Thursday, November 15, 2007

Valley papers axe Austin reporter who broke TYC stories


South Texas Chisme brings the bad word: The Valley Freedom newspaper group, which runs the Brownsville Herald, the McAllen Monitor and the Valley Morning Star, has decided to shut down its capitol bureau which means adios for reporter Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez, who doggedly pursued and broke stories about problems at the Texas Youth Commission for a year before the rest of the state's media caught on.

Soon after the sex abuse scandal broke earlier this year, I called Pierson-Hernandez "the most astute reporter covering problems at the Texas Youth Commission." Long before the Texas Observer and the Dallas News were on the case, she was tracking TYC's troubles from a South Texas vantage point. Her work led to a still-ongoing federal inquiry at the Evins Unit in Edinburg.

Texans know a lot less about state government now than a couple of decades ago because there's hardly anybody left to cover it but part-timers and bloggers. The decline of the two newspaper town and the flight of broadcast media from Texas state political coverage both have contributed to the trend.

In a podcast earlier this year on the Texas Politics blog, Houston Chronicle political writer R.G. Ratcliffe reported about the decline in numbers at the capitol press corps. In 1991, he said, 26 news organizations had 66 credentialed capitol reporters in Austin. In 2006, 16 news organizations had 37 total reporters, and most of them were part time. Clearly those numbers have not completed their decline. The Valley Freedom group was the only media organization south of San Antonio with a reporter in Austin.

All that to say, Texas can't afford to lose many more talented, full-time pros like Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez from the capitol press corps. This is terrible news, and I wish the Valley Freedom group would reconsider its decision.


JT Barrie said...

What a sly way to censor her for writing the "wrong" stories: don't fire her, just eliminate the position. Did they learn that from employers with troops on long deployments? Employers never fire the Guard employees; they just eliminate the position carefully skirting the law.

Amerloc said...

I won't suggest that eliminating that particular voice wasn't the frosting on the cake, but the larger picture needs to be considered here as well: newspapers everywhere are eliminating remote staff to cut costs. Part of that comes because profit is more important than service, part of it comes because as more an more of us rely on the internet for news, there's less and less profit to be had in the print media.

I just counted: I have eleven newspapers bookmarked, from dailies with national reputations to my home-town weekly. There's no way I could subscribe to that many physical newspapers, but I rely on them all for information, many on a daily basis. And all the sites are free.

We get what we pay for, and I sense an obligation to support the services we want. I just have no idea what sort of mechanism would keep my eleven newspaper "subscriptions" close enough to free to not be a burden.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree with you, Amerloc, and I probably monitor more papers than that. The Statesman will likely be the next paper to cut capitol staff.

Information wants to be free, but information producers need to be paid. It's a serious problem and I don't know the answer.

I do know this: If the state capitol has half the number of reporters they did two decades ago, and most of them are part-time, there's no good argument left for not giving media credentials on the House and Senate floor to bloggers. Otherwise there might be no coverage at all. best,