Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Are Journalists Better Off as Political Consultants?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Today's big news in Sacramento is that Kevin Riggs, one of the last TV reporters who understands California politics and government, is leaving his gig at KCRA, the NBC affiliate in the capital city, for a gig at Randle Communications, a public affairs and political consulting firm.

    This is a big loss for independent coverage of the Capitol. But it isn't a surprise. Dozens of journalists in Sacramento have moved into government or consulting in recent years.

    This isn't just about money, and the collapse of the business model that supported TV and newspaper journalism. One common complaint of those who leave traditional journalistic outlets is that the faster-paced, shallower California journalism of the 21st century isn't much fun. it may now be easier to do deeply researched, influential work inside the political-government complex than outside it. 

    Consultants now have the same direct access to the media that was once the exclusive province of journalists. They serve as TV commentators and write columns for publications. Some have their own web sites. Among the abler interpreters of California politics today are people like Jon Fleischman (who also is a Republican activist and official) and Steve Maviglio (a consultant to Democratic causes). Mike Murphy, perhaps the state's best-known consultant, does journalistic-style work for Time magazine and NBC. He's a more successful journalist than the real journalists.

    The typical journalistic response would be to talk about our higher ethics and non-partisanship. But today's journalists, wherever they work, are being pressured -- by their editors and by readers -- to offer more commentary, personality and attitude. That's true for all of us, whether we work in newspapers or TV or, like me, work for a non profit (a think tank known as the New America Foundation) that supports journalistic work.

    So what's the difference between us and the consultants? Some of the state's smartest journalists, Mr. Riggs among them, have concluded that the answer is: not much.