Time for a firewall

Published 8:57 am Friday, March 13, 2009

Ever wonder what happens when lawmakers get together in Richmond to hash out important details of our lives, such as how to spend taxpayer dollars, what programs to cut to balance the budget and what road or bridge should be named for whom?

Several Virginia Commonwealth University students covered news coming out of the General Assembly during the recent six-week session as part of the school’s Capital News Service. Students from the VCU School of Mass Communications have been providing state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers, including The Tidewater News, for two decades. It’s a service we rely upon, especially since a newspaper of this size can’t afford to send a reporter to follow our local legislators.

The students are serious; the writing is good and, under the leadership of Professor Jeff South, the stories arrive quickly and need very little editing.

But it’s a multimedia report on CNS’ Web site that really caught our attention this week.

Boldly, reporter Tracy Kennedy took her video camera into the House of Delegates to zoom in on what lawmakers are really doing in session.

Legislators each have a Dell laptop and wireless Internet access — and they’re apparently taking advantage.

Some were shopping — guns, living room furniture, Civil War memorabilia — and others were perusing news Web sites in search of headlines. Many were instant messaging and wasting time on Facebook.

Luckily (for them), none of our legislators were caught in the act.

Kudos to Kennedy for giving us a brief glimpse into a place where many of us can’t go. And shame on those lawmakers for not being more serious about the tough tasks put in front of them.

We may not be able to make it to Richmond to see laws being made, but you can bet someone is watching.

To see the video for yourself, log on to www.has.vcu.edu/mac/cns/