By Denise Tessier
For New Mexico Independent reporter Trip Jennings, it had been a “roller coaster day”: “I learned this morning I’d won two awards,” he Tweeted. “A few hours later I learned I’d been laid off due to lack of money.”
Earlier, NMI Editor Gwyneth Doland had sent out this message of her own:
The New Mexico Independent as you know it is now closed. The site will remain live, possibly with a half-time blogger. Deepest apologies.
Doland later said she was “devastated” by news from The American Independent News Network, NMI’s parent organization, that annual funding from New Mexico-specific donors had declined so much NMI would have to shut down.
To a great extent, I am devastated, too. And anyone who understands how important real journalism and reportage is to an informed citizenry — and in turn, to democracy — should be devastated as well about Wednesday’s shutdown of the online publication that pioneered in this state the integration of quick blogging and in-depth enterprise news reporting with real-time live-blogging and webcasting, notably from the Roundhouse.
Heath Haussamen (who, like myself, is a former Independent reporter) was the first to break the NMI story with a full account Wednesday on his NMPolitics.net site. My initial reaction was disbelief when “New Mexico Independent Shuts Down” caught my eye while I was reading, appropriately enough, a thoughtful column on the state of journalism today. The piece I’d been reading, “The Difference Between NPR and Fox or MSNBC,” quoted parts of an article that had appeared in The Atlantic , some phrases from which I’m pulling here as they apply as much to NMI as to NPR:
There are jobs where people are mainly motivated by the hope of big money. (Finance in general.) There are jobs where the main motivation is job-security. And there is a category of jobs where, as absolutely everyone recognizes, it makes a tremendous difference that “employees” care about something beyond pay, hours, and security. Teachers. Soldiers. Doctors and nurses. Judges and police. Political leaders, if they want to be more than hacks. And, people in news organizations.
As Haussamen reported in his story, NMI in its brief tenure had a huge impact on Roundhouse reporting, when in 2009 its reporters began webcasting and liveblogging legislative meetings, “helping shine more light on state government proceedings.”
Just last month, NMI was honored with ACLU-New Mexico’s First Amendment Award for bringing the Legislature to the public through those technological innovations, and for what the ACLU called NMI’s “critical, nonpartisan coverage of state politics” and “its efforts to revive meaningful investigative reporting.” And then today, as Trip Jennings noted in his message, NMI received word of two awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors.
NMI accomplished this on a shoestring – with fewer than a dozen reporters when it launched in April 2008 and with just a handful of reporters at shutdown time this week –a testament to the commitment of those on its staff.
What does this loss mean to readers of the Albuquerque Journal?
Actually, a lot. Before hearing Wednesday’s announcement, I already had started a post entitled, “Read the Independent,” in which I was going to encourage readers of the Journal to supplement and temper their news consumption with a daily dose of NMI.
As I disclosed earlier, I am a former Independent reporter (as one commenter, in an attempted “gotcha” moment on another of my posts, noted some weeks ago). Please note, however, that I also worked for the Albuquerque Journal for three decades, two of those decades as a staff member. I have warm feelings and favorable biases for both publications. (All of this background is disclosed in the About Us section of ABQJournalWatch.com),
Before Wednesday’s announcement, I wanted to encourage readers to check out NMI because its coverage has offered not only different information, but a whole different feel than the Journal, especially during the recent campaign. In many ways, it provided the balance that has been missing since the closure of the Albuquerque Tribune.
I already pointed out one example of how NMI and the Journal differed in their election coverage. Reporting on the gubernatorial debate hosted by KOB-TV, Trip Jennings’ story, “Denish, Martinez Tangle Over Predatory Lending,” gave readers a clearer view of the candidates’ backgrounds on payday lending while the Journal’s “Governor Candidates Short on Specifics”, gave readers no standout issues or differences.
There’s a whole different feel, too simply by virtue of the way NMI is laid out, with its virtual front page showing at once a week or more’s views of its top stories. Viewed one on top of the other, a reader comes away with more of a sense of weight in NMI’s selection of stories, including topics that often would end up well-hidden inside the Journal. By way of example, here are a few NMI headlines just from October: Pearce ranks #2 in nation for money from oil and gas, VIDEO: Steve Pearce questions Obama’s citizenship, Chamber of Commerce spends $500K against Teague, Heinrich, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce foreign funds mixed with political ad money (the Journal “covered” this last one inside with a second-day wire story saying this wasn’t true).
Some might say this demonstrates an inherent bias, to which words from the aforementioned Atlantic story on NPR could also apply to NMI:
. . .while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. . . .
The New Mexico Independent worked against bias, and tried to cover issues largely ignored by Albuquerque’s only other daily news organization, the Journal. I mourn NMI’s loss as I did that of the Albuquerque Tribune, and offer ABQJournalWatch.com readers a modified recommendation as we head into a difficult legislative season:
Temper your reading of the Journal with daily doses of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
To my former colleagues at NMI, may you find rewarding outlets for your talent and ambitions.