Five years ago, Pew Research published an alarming report — statehouse coverage from newspapers was shrinking. From 2003 to 2014, it declined by 35%.
Pew hasn’t updated that research yet, but a July report offered more alarming, if not surprising, numbers — employment at newspapers plummeted 47% between 2008 and 2018.
On Monday, the Associated Press and Report For America put out a number of their own.
The two organizations will work together to create 14 new reporting positions to cover state government.
That number is small, yes, but it’s a start.
The collaboration will bring more coverage to Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah. The positions, mostly funded by the AP and RFA, will last for 18 months and begin next June. The AP will make the coverage from the new positions available for free to other media in those states.
The AP currently has statehouse reporters in all 50 states. RFA is working with local newsrooms around the country in a Peace Corps-like model to create positions and joint funding. Both organizations have already worked together, but this collaboration seemed like an obvious one, said Steven Waldman, RFA’s co-founder.
“The significance of state government keeps going up, up, up and the number of statehouse reporters keeps going down, down, down,” he said. “So we have a severe accountability crisis when it comes to state government.”
The AP created a formula to choose the states getting reporters, said Noreen Gillespie, AP deputy managing editor for U.S. news. It looked at data on news deserts, the health of the statehouse press corps and asked AP bureaus to apply for the positions with a beat plan and vision for the positions.
Report for America currently has three reporters working in statehouse coverage in Connecticut, New York and Maine, and it will add a few other positions with its next class, bringing the total up to around 20 with the AP’s additions, Waldman said.
Those reporters will be joining other local journalists and newsrooms who’ve had to get creative in covering the state legislature.
- In Illinois, Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit project from the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage to state newsrooms. It launched this year.
- ProPublica expanded its local reporting network, which funds investigative positions and support in local newsrooms, to include coverage of state government in 2018. It currently has projects in West Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, California and New York.
- In Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and LNP Media Group started working together in 2018 to cover state government.
- In Oregon, Pamplin Media Group (which publishes the Portland Tribune) and EO Media Group (which publishes the East Oregonian) started working together in 2014 to cover the state capital. In 2018, the online Salem Reporter joined them.
- And in Florida, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times have worked together to cover the statehouse since 2008. (Disclosure: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)
There’s potential, Gillespie said, for the AP/RFA reporters to work with those existing collaborations.
Applications open up Dec. 2, and the new corps will start reporting in June of 2020, just in time for the next big election season.