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Media getting squeezed at Legislative Building

January 10th, 2019

— For 56 years, ever since the Legislative Building opened, media organizations have had workspace across the hall from where news conferences are held and downstairs from the House and Senate chambers.

But that’s about to change, and legislative leaders don’t want to talk about why.

Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble has decided to move the press to a smaller space in the basement in the farthest corner of the building.

“[It’s] as distant from the action as you could possibly be, which will make it harder for reporters to keep tabs on what’s going on in the building,” said Colin Campbell, editor of NC Insider, a state government news service. “We’ll be farther from the floor when there’s a meeting called with very little notice, and there’ll be a reduction in space, which will mean fewer reporters have dedicated space.”

The new space for reporters is 25 percent smaller than their current office, which already is often overflowing with journalists – not to mention the politicos and members of the public who drop in constantly to meet and talk to reporters from across the state. The new press room will be far from the public’s eye, across a darkened parking garage and down a featureless hallway.

“I think, in the nature of doing good journalism, it’s important for us to be visible and also important for us to be near the action,” said Jeff Tiberii, a reporter for WUNC radio and the current president of the Capitol Press Corps.

Press room at the Legislative Building

Relations between politicians and the press are often strained, regardless of party. But the open hostility toward the press in Washington, D.C., recently has echoed in Raleigh, with some Republicans denouncing what they call “fake news.”

Coble, a former Raleigh city councilman and mayor and Wake County commissioner who’s been critical of the media in the past, refused repeated requests for an interview. He has said in the past that the media room is needed for meeting space, even though a committee meeting room next door to the press room is rarely used.

“I think there’s obviously a lot of committee rooms and conference rooms in this complex that don’t get a lot of use,” Campbell said.

Asked about the move Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said it’s up to Coble.

“Those decisions are delegated to him, and I’m confident that he’s listening to all sides and trying to do the best he can to make things work,” said Berger, R-Rockingham.

When Berger was informed that Coble has refused to speak with anyone in the media about the reason for the move, he responded, “Yeah, I don’t know about that.”

WRAL News asked him about the optics of such a move. “Sticking the press corps into a smaller space down in the back of the building and making it harder for us to do our jobs – that’s really what this amounts to, at least from our perspective – what are your thoughts on that?”

“If you describe it that way, yeah, but that’s not the way it’s been described to me,” Berger said, explaining that he was told the move was needed to allow technological upgrades for the press room.

Tiberii said that’s not the case. No upgrades are planned in either space.

“Mr. Paul Coble operates at the direction of what we refer to around here as ‘the corner offices’ – the leadership offices, Sen. Berger, Speaker Moore,” Tiberii said.

House Speaker Tim Moore said he wasn’t even aware of the move until preparations were underway.

“There are some space constraints. We have some members who are in very, very tiny offices,” said Moore, R-Cleveland, who promised to continue discussing the issue.

Tiberii said he hopes Coble’s decision will be reversed.

“Our place is on the ground floor, right in the center, right at really the heart of what’s happening with the people’s government, the people’s house,” he said.

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