‘Governor’s Daily News Summary’ scrapped

In a “modernization” move, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has abruptly ended an emailed “governor’s daily news summary” – first launched in a hard-copy version decades ago — and abolished the job of the staffer who compiled and distributed it.

“We are modernizing the way we keep the governor up to date on current news,” said Alexia Poe, Haslam’s communications director in an email response to an inquiry on the move.

The last summary was sent on Friday morning. Those receiving it – state legislators, administration officials and news media — were advised via email that the service was being terminated on Friday afternoon.

“In the year 2015, with a 24-hour news cycle, paywall variations and limitations and various free news gathering services, the daily news summary has outlived its usefulness for its purpose – to inform the governor. In this day and age we can and should be doing this more efficiently,” Poe wrote.

The summary was a short description of state government and political news reported in newspapers, television stations and radio stations around the state, coupled with a link to the full story in each case – emailed seven days a week, excluding holidays, usually by 6 a.m. Eastern time.

The general email sent to recipients of the summaries said the service “has outlived its usefulness for its purpose – to inform the governor.”

For keeping abreast of state news, Haslam will now instead rely on RSS feeds through Feedly.com and his communications office has made available to those receiving the summary the same listings received by the governor – basically those of newspapers and television stations statewide. Poe said in a telephone interview that Haslam personally subscribes – either online, for delivered copies or both – to some newspapers and other news services.

The first summaries were produced in Gov. Lamar Alexander’s administration, when full newspaper articles were copied, stapled together – often in half-inch thick volumes – and distributed to government officials. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration converted to the digital format in 2003 and basically made the summary available to anyone who asked for it.

Haslam stirred a minor controversy in 2011 by cutting the official distribution list from about 1,100 people to about 150, as reported by the Associated Press at the time obtaining copies of the list. A culled recipient told the AP that the summary was “easy way to keep up with what’s going on around the state” and some questioned whether the distribution list cut was politically motivated – a charge Haslam spokespersons denied. The smaller list was “more manageable,” a spokesman said at the time.

Since the 2011 reduction, however, many individual legislators – and the Senate Democratic Caucus as a body — have taken copies of the summary and re-distributed them to their own email list. At least one online news service, TNReport.com, has posted the summary daily on its own website.

The summary was prepared and distributed by Michael Hickerson, whose job position in the Department of Finance and Administration has been eliminated, Poe said, providing the primary cost savings through the move.

She said he will be eligible for a buyout offer being offered this summer to some state employees. A state website shows Hickerson’s annual salary as $36,504.

The buyout, to be finalized in July, provides eligible employees with four months salary plus $500 for each year served as a state employee and six months of state-subsidized health insurance.