to follow, the state’s residents used to have a lot more help figuring it out. The Legislature was at one time covered by journalists from many news organizations, enough to have their own press room at the Capitol. Their stories went out through many venues, most widely via the major newspapers, broadcast outlets and wire services.
Not so these days. The news corps in Olympia — and in state capitals around the country — has shrunk dramatically. In some states, only a couple of reporters may be trying to keep tabs on legislation.
One organization — which, full disclosure, I’m closely associated with — continues to make an ongoing commitment to not only covering the Legislature as thoroughly as possible, but also training young journalists in the process.
The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA), the trade group for the state’s smaller newspapers, in 1986 established the WNPA Foundation, a separate nonprofit that raises money to fund its programs through an auction during WNPA’s annual convention, through direct donations, contributions from partners and a through generous endowments from people who support its mission.
Since the 2011 Legislative session, the WNPA Foundation has provided scholarships for journalism students to do full-time, supervised reporting on the state Legislature in Olympia. Two students, one from Washington State University and one from the University of Washington, are covering Olympia this year and publishing their work through The Washington State Journal, an online product of the WNPA Foundation.
It’s needed. As described on The Washington State Journal’s website, the press corps that served the needs of Washington state citizens for decades has been decimated by budget cuts:
“A handful of dedicated journalists remain on the job. Among them are the Associated Press, The Seattle Times, the Spokane Spokesman-Review, The Everett Herald, the Tacoma News-Tribune and National Public Radio. These journalists are doing heroic work and providing quality coverage for the daily newspapers of the state and public radio stations, and we encourage you to subscribe to their papers and support them. But they can only do so much.”
The Washington State Journal is an important part of that media lineup. Not only are the interns aggressively tracking the legislative bill mill and making their coverage available to WNPA member newspapers, but the stories are also available to the public for free at wastatejournal.org.
Some of those stories we publish in the Methow Valley News as space and interest allow. But anyone can see all of them on The Washington State Journal website. It’s good, professional-quality coverage. I encourage you to take advantage of the interns’ work by regularly visiting wastatejournal.org.
I have another interest in writing about the Washington State Journal. For several years I have been president of the WNPA Foundation, part of a dedicated board of directors that works in concert with the capable WNPA staff to raise funds, and decide how they will be used to further the education of aspiring journalists. It’s challenging given the current economic climate and the state of the newspaper industry.
As we point out on The Washington State Journal’s website: “We can’t be shy about asking — we need your help. If you like what you see here, please hit the donate button … and give what you can. No contribution is too small. Our pledge to you is to continue our mission — to cover our government, to educate bright young journalists and to help build a more just and transparent democracy.” If you feel inclined to help, you have my gratitude and that of readers and other journalists across the state. In any event, please feel free to take advantage of our legislative coverage.