california capitol demonstration

Demonstrators at the California Capitol in Sacramento. State capitols increasingly are at the center of debates over masks, vaccines, abortion, voting rights and more, but the number of full-time newspaper reporters covering the action has declined.

US Newspapers Trim Full-Time Statehouse Reporting Staffs

By Kirsten Worden, Katerina Eva Matsa and Elisa Shearer, Pew Research Center
May 23, 2022 | State Legislatures Magazine | Print

The number of reporters who cover state capitols full time for U.S. newspapers has declined 34% since 2014, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

There are 245 newspaper reporters who cover the statehouse full time in 2022, down from 374 in 2014, the last time the Center conducted a similar study. The decrease in newspaper reporters covering the 50 state capitols comes amid a broader decline in newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers, as well as sharp reductions in newspapers’ advertising and circulation revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the decline, newspapers continue to employ more full-time statehouse reporters than any other kind of news organization, according to the study, which examines the state capitol press corps across a variety of media outlet types. Nonprofit media organizations rank second behind newspapers in the number of full-time statehouse reporters they employ (187), followed by television stations (114).

Over the longer term, the decline in newspaper reporters who cover state capitols full time is even more pronounced than what has occurred since 2014.

To get a better sense of how newspaper staffing at statehouses has changed since the turn of the century, Pew consulted earlier studies by the now-defunct American Journalism Review, which conducted five tallies of newspapers’ statehouse staffing levels between 1998 and 2009.

To ensure comparability over time, this additional analysis does not include all of the newspapers identified in the Center’s newest study, but only the 194 newspapers identified across each of the AJR and Pew Research Center studies from 2003 to the present. At those newspapers, full-time statehouse staffing has declined by at least 44% since 2003—from 368 full-time reporters to 206 this year.

It is likely that full-time statehouse reporting staff among this group of newspapers has declined by more than 44% since 2003. That’s because the Center’s 2022 data employs a broader definition of full-time statehouse reporting than the AJR data by combining full-time, year-round reporters with those who work only during the legislative session.

For a fuller perspective on statehouse reporting, see this Pew Research Center study.

Kirsten Worden, Elisa Shearer and Katerina Eva Matsa focus on journalism research; all three are with Pew Research Center.

This story was first published by the Pew Research Center, April 5, 2022. Used with permission.

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