NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No news is not good news to hundreds of political figures who have quit receiving a popular daily roundup of state media reports e-mailed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Nearly nine out of 10 lawmakers, lobbyists and party officials who have relied on the daybreak email to keep atop of Tennessee political news and commentary were cut this week. The whittled down distribution list is now made up of 150 administration officials, legislative leaders and members of the news media.
“By culling it down, it makes it much more manageable,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said. “And we’ll use it to inform the governor’s staff, the administration and legislators.”
The summary, titled Daily News Clips, often runs 10 or more pages. It is compiled by an administration staffer who sifts through Tennessee political and government news online, condenses it and provides a Web link to the full story or opinion piece. Work on it begins hours in advance of the email that usually goes out well before 7 a.m. Central.
The change left lobbyists and lawmakers who didn’t make the cut scrambling to find remaining recipients willing to forward copies.
“It came without any warning or explanation,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The Associated Press is a charter member of the coalition.
“They ought to just post it on their website every morning — it’s something the government is creating at taxpayer expense,” he said.
There are no cost savings in reducing the number of recipients of the news summary, Smith said.
The decision was the talk of Capitol Hill during a slow holiday week, but few were willing to talk on the record, saying they didn’t want to upset Haslam or his staff. AP made a public records request Wednesday for the names on the old and new lists, but the results are not expected to be available until next week.
Smith said the administration has no concerns about the clippings being forwarded to people cut from the list.
“Obviously the people we send it to are free to send it on to who they want to,” he said. “It’s still out there, it’s still easily attainable.”
The larger distribution list was mostly inherited from Haslam’s Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen, whose administration sent the news summary to most anyone who asked for it.
Since the governor’s office controls the summary, it can stress stories that might not have received as much attention from the independent media — or de-emphasize critical ones. The first story in the July 7 edition was about a Haslam appearance at a commemoration of library services for the blind. Stories about the governor’s call for an Internet sales tax and a plan to ask for relief from No Child Left Behind requirements were farther down the list.
News clips have always been highly valued in politics, and several administrations have assembled and distributed news summaries. Before email, staffers in field offices faxed physical copies of newspaper stories to the Capitol, where they were assembled and distributed, often days after the news events had taken place.
Bredesen staffers caused an uproar among lawmakers and lobbyists after he took office in 2003 for transitioning the summaries from photocopies to e-mail.
Smith called the news summary a valuable tool but said the administration will keep building on “a number of other avenues” with social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to promote the governor’s agenda.