A good day for Trenton, a bad day

for New Jersey

The Star-Ledger and The Bergen Record announced today that they are combining their statehouse bureaus, calling the new team of reporters "the largest in the nation."

Between the two of them and Gannett, only thirteen reporters in total will be covering the statehouse for the three largest newsgathering organizations in the state.

"Sharing coverage while maintaining two distinct news operations is a common-sense response to the changing media landscape," said Record editor Frank Scandale. "It will strengthen the content of both papers."

It's "better" in the sense that reduced coverage is better than no coverage, but make no mistake: that's a load of baloney.

Of course, it's happening all across the country.

Only a handful of states have budgets bigger than Los Angeles County's. NASA spends 25% less in a year. The county's welfare and foster care departments serve the neediest, whose ranks will only grow as the economy staggers.

And the county's purse strings are controlled by just five politicians, the Board of Supervisors, whose powerful incumbency means they almost never face serious reelection challenges.

But now just four reporters tend this turf anywhere close to full time: two for The Times, one for eight dailies controlled by newspaper baron William Dean Singleton, and one for City News Service, although that young reporter frequently gets pulled off for other duty.

In short: the LA County budget is $23 billion (as compared to $33 billion for the entire state of New Jersey), there are few checks and balances, and four people report on it!

"We have no idea what we are missing, because there simply aren't enough reporters there -- experienced, aggressive reporters," said Bill Boyarsky, a former Times city editor who writes for Truthdig.com. "It's a huge civic loss. And it's happening all over the country."

And don't think opportunists haven't sensed an opening.

Boyarsky recalled a lunch with a prominent lobbyist. "He told me he does a lot of his work in the smaller cities, especially down in the southeast [county]," Boyarsky said. "He likes it, because there is no oversight there."

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