Senate Press Room

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After decades with an office in the state Senate building, the Capitol Press Corps is being forced to move out of the Senate. Reporters talk about move, how it will change the way they cover the legislature, and what they’ll remember about reporting on state government from the Senate Press Room.

Ted Simons:
For more than three decades now, state capitol journalists did their reports from the senate press room. But not much longer. That room will soon close and reporters will be moving into new offices just off the legislative campus. That has some reporters worried. Producer Mike Sauceda and videographer Scott Olson attended a "wake" for the senate press room.

Reporter 1:
I threw a chair at López's desk.

Mike Sauceda:
This is the senate press room at the state capitol in Phoenix. Since the mid 1970s, the reporters have been plying their trade just down the hall from hearing rooms and a flight of stairs way from the senate floor. Political stickers are standard in the senate press room.

Howard Fischer:
The editors recognize that everyone who works out here can be trusted to be a self-starter. People in newsrooms, editors need to say, do this and do that. Everyone here is a self-starter. Knows what needs to be covered and knows what to do and given us that freedom and we've probably taken advantage of it in terms of our inability to keep a neat desk.

Mike Sauceda:
It's the room that Don Bowles took that led to his death by car bomb. It won't be home to reporters anymore. The reporters who work in the press room gathered in the room for a wake. Because the reporters are being moved out to make space for lawmakers. Howard Fischer is the dean of the press corps at the capitol.

Howard Fischer:
The official reason is they want this room for a caucus room. And there is a need for a larger caucus room. However, there is other space. Here in the senate, is a room behind one of the senate hearing rooms that has used furniture. Four or five reporters could sit in there. There is space in the old capitol that has access to TV cables. Nobody wants to talk to us about it. I think that Bob Burns wants us out from underfoot. I think that he's just as happy not having us here as much as we are.

Mike Sauceda:
Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Giblin sees a different motive as well.

Paul Giblin:
At the beginning, they were talking about this is going to be the most transparent session and we need you guys to be on the story closely and then what they've done is had all of these secrets meetings and they're kicking the media out. The complete opposite of what they said. They'd like to do things behind closed doors and then show up at a hearing like they might tonight still and vote on the thing without much discussion.

Mike Sauceda:
Senator President Bob Burns says moving the reporters won't hinder their coverage of the legislature. We're talking about professionals who won't let the distance of a few yards get in their way of the people running the state. Reporters will be getting new digs. They'll be moving in with the "The Arizona Guardian" reporters at the Arizona league of cities and towns building about a five-minute walk away from the senate and house building. Although that doesn't seem like such a far walk, reporters worry taking them out of the press room will make a difference.

Howard Fischer:
There are two issues there. One is the issue of proximity. I believe in the law of physics that the simple act of observing something changes that action. Us being here watching what lobbyists are going into what office and seeing who is dealing with whom changes the process. The other issue comes down quite frankly to this TV set sitting in front of me. All the senate and house hearings are broadcast. What that means is that when you have the house commerce committee debating on changes on unemployment insurance and the senate finance committee debating change, we can watch both and multitask and that's important given that most media outlets have fewer people now. This cable is close circuited.

Mike Sauceda:
Giblin has been in the new location for several months now.

Paul Giblin:
We were -- we're going to keep covering the news despite the hurdles presented to us. I firmly believe that the reason we're being kicked out is not to open the room for a caucus. That's ridiculous. They can do it on the floor which is wired for sound and broadcast it live on TV. They just want to move the media out. But we're committed to covering the news and I think some are surprised to see us come back.

Mike Sauceda:
Radio reporters like Barbara Villa of Skyview Radio -- to talk to people in person.

Barbara Villa:
Obviously, it's going to be a big inconvenience not being here, but we'll have to adjust and I've thought about what were things like before we had these closed circuit channels. I can record off the proceedings here. I don't have to be present in the room. That's going to change a lot. It depends on whether or not I'm going to be interested in taking it off the internet or being here physically. I think being here physically is going to be more of an option.

Mike Sauceda:
She said the irony; the move might put reporters more in lawmakers' faces.

Paul Giblin:
When it's a long night, we'll bring the laptops in and work -- maybe work -- what they had hoped. Now we're working right in the hearing room. I'm not sure they thought that would be the anticipated consequence. We're writing in the hearing rooms, sometimes in the seats.

Ted Simons:
Coming up on "Horizon" -- A conversation with Arizona Congressman Trent Franks. Plus, we'll take a look at a plan to generate state revenue by allowing casino games at dog and horse tracks. That's tomorrow at 7:00 on "Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much forever joining us. You have a great evening.

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