Community Foundation of New Jersey

PewResearch: America’s Shifting Statehouse Press

July 10, 2014

When the Community Foundation of New Jersey partnered with former Star-Ledger reporters to create NJ Spotlight, an interactive website that features high-quality, in-depth journalism that provides an understanding of the vital issues affecting our state, it was due to the relative lack of relevant and timely information about statewide and local issues.

According to a recent PewResearch study, it appears the problem is only worsening.  Pew’s study, America’s Shifting Statehouse Press, found that the number of newspaper statehouse reporters across the country has dropped by 35% from 2003 to 2014, or 164 full-time journalists.

Scroll down for additional findings from the study:

  • Less than a third of U.S. newspapers assign any kind of reporter—full time or part time—to the statehouse. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, only 30% of the 801 daily papers it monitor send a staffer to the statehouse for any period of time. In Massachusetts, whose capital is the largest city (Boston), just 6% of the state’s newspapers have any reporting presence at the statehouse—the lowest percentage of newspaper representation of any state.
  • Fully 86% of local TV news stations do not assign even one reporter—full time or part time—to the statehouse.  Of the 918 local television stations identified by BIA/Kelsey and Nielsen, just 130 assign a reporter to cover the statehouse. Overall, television reporters account for 17% of the total statehouse reporting pool and considerably less (12%) of the full- time mix.
  • About one-in-six (16%) of all the reporters in statehouses work for nontraditional outlets, such as digital-only sites and nonprofit organizations. They also account for 17% of the 741 reporters who work at the state capitols full time. The largest statehouse bureau in the country, with 15 full-time staffers, is operated by the five-year-old Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, digital-only outlet. And in New York, the third most populated state, the largest bureau (with five full-time reporters) belongs to Capital New York, a commercial digital outlet founded in 2010.
  • Students account for 14% (223 in all) of the overall statehouse reporting corps.   Most students work at the statehouse part time and 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, representing 9% of all the reporters at the capitol buildings. 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. (To access state- by-state data, click on this database)