Tennessee Gov. Haslam urges newspapers to maintain traditional watchdog roles in elections

Gov. Bill Haslam gives his annual State of the State address to a joint convention of the Tennessee General Assembly Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam told Tennessee newspaper publishers and editors Thursday he hopes they maintain their news coverage in a "really important political year," noting that while he realizes the industry faces economic and resource pressures, he continues to believe "not just a free press but an active and engaged press matters."

"This is a real governor's race," the Republican told Tennessee Press Association members, who were holding their annual winter meeting in the state capital. "We have a Senate race which will be incredibly important not just to the state but the country, right?"

The battle to succeed Haslam, who is term-limited, is already well underway in the state, as is the race to succeed a retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

"You're going to see unheard of outside money pouring into the state," predicted Haslam, who added there are at least two open Congressional seats in Tennessee as well.

"My fear is that in all the races ... and realizing there are a lot fewer assets in your world to work with - there just is, I get it - all of it won't be covered in the detail that they traditionally have."

The governor said that "as a candidate, you don't always like" the news coverage, but he believes it ultimately makes "the process of running so much better. And the media is really an incredible part of the process."

Haslam, who noted he reads five print newspapers daily, also voiced concerns about what he hears from people he talks to, particularly those under age 35, about where they're getting their news.

"The answers are really discouraging to me," he said, noting that it often comes from questionable online sources, many without editors maintaining traditional news standards.

"It's really important this year, because there's a different environment," Haslam said.

The governor said he's not sure at this point what he will do when he leaves office. He decided last year he would not seek the seat held by Corker after the Chattanoogan announced he would not seek reelection.

"I just decided I couldn't get excited, particularly in this environment," he said.

And now? "I really don't know," he said, adding he will certainly spend more time with his grandchildren.

But he said he does have interest in "something that helps people engage with state and local news" on a more regular basis and seeking an "some way" to "have a national conversation."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.