Today's Sunday edition of the Wheeling News-Register, like yesterday's Intelligencer, contained no real news stories about the West Virginia legislature. There was an editorial on the need to fix state roads and the opinion section also carried the "Reporters' Notebook" which devoted a couple of paragraphs to a local delegate who missed the recording of his vote because he was at the bathroom. (Since the "newspapers" don't actually have a reporter with a notebook actually covering the legislature (or the bathrooms), it's obvious that this story came from the delegate.) With just two weeks left in the legislative session, here's the sum of their weekend coverage: a narrowly-defined editorial and a story about a bathroom break.
Yesterday I highlighted two important stories that the local "newspapers" have either barely mentioned (the "religious freedom" bill) or simply ignored (science standards for education). (Please see the previous post.) Both stories have gotten wide coverage elsewhere including the Associated Press. For example, the AP covered the science story as recently as Friday and numerous science and education groups (see here, for example) have written about it. The "religious freedom" bill has gotten even more coverage and commentary outside the state and yet it has been barely touched by the locals.
Another example: I would think that fracking has had a major impact, both good and bad, on the lives of many area residents. There is, however, an important bill before the legislature which would end "nuisance" lawsuits. (I've written about this bill here and here). Unfortunately for local residents who deal with fracking issues on a daily basis, neither local paper has published a single word about the bill. Here's Ken Ward Jr.'s coverage from this morning's Charleston Gazette-Mail:
On Friday, a courtroom full of lawyers gathered near downtown Charleston to try to sort a path forward in litigating a series of major lawsuits that allege natural gas drilling in Northern West Virginia has forced residents to live with unbearable traffic, mountains of dust, constant heavy equipment noise, and bright lights that shine into their homes day and night.
At the other end of town, lawmakers at the state Capitol are trying to put an end to those suits, and maybe to any others like them.
While lawmakers push through legislation that could severely hamper the ability of residents to bring such suits, a brief look at the cases, through Friday’s hearing and a partial review of the huge collection of court filings generated so far, provides a glimpse into how the state’s legal and political systems are responding to the controversy created when the nation’s demand for cheaper natural gas meets the desires of rural West Virginians to live their lives in peace and quiet.
This is an important story with some complexity and yet we've read nothing about it. Add to the list the abortion and gun bills which have received only slightly more attention. In my opinion, only the right-to-work and prevailing wage issues have been adequately covered and even with those we've gotten only minimal coverage of those protesting the bills.
Obviously, the Charleston Gazette-Mail has a geographical advantage over the Wheeling "newspapers" when it comes to covering the legislature. But the Ogden chain owns nine newspapers in West Virginia -- certainly they could afford one full-time reporter for two-and-a-half months to cover the legislature and send reports to the various newspapers. (My memory suggests that last year they did have a full-time reporter for the last week or two of the session - maybe it will happen again this year.) This year a number of important pieces of legislation were passed earlier in the session in order to override the governor's veto and all we read, if we were lucky, was an AP report.
With just two weeks left in the legislative session, the Ogden "newspapers" appear to have taken a we'll-cover-the-legislation-only-when-we-think-it's-important attitude. That's too bad for anyone served by them.