By Tracy Dingmann
As local news outlets all around us contract or close (Read: “Goodbye, NMI,”) and substantive reporting on state government becomes ever more precious, New Mexicans who want to stay informed have fewer and fewer news sources upon which to rely.
And for many New Mexicans who are deeply concerned about incoming Governor Susana Martinez’s preparedness to deal with the state’s looming budget catastrophe, the state’s “paper of record” is not doing the job.
Instead of hard-hitting pieces that vet Martinez’s choices for key posts or examine her aptitude for the job ahead of her, Journal readers are getting rehashes of the paper’s favorite scandals from the Richardson era and extensive reports about spats between the incoming Martinez and the current Gov. Richardson.
In some cases, reporters appear to be mere stenographers for back and forth statements between Martinez and the “Richardson-Denish” administration – overheated stories more reminiscent of campaign coverage than of a sober examination of an incoming governor who faces an enormous challenge.
There’s an interesting kind of leapfrogging going on – the Journal “uncovers” something about Richardson and publishes a front-page story. Then the Martinez camp reacts angrily, garnering another front-page story. Then the Richardson administration strikes back with …..well, you get the idea.
And the editorials have been more of the same. In this piece, the paper’s editors took pains to praise Martinez for one of her most attention-grabbing (and arguably, most divisive and yet meaningless) acts.
Taken as a body of work, the paper’s backward-looking, he-said she-said coverage doesn’t really serve readers well – with one exception.
On Nov. 9, business reporter Winthrop Quigley wrote an UpFront column in the form of a letter to Martinez titled “Dear Gov.-Elect – What’s The Plan?”
In it, Quigley asks Martinez about her plans to deal with the state’s deficit and mentions a bunch of other serious economic and structural problems that got short shrift in her campaign. Now that she’s got the job, Quigley asks Martinez, what specifically is she going to do about X, Y and Z?
We wrote about Quigley’s piece on Journal Watch and commented on what a benefit it would have been for readers if someone in the media could have asked those questions before the election.
Quigley’s column prompted one reader to write a letter to the editor this week proclaiming him her new “watchdog” and another reader to write:
“Informed citizens are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Because, supposedly, informing public is what newspapers do, I can only assume you have been keeping Winthrop in a cage in the back of the newsroom. After reading his column, I realize just how uninformed we were. Thank you very much.”
Other concerned observers have noticed and lamented the Journal’s lack of substantive reporting during the gubernatorial transition and the run-up to the Legislative session.
Democratic activist Barb Wold, on her blog “Democracy for New Mexico,” made a plea earlier this week for more reporters to vet Martinez appointees, starting with Department of Finance Administration pick Richard May.
In a post called “Who Hid the Deficit,” Longtime Capitol observer Jay Miller, writing at his blog “Inside The Capitol,” pokes holes in some of Martinez’s most incendiary claims about Richardson and the budget and provides some much-needed factual analysis of many factors that led to the state’s current crisis. His frank take – Martinez doesn’t understand the budget and her efforts to pass off blame to Richardson for hiding the numbers is baloney.
She evidently didn’t have anyone studying budget figures during her campaign. She made only vague references to the budget and alleged the governor was hiding it from her.
Actually the budget was passed last February by the Legislature and signed with partial vetoes by Gov. Richardson early last March It is a public document available on the Internet.
And on the issue of May, Miller adds:
It is time for the governor’s office to give Martinez’s new finance secretary Richard May the thorough budget briefing it says it has offered.
Here’s my take on the situation: The Journal is the state’s largest and most powerful paper. It has a much-vaunted investigative team of reporters with years of experience in hard-hitting digging and reporting.
New Mexicans who read the Journal deserve to have their local paper put its entire investigative team to work to find out what New Mexico is going to do about this enormous budget shortfall- and to look closely at the people Martinez is assembling to help her in tackling that job.
New Mexico can’t afford anything less.