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Capitol press corps relegated to basement

N.C. Legislative Building

The North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

You may not know much about working conditions for reporters who cover the state legislature in Raleigh.

But maybe you should.

They’ve been consigned to a room in a basement.

Or exiled or banished, depending on how you look at it, from their previous workroom directly adjacent to the legislative chambers to one that is barely within commuting distance.

OK, it’s not quite that far-off, but new work space is in the farthest corner of the building from where the state House and Senate conduct their business. And it’s 25 percent smaller.

That means it’s harder for reporters to do their jobs, in a cramped room in the nether regions of state government that accommodates fewer of them.

It’s almost like asking a sports reporter to cover a Duke-Carolina game … from a tent in Krzyzewskiville.

Small wonder the reporters are starting to channel their inner Bob Ueckers — they’re in the cheap seats now.

“It’s as distant from the action as you can possibly be,” Colin Campbell, editor of the NC Insider, a niche news service that covers the legislature, told WRAL.

What’s up with all this? The Raleigh press corps has attempted to ask, but the man behind the change, Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, isn’t saying much, declining repeated requests for an interview about the change.

WRAL’s Laura Leslie reported earlier this month that Coble has said he needs the room for additional meeting space, although other nearby meeting rooms are seldom used.

Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the legislature, Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County, says he’s knows nothing. Berger told Leslie that he has delegated the authority to Coble. “I am confident he is listening to all sides and trying to make things work,” Berger said in an interview earlier this month, appearing to barely suppress a smile.

House Speaker Tim Moore said he was equally clueless.

Here’s what we do know: Coble, a nephew of Jesse Helms, is a Republican like Berger and Moore. He is also a former Wake County commissioner who has criticized the media in the past.

Before he shifted their workspace, some members of the media had complained that he was responding sluggishly, if not indifferently, to requests for public records.

To be clear, relations between the media and lawmakers in Raleigh are not nearly as strained as what we’ve seen in Washington in recent months — at least not so far.

But this isn’t good.

As for Berger’s “I know nothing” Sgt. Schultz defense, it rings hollow.

When pressed by Leslie, who asked him whether everything seems to point to animus toward the press, he replied: “If you describe it that way, yeah, but that’s not how it’s been described to me.”

For now, Coble seems to be following the Realtors’ mantra of “location, location, location.”

The farther he can separate lawmakers from reporters — and by extension, the voting public — the better.

The shift of press facilities to an obscure corner seems petty and vindictive.

It’s not only an affront to the people who attempt to cover the General Assembly for the state’s print and broadcast media, it’s an affront to the public, on whose behalf they do their jobs.

Berger and Moore should put an immediate end to this foolishness.

The News & Record of Greensboro

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