The Pew Research Center has some dismal news—for journalism.
According to a Pew report released July 10, fewer than one-third of U.S. newspapers assign statehouse reporters, and 86 percent of local TV news stations don't assign a statehouse reporter at all. Between 1998 and 2009, the American Journalism Review conducted five headcounts of statehouse reporters, and found that each year, the number of reporters declined. In the six years between 2003 and 2009, the number of statehouse reporters contracted by 35 percent.
The reduction in the number of reporters covering state politics may be detrimental to the public's understanding of some of the political processes that have the greatest effect on how they live, work and play.
"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," said Wisconsin statehouse reporter Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The report cited tight news budgets across the country as the ultimate cause of the constriction, and papers are scrambling to innovate their coverage. In Florida, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times—papers that once competed for statehouse scoops—now share a statehouse office and coordinate their coverage. In some cases, reporters cover state politics for more than one organization.
The report also determined that the two indicators of a statehouse press corps are the state's population and the length of its legislative session. Idaho has a total of 47 statehouse reporters covering a legislative session lasting an average of 2.8 months in a state with a population of just over 1.5 million people. Twelve of those reporters are full-time journalists, three are "session only" and 31 cover the statehouse part time. One reporter fit into the "other" category.