Montana Politics The Media

Montana’s Political Reporters Create and Solve Crisis in Four Days

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You’ve got to love the political coverage in Montana from time to time. Today’s editorial in the Independent Record offers a huge sigh of relief, because the Legislature never intended to deny access to the media during caucuses and legislative sessions:

“I would just like to state upfront that there is and has been no interest in limiting any of the media’s access to the legislative process,” Senate President Mike Cooney, D-Helena, said. Cooney said he was “somewhat taken aback” by reporting that suggested lawmakers wanted to limit access.

It’s certainly a relief to learn that the Legislature never intended this action, given the incredible attention paid to this non-issue in the past few days, largely by the Lee Newspapers. In the past few days, we’ve seen

Guess what they discovered? No intention to close the sessions. In the meantime, a candidate (Claudette Morton) announced her intention to run for the Superintendent of Public Schools, and the best we can get is some boilerplate set of generic observations about her candidacy, with no specifics to give the voters any real information.

Yes, these reporters are right: media access to our legislative bodies and government officials is critical to the public’s ability to understand and weigh in on critical policy questions, but not if the reporters are more interested in their ability to cover the news than actually doing it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • You know, I generally applaud this blog’s willingness to push Montana’s press to be more aggressive, but you blow it by portraying its coverage of the open-meetings flap as mere chest thumping against some phony boogie man. I assure you there are members of the Legislature who would love to shut the press and public out of the process. Montana has some of the best open government laws in the country but that paper means squat without people willing to raise the alarm and press the case time after bleedin’ time. Whatever their faults, Montana’s news organizations have been the first put their time and money into the fight for freedom of information. And you know it never ends. If you think there aren’t legislators (and school board members, and county commissioners, and city council members, and sheriffs and endless alphabet of government agencies) who would rather do their business in secret, I suggest you to spend a few weeks answering phones at the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline.

  • You raise some really fair points; thanks for your insight.

    I guess my biggest concern is proportionality. There were important issues at last year’s session that got less coverage than this issue, which makes it a bit ironic.

    I also do realize that I direct a lot of attention to individual reporters, even though many of them do a fine job. It just feels to me that, as a whole, the corporate interests that run the media in Montana are insufficiently interested in providing enough resources to cover politics here adequately.

  • I doubt there’s a reporter in the state who doesn’t wish his or her news organization didn’t have more resources, so I’m with you there. But as far as covering the Legislature is concerned, there’s more coverage today that ever before. Lots more. What I suspect you want – at least it’s what I want – is more analysis, more context, more depth on the crucial issues and players. As a former legislative reporter, I can assure that the pros want that too, but the odds against them often have less to do with corporations and resources than with Montana’s ridiculous insistence on biennial legislative sessions, term limits and allowing 150 lawmakers to introduce an essentially unlimited number of bills, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, at a cost of billions of dollars – all within the space of 90 days. Thoughtful analysis? Context and depth? For a reporter – heck, for most legislators – it’s like choosing which snowflake to follow in a blizzard.

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