Vermont has a better people-to-reporter ratio than any other state in the US with 10 full-time state house reporters per 500,000 residents, while California has the worst, according to The Washington Post.
A new study from the Pew Research Center looked at how “state house reporting power compares with a state’s population.”
Pew found that, along with population size, income and education levels, age, race and ethnicity, percentage of residents living below the poverty line and the urban-rural breakdown, the length of legislative session played an impact in the number of reporters.
States with the longest legislative sessions tended to have more full time state house reporters. Pew said, “Of the five states that averaged a full 12-month annual session—Wisconsin, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and New York—only Massachusetts did not finish among the top 10 in reporters.”
Why does Massachusetts have so few?
“A number of regional papers close state house bureaus because they have abandoned state coverage for local coverage,” said Matt Murphy, a reporter for Statehouse News Service in Mass. “They can get state house coverage from the Associated Press or our statehouse coverage.”
Murphy said that as staffs have been reduced at local papers, statehouse reporters have frequently been one thing to go. (The Boston Globe still has a lively bureau at the Massachusetts State House.)
Pew first looked at the general decline in the number of newspaper reporters covering state government:
“One key indicator of the size of a statehouse press corps is state population, with eight of the 10 most populous states—California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan—ranking in the top 10 in the number of full-time reporters.”
Pew decided there was a different way to look at the number of statehouse reporters. They used a color coded map that “ranks states by the number of statehouse reporters for every 500,000 residents. And by that measure, the results are very different.”
Vermont, which ranked the highest, is the second smallest state by population in the US.
Though California has a high number of statehouse reporters in total, the ratio of journalists to people tells a different story.
“California is second in overall number of full-time reporters (43) covering statehouse news for a population of more than 37 million. But that works out to only 0.6 journalists per 500,000 residents—the lowest rate in the nation. Texas, which ranks No. 1 at 53 full-time statehouse reporters, finishes in the bottom half of states by the same measure (1.1 reporters).”
What impact does it make when some of the biggest, most politically influential states have the least number of reporters?
The Washington Post reported:
“The problem here is obvious. Governors and state legislatures in big population states tend to be the incubators of policy—both good and bad—that eventually turns into major fights at the national level. Having so few reporting resources—relatively speaking—in a state as big and important as California makes covering the big political and policy fights there virtually impossible.”
The fewer local political reporters, the less likely politicians will be held accountable.
Pew said that “Less than a third of U.S. newspapers assign any kind of reporter—full time or part time—to the statehouse.”