Longtime journalist joins project to cover NM Legislature
By RICHARD COLTHARP
Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative / The Las Cruces Bulletin
LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO — A seasoned New Mexico political reporter is returning as a New Mexico Legislature correspondent for southern New Mexico.
Walt Rubel is the new legislature correspondent for a collaboration of media outlets, including the Carlsbad Current-Argus, KRWG-FM, The Las Cruces Bulletin and the Las Cruces Sun-News.
“Supporting collaboration is one of our core values at the New Mexico Local News Fund (NMLNF),” said Rashad Mahmood, co-director of NMLNF, an organization that raises funds to support local news providers and journalists across the state.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Rubel, whose first articles for the collaboration will begin appearing in mid-November, and will continue through the legislative session, which is scheduled to last 60 days, beginning Jan. 19, 2021.
From 2004–07, Rubel was the Santa Fe bureau chief for the Texas-New Mexico Partnership (TNP), which included the Sun-News, the Current-Argus, six other New Mexico newspapers and the El Paso Times.
And while Rubel is eager to return to covering the Legislature again, he knows it will not be business as usual for either him or the legislators, given the impact of the Coronavirus.
“It’s certainly going to be different without the personal interaction,” Rubel said, recalling the beehive that is the Roundhouse during all other previous sessions, with the buzzing lobbies and busy stairwells and elevators.
“It will be different without the crowded meeting rooms and passing someone in the hallway to get a tip on a story,” Rubel said. “You learn so much from those interactions, especially late in the session, when they’re going until two and three in the morning. There are so many emotions among the legislators — exhilaration, frustration. When you’re there for the whole 30 or 60 days, you see how each session has its own narrative.”
With journalism newsrooms facing budget difficulties and staffing shortages, not only in New Mexico but nationwide, capital coverage has suffered.
“In the past few years especially, there’s been a real reduction in coverage of the statehouse,” Rubel said. “When I was up there, there were at least twice as many reporters actively covering the Legislature as there are now.”
Those are the reasons NMLNF exists and, by extension, why this collaborative was started.
“Our primary funder is the Democracy Fund, which is devoted to supporting local news ecosystems as a way to strengthen our nation’s democracy,” Mahmood said. “New Mexico got on their radar as a place that could use their support.”
NMLNF also receives significant funding from the Thornburg Foundation, based in Santa Fe.
“The legislative collaboration came about in part because of talks with Sammy Lopez, director of the New Mexico Press Association, who reminded us of southern New Mexico’s challenges in reporting the Legislature,” Mahmood said. “Because southern New Mexico is a priority with us, we thought, what if we could bring together some newsrooms. There’s always a lot of focus on the Legislature and its impact on Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But not so much on southern New Mexico.”
“For southern New Mexico, ever since TNP shut down the bureau … five or six years ago, the only stories we get are Associated Press,” Rubel said. “I’ll be focused with targeted coverage on bills and issues primarily of importance to southern New Mexico.”
Rubel, who grew up in Denver, has spent his entire career in journalism.
He earned degrees in mass communication and journalism at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and was a sportswriter from 1982–97 at newspapers in Colorado, Wyoming, California and Kansas.
In 1997, in Hutchinson, Kansas, Rubel switched to the news side, and worked for two more newspapers in Kansas before arriving at the Las Cruces Sun-News newsroom in 2002. His stint as Santa Fe bureau chief ran from 2004 to 2007, when he returned to the Sun-News as managing editor. Later, he became the Sun-News’ opinion page editor, a position he held until 2019.
Since then, Rubel has been a southern New Mexico-based independent journalist whose work appears in The Las Cruces Bulletin, KRWG-FM, KTAL-LP FM, Desert Exposure and the Silver City Daily Press.