COURIER EDITORIAL: CONNECTING THE MEDIA, LAWMAKER DOTS
South Dakota News Media Day at the Capitol in Pierre serves as a solid reminder of the importance of access to — and relationships with — our elected officials.
For many years — decades, in fact — a day has been set aside during the general session of the South Dakota Legislature for South Dakota newspaper publishers, editors and reporters to meet with lawmakers in a candid and informal setting to talk about the issues of the day.
Spearheaded by what was once known as the South Dakota Press Association and then the South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) — today the South Dakota NewsMedia Association — invitations are extended to district representatives in both the South Dakota House and Senate to meet with journalists in a friendly, non-threatening setting in Pierre, typically over a lunch provided by SDNA.
Newspaper Day, as it has long been known, allows members of the news media to get an up-close and personal take on what may be of particular interest during session, speak to the legislators about issues in our industry that may be of concern, and hear how the men and women elected to represent us feel about Issue A, B or C … whatever that may be.
This unique event also includes an invitation for legislative leadership and others who hold a high office in Pierre to engage with the journalists through a press conference typically moderated by somebody in the news industry.
The Courier has long had a presence at these engaging meetings that happen early every year and has always felt supported by those representing our district — District 19.
And so it was that another Newspaper Day — new News Media Day — played out in our state’s Capitol last Thursday, Feb. 1. Courier Publisher Jeremy Waltner and former publisher Tim L. Waltner both attended.
The event included two separate press conferences with Republican and Democratic leadership at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, and a lunch inside the Capitol rotunda — provided and served by those associated with SDNA — with lawmakers from across the state.
More than 250 took part in the lunch, including Attorney General Marty Jackley, who also spoke with the SDNA board and other members of the association during a private dinner at a Pierre restaurant the night before.
True to form, it was a great opportunity for members of the news media to interact with legislators and represent our industry in an engaging way — one that was free from the political banter that often gets in the way of healthy discussions.
A couple takeaways:
1. The folks we talked to in Pierre — including District 19 Senator Kyle Schoenfish and District 19 Representative Drew Peterson — genuinely want to be there working on behalf of the people who elected them. (We didn’t get a chance to speak with District 19 Representative Jessica Bahmuller, but she has indicated in the past that it is an honor to serve the state in this way.
2. The Capitol is the people’s Capitol, open to anybody who wants to visit. This was evident by the numerous different groups that were inside the building at the same time as SDNA membership.
3. The Senate and the House are represented through solid leadership in both parties, who appear to be reasonable in their approach, genuine, well-spoken and willing to answer questions.
The one disappointment was that Gov. Kristi Noem did not accept SDNA’s invitation for a press conference, although her office did say the governor would make herself available for a group photo with the news media on the Capitol steps next to the rotunda — an offer that SDNA declined Community journalists are looking for substance and face-to-face dialogue with South Dakota’s highest elected official, not a photo op.
Generally, though, this year’s News Media Day was another remarkable example of honest and open dialogue between South Dakota legislators and working community journalists — a reminder that those in Pierre are working for all of us and should be communicated with accordingly.
And they want to hear from you.
Email is typically the best way to get in touch, and the District 19 lawmakers can be contacted at the following addresses:
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher