Goodbye, Governing

A letter from the editor.
by | September 2019

I’ll never forget the call I got from Governing asking me to come work there. It was May of 2000, and I was a college sophomore in Tennessee. Classes were already over for the year, and my roommates and I had moved most of our stuff out of our apartment. The landline phone was sitting on the floor, its table carted off for the summer, when it rang. On the other end of the line was Anne Jordan—Governing’s punctilious managing editor at the time—confirming my invitation to join the editorial team in Washington, D.C., as a summer intern.

What I discovered when I got to D.C. was something that tens of thousands of smart public servants around the country already knew about: a smart, thoughtful publication that covered state and local public policy in a fresh and innovative way. It was simultaneously laser-focused and broadly comprehensive, drilling down on minute policy issues across 50 states and in innumerable cities and counties. It was strikingly balanced and nonpartisan. And it was interesting—Governing wrote about government in a way that was accessible, engaging, vibrant, even exciting.

A few years later, after college and a couple other jobs in journalism, I wound up back at Governing. I’ve been there ever since, first as a researcher, then as a reporter, and for the past nine years as a senior editor and executive editor. For almost my entire adult life, Governing has been my career, my home, my professional family.

Which is why it’s all the more saddening to know that this will be the final issue of Governing. After months of deliberation, our parent company, e.Republic, announced last month that the magazine and governing.com would be ceasing publication completely this fall. Governing is not immune from the same revenue pressures that have befallen other publications in recent years. Despite years of investment and attempts to right the ship, Governing has unfortunately proven unsustainable in the current media environment.

Governing was launched in October 1987 (next month would have marked our 33rd anniversary issue) by a small cadre of Washington journalists who’d grown tired of covering Congress and the federal government when the real policy action taking place was increasingly in states, cities and counties across the country. Led by inimitable founding publisher Peter Harkness, this team of reporters set out to cover state and local public policy in a way that had never been done before. John Martin, the magazine’s founding managing editor, brought a newspaperman’s ethic to the enterprise, and presciently launched governing.com way back in 1995. Elder Witt, who served as general manager and deputy publisher for the first 22 years of the magazine’s existence, worked to establish Governing as the preeminent magazine of record for states, cities and counties.

Within a couple years, Alan Ehrenhalt was brought on as executive editor, establishing the magazine’s voice and overseeing its editorial perspective for nearly 20 years. (Since 2013, Alan has served as a senior editor of the magazine.)

Just one week after I started full-time in 2004, Governing hired Elizabeth Daigneau. (Like me and like so many other staffers over the years, Elizabeth had also initially been introduced to the magazine as a college intern.) As a web producer and, later, as the editor of governing.com, Elizabeth helped evolve the website from a static repository of our monthly print stories into a dynamic and robust platform of daily online news, analysis and opinion. Since 2012, she’s been the managing editor overseeing our print and online editorial functions. I like to say that Elizabeth keeps the trains running on time, but the truth is that she doesn’t just keep them on schedule, she also builds and conducts the trains herself. 

Elizabeth and Alan and our entire editorial team have built on Governing’s history of telling the stories that matter most to the nation’s state and local leaders. I’m gutted when I think about the ending of Governing and the breakup of our staff.

But beyond that, what truly saddens me is the thought of all the important stories we won’t be able to tell. An in-depth look at California’s new data privacy law. A profile of how ICE raids decimated an Iowa town a decade ago, and what that means for other towns with high numbers of undocumented immigrant workers today. A story on the conservative approach to prison reform that’s showing results in Texas, Florida and elsewhere. These are just a handful of the stories we’d planned for the next few issues of the magazine, and they’re emblematic of all the vital public-sector stories we will no longer be around to write.

I am heartened, though, by the knowledge that the amazing work of America’s 7.4 million state and local public employees will go on. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 15 years with Governing, it’s that the vast majority of the men and women in state and local government are smart, dedicated, passionate and creative. The people that we’ve profiled in these pages—and in our Public Officials of the Year awards, which have recognized outstanding state and local public servants every year since 1994—are problem-solvers of the highest order, toiling constantly to make government more efficient and more accountable to the people it serves.

The good work of these great individuals will go on. I’m forever grateful to you, our audience of public servants, for letting us be a part of your lives and the lives of your communities. Your work matters deeply, and Governing is honored to have played a small part in telling your story. 

Sincerely,

Zach Patton

Executive Editor

Zach Patton | Executive Editor | zpatton@governing.com