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Site’s temporary absence leaves void in Capitol information culture

For many Capitol news junkies, there are certain things that are optional in the morning – breakfast, shower, etc – and others that are mandatory. And for most of us, right after that morning cup of coffee, a scan of Jack Kavanagh's Rough & Tumble is de rigeur.

But this week, many have been without their morning fix, and as a result we are all a bit more lost and confused, and less-informed, than usual. Rough and Tumble (http://www.rtumble.com), the daily roundup of the latest capitol news frequented by journalists, politicians and insiders, was put on hiatus July 12.

Kavanagh did not feel well enough to speak with Capitol Weekly, but according to the R&T Web site, he had checked into Kaiser Hospital with "a nasty stomach flu." The site has not been updated since last Friday. But Jack indicated this morning that he's feeling better–the flu turned out to be colitis–and that R&T will be back up and running on Friday.

But it has been a long week for those who have come to depend on Kavanagh's site. 

"I feel totally out of it," said Morgan Crinklaw, communications director for the Assembly Republican Caucus. "I keep reading stories from July 11th thinking they're new."

Crinklaw's quip underscores just how much Rough & Tumble is part of the Capitol's daily routine. Legislators, many of whom have set R&T as their homepage, no longer immediately know who protested their latest bill on the North Steps yesterday. Press staffers are reminded of the prehistoric, pre-internet days, when they had to actually scan and clip every newspaper separately.

Among those hit hardest by the site's absence are Capitol reporters, who rely on Kavanagh as a one-man distribution system for their stories to the Capitol community.

"You can write something and nobody may see it if it doesn't get play on Rough and Tumble," said Los Angeles Times Capitol reporter Evan Halper. You can write a story you've been working on for months, and you're convinced will change everything, and if it doesn't get good play, it's like it didn't exist."

"It's the homepage on my browser, so it's really been distressing to see it missing when I open up my Internet each morning," said John Myers of KQED. "Everybody I know checks Jack's website several times through the day, both to know what's going on, and to see what everyone else is doing. It's like a news blackout with Jack being gone."

But R&T seems to go beyond just a useful tool for capitol denizens, for whom being "in the know" dictates their employment.
Without R&T, things just don't feel right. Kavanagh's site has become an integral part of the culture of California's political community.

Kavanagh originally started R&T in the early 1990s as a small publication to aid television newsrooms in spotting the significant stories of the day. He soon after launched the web site, which has run almost continually ever since. Kavanagh, who made his name as a local television reporter, has transformed himself into a Sacramento internet pioneer.

Lynda Gledhill, press secretary for Don Perata and a former Capitol reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, remarked, "Aside from being concerned for Jack, I was thinking to myself this morning that it's one of those things that you don't realize how much you need it until it's gone. There's definitely a hole in my morning when I'm drinking my coffee."

Politicians and press staffers know that a positive story on R&T is invaluable. The site gets over 20,000 hits per day, and is checked religiously by reporters, lobbyists, officials at all levels of government, and members of the general public.

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