July 10, 2014—Within America’s 50 state capitals, 1,592 journalists are assigned to state capitol buildings to inform the public about the legislative actions and issues of state government, according to a new Pew Research Center study that provides a first-ever detailed accounting of the nation’s statehouse press corps. Roughly half of these reporters (53%) cover state government less than full-time. Read the report
While newspapers assign the largest number of reporters to statehouses, an analysis of comparable newspaper data over time reveals a 35% drop in full-time statehouse staffing from 2003 to 2014. That’s slightly higher than the decline in overall newspaper staffing during roughly the same period—30% from 2003 to 2012, according to the American Society of News Editors.
Meanwhile, some nontraditional news outlets—including for-profit and nonprofit digital news organizations, ideological media and high-priced publications for political insiders—have tried to fill the gaps left by the lost jobs. Indeed, the largest statehouse bureau in the nation is run by the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, digital-only news outlet.
“Amid tight newsroom budgets, newspapers are looking for ways to do more with less,” said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “And new players—from nonprofit and ideological media to insider publications and legislative offices—are entering the scene, though the data find they have yet to account for the losses in newspaper reporters.”
Nontraditional outlets employ 126 full-time statehouse reporters, representing 17% of all reporters assigned to cover state government full time. That’s fewer than the 164 jobs lost from the newspapers studied from 2003 to 2014.
“In numerous conversations with journalists, legislative leaders and other experts, the one sentiment expressed again and again was concern about the impact of a perceived decline in mainstream media coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Journalism Project at the Pew Research Center.
The new study by Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project is based on multiple research methods of accounting for the nation’s statehouse reporting pool, as well as interviews with editors, reporters, legislative and gubernatorial press secretaries and other experts on state government. For this study, a statehouse reporter was defined as a journalist who physically works in the state capitol building. The study also includes a sortable database that includes state-level data.
Among the key findings:
· Only 30% of U.S. newspapers assign a reporter to the statehouse. Less than one-third of the 801 newspapers monitored by the Alliance for Audited Media assign a reporter to the statehouse for any period of time, either full or part time, according to the new study.
· Just 14% of the nation’s local television stations with news programs assign a reporter to the statehouse. Overall, television reporters account for 17% of the total statehouse reporting pool, and just 12% of the full-time statehouse reporting corps.
· The 223 students covering state government account for 14% of the overall statehouse reporting corps. Most work there for short tenures. Many of these students (97) work for legacy outlets—newspapers, TV or radio stations or wire services—while the other 126 work for outlets ranging from school newspapers to nonprofit news organizations.
· Wire services assign a total of 139 staffers to statehouses, who account for 9% of all the reporters in state capitols. The vast majority of full-time wire service reporters (69 of 91) work for the Associated Press. Although the wire service reduced statehouse staffing during the recession, the AP is now increasing the size of some of its capitol bureaus.
· Two indicators of the size of a statehouse press corps are the population of the state and the length of its legislative sessions. Of the 10 most populous states, all but two (Georgia and North Carolina) are among those with the 10 largest full-time statehouse press corps. And, eight of the 10 states with the longest legislative sessions also rank in the top 10 in the number of full-time statehouse reporters. Other potential factors—including demographic breakdowns and the number of legislators per state—have no apparent association with the number of reporters assigned to cover a statehouse.
Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. Its Journalism Project assesses the state of news and information in a changing society. For more, visit www.pewresearch.org/journalism.