As part of a trend among news media facing hard times nationally, The Salt Lake Tribune abruptly closed its Washington Bureau this week and laid off longtime reporters Tom Gorey and Virginia Robicheaux.
Tribune Editor James E. Shelledy - who assumed his job just last week - visited Washington after some meetings in New York and invited Gorey and Robicheaux to lunch on Sunday. He told them their jobs no longer exist.Such death rattles and gongs for reporters covering Washington for hometown readers are becoming all too familiar.
The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman closed its bureau a few weeks back. The Ottaway News Bureau - which covers Washington for dozens of Ottaway-owned papers - is not replacing reporters who leave. Nor is the Thomson newspaper chain.
The States News Service is spreading fewer Washington reporters over more of its newspapers. So is the Gannett News Service. And Gannett recently shut down all its Washington radio and television bureaus.
All that makes me feel like an allosaurus in the ice age putting on mittens to wave goodbye to my friends stegosaurus and triceratops.
The reason for this new ice age of dwindling Washington reporting is simple: money.
For example, Gorey said the Tribune told him it is suffering from declining ad revenue because of the recession. So it looked for places to cut and told him it felt closing the Washington bureau would have the least impact on its readers.
That sent shivers down the back of the rest of us dinosaurs in Washington. We naturally think covering Washington is important because much of Utah's future is decided here. Without a few watchdogs, Washington could become like the old joke line: A meeting is being held to decide your future, and you're not invited.
And only few of us are left watching what Washington does to Utah. In fact, only two Washington reporters now work full time for Utah news media: myself and Charles Sherrill at KSL radio/TV.
At least Charlie and I don't have much trouble finding a seat at Utah delegation press conferences.
A few other Utah journalists in Washington also cover the state's interests part time. For example, veteran correspondent Gordon White works part time for the Deseret News. Debbie Davidson, my wife, is the part-time correspondent for PowerBase, a newsletter about Utah politics.
Judy Fahys covers for the Provo Herald, but she also has to cover for four other Scripps League newspapers in Arizona and Oregon. Peter Roper covers for the St. George Spectrum but also covers for 17 other Thomson chain newspapers in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas.
KUTV hires Conus communications to occasionally cover press conferences and do reaction stories. KUTV closed its full-time Washington bureau in late 1989. KTVX now and then hires a Washington news agency for similar coverage.
No Utah radio station besides KSL has a Washington reporter. Neither do the Ogden Standard, the Logan Journal or - now - the Tribune.
Why does that matter? Take, for example, a story this week about the nation's top weather forecasters - who are based in Washington - predicting continued drought in the West and floods in the East.
National wire services mentioned Utah in one sentence as among six Western states where drought should continue. That's because their focus is on the whole nation.
But local media handling the same story could, and did, have the same forecasters talk about the drought's effects in Utah. The story locally is bigger than a one-sentence mention.
National wire services also won't fill the void of other local reporting in Washington such as closely watching local members of Congress and following local consequences of federal agency and court actions.