IN ORDER to thrive, a pure democracy requires an educated and informed citizenry. In a representative democracy, an educated and informed citizenry is even more important. That is why, in addition to the three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — this nation has depended upon a fourth branch — what we refer to as the fourth estate.
Without knowing who, what, when, where and how, and sometimes why, a citizen of this state and this nation cannot make informed decisions about who should be chosen to represent us when decisions essential to our future are made, what the decisions are, and who should be held accountable for those decisions.
When I was first elected in 1996, we found a crowded press room. Much has changed since then. In-depth coverage, where a reporter is able to write as long a story as necessary to explain complicated issues, is fast disappearing.
Current thinking is that if you can’t say it in 250 words or less, no one will read it.
It is true that there are many other means of communication than existed in 1996 — we have live feeds of our proceedings on the floor, and let’s not forget social media like Twitter, and 15 second sound bites, just the thing to explain a state budget, or health-care delivery systems, or the economy, or education, or the environment.
We have more than we can count of those whose job is to forward a specific narrow perspective. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people have any real idea of what we do in Concord, and why we do it?
Foster’s Daily Democrat, The Portsmouth Herald, The Valley News and The Keene Sentinel do not send reporters to Concord. WMUR and New Hampshire Public Radio provide coverage, but not NH Public Television.
The Nashua Telegraph has just announced that its State House bureau will be closed and that Kevin Landrigan will no longer be covering New Hampshire news. This follows by two months the departure of Norma Love, the skilled and experienced AP reporter in Concord. With these two departures we have lost 50 years of institutional memory.
The ties that legislators have to the public, and that New Hampshire citizens have to the State House, are disappearing.
How can a representative democracy work if the citizens have no accurate way of knowing who, what, when, where and how — and sometimes why?
Marjorie Smith is a state representative from Durham. She is welcome at the Union Leader State house bureau anytime.