An accessible Legislature sets Nevada apart. Let’s keep it that way.
Michelle’s first session covering the Legislature was 2011, and Riley’s was 2015. While we’ve made many wonderful memories in a journalistic tenure so long that we’re approaching term limits, it has also given us a front-row seat into some slow but concerning changes to journalists’ access at the statehouse.
While we heartily applaud the online access provided by NELIS and YouTube live streams, and cheer the greater use of telephone testimony to amplify the voices of those who can’t make a long trek to Carson City, Indy journalists who are in the building each day describe to us an experience of diminishing press access to newsmakers that differs from our own.
In the past, reporters could walk on to the Assembly floor before and after floor sessions, catching lawmakers for quick conversations about why they took a specific floor vote or what the status of a bill was. Now, as lawmakers talk amongst themselves during the dead time before a floor session, members of the press are left to sit at a distance and hope to catch everyone they want to talk to when lawmakers rush away all at once for other business.
In past sessions, we could walk up to the dais in a committee hearing, catching lawmakers after committees adjourned for interviews and important conversations. Now, approaching the dais will get you a stern rebuke, as lawmakers slip out the exits.
In past sessions, we could freely speak with lawmakers in the hallways and have impromptu interviews. Now, it's becoming more common for lawmakers to tell reporters that they can’t speak to them and that they have to get permission from a spokesperson.
Lawmakers are individually elected, and answer to the Nevada public, not the caucus apparatus itself. Although caucus spokespeople can be an excellent resource to help reporters set up a formal interview and to help craft broad messaging and strategy for the caucus, they should not be used as a shield to hide behind or a bottleneck to slow and prevent reporters — and thereby, the public — from getting the answers they deserve from the public servants whom they elected.
What are we losing when reporters are stymied from open and spontaneous dialogue with their elected officials and instead told to schedule a formal appointment with a lawmaker days or weeks out? Real-time comments and explanations before the story or tweet goes out — deadlines are often minutes, not days or weeks, away, and everyone misses the boat with such delays. A timely understanding of how the legislative process is moving. The other side of the story. A free and productive and cordial relationship with elected officials instead of one that is unnecessarily hostile.
We encourage caucuses to rethink protocols that are preventing the free flow of information that can lend invaluable insight into policy development. Empower and encourage people to explain themselves to the people they serve — it’s OK if it isn’t flawless. Instead of saying “no” or “talk to someone else,” how about “can we talk on background as I gather my thoughts” and “how about this as my on-the-record statement”?
Nevada prides itself on being a small state where lawmakers are approachable and accessible. Let’s all commit to keeping it that way.