Alison Gerber: Reporter is Washington bound

At a time when many newspapers are scaling back coverage and closing bureaus, the Times Free Press is doing something to buck the trend. We're sending a reporter to Washington, D.C. and reopening the bureau we closed there in 2008.

Reporter Chris Carroll, who covers politics for the newspaper, moves to Washington this week. And, while D.C. reporters are notorious for practicing "pack journalism," where everyone follows the herd to the biggest story of the day, Carroll won't be following anyone. That's not his nature nor his assignment.

He'll be there to cover Washington through the lens of what readers in Tennessee and Georgia care about and report on the states' congressional delegations. And this is a good moment in time to do that.

After all, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee frequently finds himself on the national stage. His new position as ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will no doubt amplify his voice in Washington, especially as violence escalates in places such as Mali and Algeria, expanding the number of countries that the U.S. must keep an eye on.

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee also received national attention recently, although for entirely different reasons than Corker. The Jasper physician and Republican who claimed to be pro-life was re-elected in November despite revelations he had sexual relationships with two female patients and urged one to seek an abortion in 2000. After his re-election, court testimony came out that showed he supported his ex-wife's abortions and had affairs with even more patients and several colleagues while chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center.

The information has caused some Republicans to back away from DesJarlais, including some campaign donors, so DesJarlais' recovery from that situation - if he does recover - will be a fascinating political story.

DesJarlais, Tennessee's Chuck Fleischmann and Georgia's Tom Graves have all started second terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and Carroll will report on how they fare after getting past their freshman terms and its steep learning curve.

And there's ongoing coverage of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, three Republicans who make decisions that affect our region.

Carroll is a go-getter of a reporter, someone who isn't afraid to ask hard questions but still manages to be even-handed. And he lives and breathes politics. Seriously, he can be found many nights after work at the Times Free Press gym, reading political stories in the New York Times while sweating it out on the elliptical trainer.

Carroll is a Chattanooga native who graduated from Red Bank High School and East Tennessee State University before arriving at the Times Free Press as an intern. When his internship ended, we hired him to cover crime news and write general assignment stories (he pretty much served as the newsroom Swiss Army knife) and later handed him the political beat. He and Andy Sher, another dogged reporter who covers the Tennessee Legislature and is based in Nashville, make a fine political reporting team. I'd put them up against anyone.

"My goal is to cover policy the same way I covered campaigns: skeptically, tenaciously and fairly," Carroll said. "I plan to land powerful scoops, investigate our lawmakers, explain the day-to-day political maneuvering and bring compelling feature stories to Times Free Press readers."

Carroll's career choice was probably no surprise. His father is David Carroll, a reporter at WRCB-TV 3. His mother, Cindy Carroll, is a former radio news reporter who now frequently takes calls from local reporters in her job at the communications department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

In Washington, Carroll will be closer to his sources, closer to the action and closer to the politicians he reports on, the same ones our readers elected.

Tennesseans and Georgians placed a great deal of trust in these men when they were elected, and they're expected to work on their constituents' behalf. We feel it's our responsibility to report on how well they do that job.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfree Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree

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