The Press: The Other End of the Telescope

For many upwardly mobile young journalists, a successful career is one that leads from the city-hall pressroom to the statehouse beat to a national reporting job in Washington. Neal Peirce got it all backward. He started at the top, as Washington-based political editor of a respected national magazine. Today he covers city hall and the statehouse.

That progression is no fall from grace. At a time when state and local governments are spending almost as much money and employing as many citizens as Uncle Sam does domestically, Peirce, 45, has emerged as the only national chronicler of grassroots America. In his weekly...

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