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Pew Study: Statehouse News Coverage Dropping, Shifting

pew post picWhile the overall number of print reporters continues to decline—along with newspapers in general—the numbers of print reporters assigned to State Capitals full-time has seen a precipitous drop in the last decade, according to a recent Pew Research Center Study.

The study revealed that out of the nation’s 1,592 journalists who are assigned to state capitol buildings to report to the public on legislative and other state government issues, about half cover state government less than full-time.

“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.

Statistics from the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) supported the Pew Study’s findings revealing a nearly 35 percent drop in full-time statehouse staffing from 2003 to 2014.

That drop, according to ASNE, is even higher than the overall decline in newspaper staffing during about the same period—30 percent from 2003 to 2012.

In addition, the Pew Study also revealed an interesting shift in statehouse coverage to some nontraditional news outlets—including for-profit and nonprofit digital news organizations, as well as political insider publications which have tried to fill the void left by the lost state capital reporter jobs.

As further evidence of the changing coverage, the study spotlighted the fact that the largest statehouse bureau in the nation is now run by a nonprofit, digital-only news outlet, The Texas Tribune.

“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, ” said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center.

Other noteworthy findings of the study include:

  • Only 30 percent 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.
  • Just 14 percent of the nation’s local television stations with news programs assign a reporter to the statehouse. Overall, television reporters account for 17 percent of the total statehouse reporting pool, and just 12 percent of the full-time statehouse reporting corps.
  • The 223 students covering state government account for 14 percent 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 percent of all the reporters in state capitols. The vast majority of full-time wire service reporters (69 of 91) work for the Associated Press.

What do you think about the decline in statehouse news coverage? Will digital and nonprofit news outlets rise to the challenge of reporting on statehouse news? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @10000words.

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