Virginia Public Radio reporter Anne Marie Morgan with U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor.
For public radio stations across the state, it's feast and famine. The governor has proposed that public broadcasting no longer receive state funds, which would save Virginia $4 million over the next two years. Obviously, that's bad news for the stations, even though state money represents just a fraction of their budgets.
But near the same time as the governor's December proposal, the Virginia Education Association came through with a grant of $200,000 for the Virginia Public Radio network, allowing it to expand state news coverage to all corners of the commonwealth and start a new website, virginiapublicradio.org.
VPR existed before this year, but its profile was lower — and shrinking in recent years because some stations, including WCVE, decided to shift money from paying the network's fees to other needs. With the VEA grant, those fees will be eliminated for the next two years. This money pays the salaries of Anne Marie Morgan and Tommie McNeil, full-time Virginia State Capitol correspondents for the Virginia Tech Foundation, which funds WVTF, the flagship public radio station in Roanoke.
Virginia Public Radio also produces Assembly Conversations , a weekly call-in show featuring political guests (including Gov. Bob McDonnell) and discussions of state issues, and General Assembly news updates by Morgan and McNeil aired daily.
VPR affiliates include RADIO IQ (Richmond frequency: 92.5 FM), WHRV in Hampton Roads, WAMU in Washington, WMRA in Harrisonburg and WVTF. You'll notice that WCVE is not on that list; it was invited to rejoin the network this year but declined, according to WVTF general manager Glenn Gleixner.
Morgan, who has covered the Capitol for 25 years on both TV and radio, calls WCVE leaders "real visionaries" for their long-running state political coverage. "They just decided to have a different focus," she adds.
A request for comment made to Bill Miller, general manager for the WCVE radio station and host of Capitol Events on the TV station, was answered by communications manager Lynne McCarthy, who says, "WCVE Public Radio wanted to devote our resources to build up our own independent reporting capabilities and to have our own Capitol reporter."
Capitol coverage has decreased in recent decades because of staffing scalebacks at nearly every media outlet, as well as changing editorial priorities.
"We are the only radio outlet that's here full time, year round," Morgan notes. "If it weren't for public radio, people wouldn't know what was going on." She adds that newspapers — particularly the Times-Dispatch, which she reads regularly — do a fine job of state coverage, but there's something special about hearing the legislators speak for themselves.
Morgan has reported on the proposed funding cuts to public broadcasting, a topic she originally shied away from but later recognized as a critical issue. She says that she reports both sides without editorializing; likewise, Gleixner says there's an editorial "firewall" between the VEA and the journalists.
A political-science lecturer at the University of Richmond, Morgan notes that support of the political press started with the country's founders.
"It's the first draft of history," she says. "I think it's critically important."�