Are Washington correspondents the Maytag repairmen of the media? We certainly aren't idle–there is always something for reporters to do in Washington–but the folks back home are tuning us out.
In the annual news index compiled by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, for the second year running not a single Washington-based story made the list of the 10 most followed news items. Of those stories followed "very closely" by survey respondents, Princess Di's demise headed the list, receiving "very close" attention from 54 percent of the public; the O.J. Simpson civil trial verdict rounded out Pew's top 10 list at 30 percent. The most-followed Washington story was Social Security reform, ranking 13th at 29 percent. In 1997, only one in two Americans followed domestic political stories "fairly closely," down from six in 10 in 1993.
Washington's scribes are well aware of the dimming spotlight. At a December 8 meeting of the Regional Reporters Association, a professional association for Washington correspondents, there was ample talk of declining editorial interest in Washington stories. Tom Raum of the Associated Press chalked up some of the distaste to the subject matter, noting, "Washington is one of the hardest places to make news come to life." Carl Sessions Stepp, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, told the assembled reporters to be creative in looking for stories and to avoid sending editors "dull government shit that nobody reads."
Now there's an idea.