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DEAR READER: Sorry, this letter is closed due to the federal shutdown

Friday, October 4, 2013 | 1:40 p.m. CDT; updated 12:37 p.m. CST, Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Reader,

It’s been more than 20 years since the last big plan for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways was pronounced. The National Park Service said it would release a draft of a new road map for managing the Jacks Fork and Current River this month.

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Missourian reporter Jack Suntrup wanted to visit park officials this week to learn about the new directions for some of the most popular floating streams in the state.

Instead, he reported on empty rivers and closed canoe companies.

He interviewed canoe outfitters and hotel owners and a chamber of commerce president. He couldn’t talk to park service types: “Because nearly all of Ozark National Scenic Riverways' staff is currently furloughed,” his article said, “calls to their Van Buren office went unanswered Wednesday.”

Reporter Meghan Boggess is working on an article about voice over Internet Protocol phone service, commonly known as VOIP. It’s an increasingly popular alternative — but not necessarily in rural areas, where broadband Internet service is scarcer.

She went to the FCC website to research the issue. The site, like most federal agency websites, was down.

Tuesday night, editor Liz Scheltens wrote on social media: “How am I supposed to create information graphics for the Columbia Missourian when Census.gov is down?! #GrrrShutdown.”

It’s an inconvenience, this government shutdown, for journalists reporting on anything from agriculture to economics. A frustration.

Still, those shuttered offices and websites have shown some of the many ways we’re affected by our federal government. Tell me the shutdown doesn’t touch you, and I’ll suggest you aren’t looking hard enough.

More than 100 nutrition educators with MU Extension weren’t teaching as of Friday morning, and their last paycheck is just two weeks away. Missouri National Guardsmen weren’t drilling this weekend, and they weren’t getting paid. It’s all money that won’t be circulating in cash registers around town.

The food program for poor mothers and their children in Boone County runs out of money in four weeks. Funds for veterans attending college are day to day, depending on the branch of service. (I was astounded by the number served by Columbia College: between 7,500 and 7,750 people.)

For journalists, the website shutdowns feel like a poke in the eye. Most sites don’t require constant care and feeding. A note simply saying that items aren’t being updated would suffice. Instead, the home page of the US Department of Agriculture says: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.”

Hartford Courant reporter Matt Kauffman noted in an article on Poynter.org that he was “pretty sure the websites still operate, say, nights, weekend and holidays when the staff’s away. This is the equivalent of not merely locking the Smithsonian museums, but going the extra step to paper the windows so no one can peer inside while they’re closed.”

So be it. A reporter faces unreturned phone calls on good days. The federal government’s dimming of the lights will hardly shut down the free press as we know it. Unfortunately for all the people affected, there are stories still to be found as long as the insanity in the halls of the House of Representatives continues.


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Comments

Ellis Smith October 4, 2013 | 6:59 p.m.

Tom:

It's been about fifteen years since the previous federal government shutdown. Maybe these events should happen more frequently, although none should be allowed to last long.

The situation is a clear reminder of just how in thrall Americans now are to a central government that is bloated, inefficient and increasingly more ineffective.

As Ronald Reagan (then not yet President) put it in 1972: "When the government decides to solve something, we have learned to be wary. Their cure may not be worse than the disease, but it is usually bigger and it costs more."

It's been a while since 1972; things since then have simply gotten worse.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks October 5, 2013 | 7:49 a.m.

If I was a reporter I would not worry as much about not being able to look of specifics because the govt sites are shut down as I would be looking into and reporting why the sites as well as other places are closed or shut down when there is clearly no reason for it other then creating stress and conflict with the American people by those in power.

Really a website is closed down. parks are closed that have never had workers there in the past. Scenic over looks along the highways have been blocked off?

Sounds to me like they are just trying to frighten the public by creating a fake crisis. Remember there is still 68% of the govt still working.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks October 5, 2013 | 3:04 p.m.

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/...

Forgot a few websites or FLOTUS twitter account don't even try swimming in the ocean.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates October 6, 2013 | 6:55 p.m.

I thought for a minute Tom would be able to write something that didn't blame conservatives or Republicans....then the last sentence. Let me see, there are 19 or 20 exemptions and a couple of delays for implemention, businesses for one. Of course none of this had anything to do with the liberal base or concerns over the 2014 election cycle. The most prepared state for implemention is California, which isn't prepared. The House asked for a delay in the mandatory individual mandate. Give the people a little of the benefit/time offered others. The obduracy of the President and Senate is amazing. Yep, Mr. Warhover, its those dang Republicans again.....

(Report Comment)

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