By Tracy Dingmann
The news this week that the award-winning news site New Mexico Independent had to shut down due to money woes was heartbreaking for plenty of people in New Mexico.
Most obviously affected were the website’s reporters, who now must find new jobs in the rapidly-contracting world of journalism.
Also directly affected were NMI’s many readers – according to editor Gwyneth Doland, NMI got as many as 65,000 hits a month – who have now lost one of their favorite sources of locally-generated news.
I have always had a soft spot for NMI, partly because, as a political news junkie, I appreciated their frequent content and relentlessly local focus. I also have a place in my heart for NMI because I was fortunate enough to be an NMI columnist and contributor from July 2008 to November 2009.
A Hub For Liveblogging
My memories of working for NMI and watching the non-profit online journalism project become a formidable source of political news was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.
In the fall of 2009, Doland became editor of NMI, following the departure of founding editor David Alire Garcia. Under Doland, NMI evolved into a hub for the emerging practice of liveblogging.
Doland and her team of livebloggers covered a wide array of events, from city council meetings to health care townhalls and presidential visits.
But where Doland and her team really found their niche was in liveblogging the State Legislature.
A Constant Presence
For the last several sessions, she and her NMI team showed up every day, staffing every full session of the Senate and House and attending countless committee meetings.
By this time, I was no longer writing columns for NMI, but I sat in the galleries often with Doland and the crew as I did my own reporting and was awed by their seeming ability to cover it all. Frequently Doland augmented her crew with help from the Santa Fe New Mexican and other news sources.
I watched as the state’s other journalistic outlets became keenly aware that NMI had virtually taken over the Capitol press galleries. Many times I saw reporters and photographers from newspapers, television or wire services walk in and do a double-take as they saw Doland and her principal legislative crew of Marjorie Childress, Trip Jennings, Matt Reichbach sitting shoulder to shoulder in the press galleries pounding out stories or liveblogging sessions. (You can read Reichbach’s recollection of those times here.)
People who were intensely interested but couldn’t attend in person knew the NMI livebloggers were there and would stay there late into the night, watching and writing about the elected officials as they crafted the laws and policies that affect all the rest of us.
Legislators Knew NMI Was Always There
In every session I attended, it was clear that legislators were very aware of NMI’s constant presence in the Roundhouse. Some embraced it, jumping on the live blog to comment or dropping by the press room to say hi to the crew.
Others were made a bit more uncomfortable by NMI’s vigilance, self-consciously noting aloud the presence of NMI reporters in committee meetings or up in the press box looming over the session floor.
Which leads me to the very saddest part about NMI closing. Now, more than ever, all New Mexicans need more eyes watching the legislature, not fewer.
Think about it. The merits of keeping a close eye on the people we’ve elected to serve us are really not debatable. How else are regular people who work jobs and raise families and live all over the state supposed to keep tabs on what’s going on in state government?
Things get a little crazy up at the session, but with those livebloggers everywhere, legislators always knew someone was watching. And I believe that NMI’s constant scrutiny and the legislators’ keen awareness that their actions would be reported probably affected them for good – more times than we know.
So that’s why I’m telling everybody I know that even if you never read one story or visited one liveblog at the New Mexico Independent, you’re going to miss it.