Once upon a time, back in the days when H.L. Mencken was prowling the metaphorical streets of journalism, drinking bourbon for breakfast and smoking cigars in theaters and making women do laundry for weeks on end, a reporter could dream of nothing better than being assigned to cover the State Capitol. He'd go on up there and sit around drinking bourbon and smoking cigars and subjugating women and occasionally filing stories, after which he would go out and engage in scandalous behavior with the politicians he covered. Life was sweet. But now guess what: penniless newspapers can't even afford the meager salaries of statehouse reporters any more! The number of reporters covering the NY state government in Albany has dropped from 59 to 42 in the last quarter century. And one count says there are just over 400 full time statehouse reporters in the whole country. The glorious days are gone!
Women were banned from being members during World War II, a policy that was not reversed until the late 1960s. Women were also not allowed to participate in the [statehouse correspondents association's] annual gridiron dinner until 1972. Now a third of the association’s members are women. But through much of the 1980s, the organization still had the feel of a stodgy gentleman’s club. Nightly poker games with legislative staffers and lobbyists were a revered tradition, as was “the library,” a metal cart of liquor that was wheeled out every afternoon. Today the liquor cart is gone. The poker table still sits on the second level of the association’s office space — a balcony known as “the shelf” that looks down on the main press room floor — but it is covered by a piece of particleboard stained with coffee mug rings.