In the history of scandals, Randall “Duke” Cunningham has got to be one of the best. In 2005, the California congressman was found guilty of taking more than $2 million in bribes in a conspiracy allegedly involving defense contractors and prostitutes. The story was broken by reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune, though none of those reporters are still with the paper, according to the American Journalism Review.
In fact, reporters who cover the federal government from a local angle–as the ink-stained Pulitzer Prize-winners from the San Diego Union-Tribune were–have largely disappeared from the American media landscape. Newspapers across the country are cutting corners and shrinking budgets, and the Washington correspondents for local papers are a major casualty.
“Nobody else would’ve gotten Duke Cunningham” says George Condon, the former Washington bureau chief of the Copley News Service, the company that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune. “USA Today, AP, New York Times, none of them would devote resources to a backbench, local San Diego congressman in that kind of detail.”
Many newspapers are trying to cover the federal government remotely, relying more on wire service reports and national news reports. This creates huge gaps in coverage, as the national issues affecting local areas simply aren’t written about. Bill Walsh, a former Washington correspondent for New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, says that less information on the national government will lead already cynical Americans to disengage from the civic process. “That hurts democracy,” says Walsh. “And if there are fewer people to report what is really going on, it adds to the cynicism.”