Valley Lawmakers Shocked By Freedom’s Decision To Axe Austin Capitol Bureau

Yet another example of how the corporate media (specifically The Monitor) in the Valley continues to fail the community with slanted and/or politically motivated views and now a concious act of news/information exclusion. My experience with The Monitor during my participation in the Mission Texas Coalition was outright disappointing…and here we go again.

8 November 2007
Michele Angél

AUSTIN, November 8 – South Texas lawmakers say they are shocked and disappointed at the Valley Freedom newspaper group’s decision to axe its Austin Capitol Bureau. They say they want the decision reversed.

“I’m amazed. It’s beyond my belief that they could do this,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “There is nothing we legislators do in Austin that does not impact the Rio Grande Valley and for the local papers not to report what is happening at the state Capitol is a great disservice to the people of the Valley.”

Hinojosa said his next move will be to find out what is going on.

“I am going to call to set up a lunch with the publisher of The Monitor to discuss this issue. We need to voice our opinion on this and get the decision reversed,” Hinojosa said.

State Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen agreed. “There’s strength in numbers and if we all went together, as a delegation, perhaps we would have some influence,” Gonzales said. “I know the decision was probably made somewhere else but I would think The Monitor has some say. I would be happy to talk to Olaf myself.”

Olaf Frandsen is publisher of The Monitor and regional vice president of Freedom Communications Inc.

At press time, the three Valley Freedom papers – The (McAllen) Monitor, the Valley Morning Star, and the Brownsville Herald – had not told its readers anything about the Austin bureau closing.

Reports of the closure have come via the Quorum Report, an online newsletter that covers state government and politics. First reports were that the bureau would close at year’s end. Now it is being closed at week’s end.

Freedom’s Austin bureau is staffed by one award-winning reporter, Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez. Pierson referred press calls to Rachel Benavidez, editor of the Herald. Benavidez said via e-mail that if the group chose to share remarks, the Guardian and other media outlets would be informed.

Circulation among daily newspapers has been declining for many years and the downward spiral has been hastened by the growth of news on the Internet. This in turn has led to ad revenue shifting from print to online.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an independent organization that monitors the industry, average daily paid newspaper circulation declined 2.6 percent nationwide in the six months that ended Sept. 30, compared with the previous year. Circulation for Sunday papers dropped 3.5 percent nationwide during the same period.

Media analysts believed the Valley Freedom group would be protected from such steep declines due to the fact that, per capita, fewer people along the border have computers or access to the Internet.

On the Freedom Communications Web site, group CEO Scott Flanders writes about the need to keep costs down.

“As a company, we excel at cost containment. Our current environment dictates that we must also reduce our cost base,” Flanders writes. “How can you reduce expenses? In every business decision, consider how to maximize value while minimizing expenses whenever possible. Also ask: is there a more cost-efficient and creative way to deliver an excellent result?”

Hinojosa said he could not believe the Freedom group does not make sufficient profits in the Valley to warrant keeping its Austin bureau open.

“It’s sad because Liz Pierson is a fine reporter who broke the story about the abuse at Texas Youth Commission facilities. The Monitor would not have broken the story without having a reporter full-time in Austin,” Hinojosa said.

“But, on the other hand, it is great news for the Rio Grande Guardian and I think Freedom may lose some readership and subscribers to the San Antonio Express-News.”

Gonzales agreed Pierson’s reporting would be badly missed. “Liz worked hard and knew the issues,” she said. Pierson declined the opportunity to move back to the Valley and keep working for Freedom.

Gonzales said not everybody has access to news via the Internet, particularly The Monitor’s elderly readers.

“It’s mainly the younger generation that is computer savvy. They can get their news online. But print readers will really miss out when we are in session, when the bills come thick and fast. That’s when we rely on reporters to keep the public informed,” Gonzales said.

State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, said he valued the role Austin-based reporters played, whether the legislature was in session or not.

“It’s important that folks in the Valley know what is going on in Austin, particularly in my district, which is so rural,” Guillen said. “Without a correspondent over there it is going to be more difficult to get legislative stories into the paper. The Associated Press is okay but its news service is not specific to the Valley.”

State Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, said he was used to not getting on-the-spot reporting from Austin for the northern part of his district because the Corpus Christi Caller-Times closed its Capitol bureau some years ago.

“The people of Kleberg County have had to rely on top quality reporting from online newspapers, particularly on environmental issues,” Escobar said.

“It’s sad the Valley papers are closing the Capitol bureau because the region is one of the fastest growing in the country. The people of South Texas really need to be well-versed in what is happening in Austin. For too long they have been left behind.”

Thanks to:
Rio Grande Guardian


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