Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pew: The State of Statehouse Reporting

Just out is a new research report from Pew Research Center that looks into local state legislative reporting and staffing.  It follows the general trend of newsroom staffing, with large declines in full-time newspaper newsroom staffing.  Major findings include:
  • Most news organizations don't have anyone assigned to the statehouse beat. Only 30% of daily papers and 14% of local TV news have anyone regularly covering the statehouse (either full- or part-time)
  • 16% of reporters covering the statehouse work for nonprofits or digital-only sites. Interestingly, that's about the same percentage for full-time reporters, suggesting that nontraditional outlets are just as likely as traditional news outlets to assign the statehouse as a full-time beat
  • Some 14% of statehouse reporters are actually students.  (While not specifically addressed, it's likely that most of these are interns).
Some bemoan the shift in focus from local and state coverage to an increasing emphasis on national (and non-news) coverage.
“I do think there’s been a loss in general across the country, and that’s very concerning to me,” said Patrick Marley, who covers the Wisconsin statehouse for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We have scads of reporters in Washington covering every bit of news that Congress makes. State legislators have more effect on people’s daily lives. We need to have eyes on them, lots of eyes.”
Another concern is that many news organization are combining statehouse staffing and coordinating their coverage, which shrinks (if not eliminates) diversity and investigative reporting.  The study also notes that most states are producing their own news feeds of statehouse activities, providing a cheap source for raw coverage and the potential for state actors to frame coverage to their advantage.

Sources:  America's Shifting Statehouse Press: Can New Players Compensate for Lost Legacy Reporters, Pew Research Center
Full Research  Report, Pew Research Center
Legislative Broadcasts and Webcasts, National Conference of State Legislatures

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