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Pew: 14% of Stations Have Full-Time Statehouse Reporters

Only 14% of local TV stations and 30% of U.S. newspapers assign a reporter to the statehouse, according to "America's Shifting Statehouse Press," a new Pew Research Center poll of coverage of local politics.

In the section devoted to local TV stations, of the 918 identified (Nielsen and BIA/Kelsey data), 130 stations had at least one reporter covering the statehouse, with 88 reporters covering state capitols full time, and another 28 only when the legislature was meeting. Of those 130 stations, 10 are noncommercial.

All totaled, 236 TV journalists had some role in statehouse coverage, which accounted for 17% of all statehouse reporters.

With only about a third of its statehouse reporters full-time, that trailed newspapers (319 out of 604), wire services (91 of 139) and radio (68 of 124).

Of the 102 reporters who cover state government on a part-time basis, many are general assignment reporters sent to cover breaking stories.

The report also found that 21 of the TV reporters covering part-time were students.

All but four states have at least one local TV reporter covering the statehouse on a full- or part-time basis, with Iowa having the greatest per-capita coverage with six TV reporters in Boise for a state of only about 1.5 million people.

"Television reporters are entirely absent from statehouses in Connecticut, Maine, Oklahoma and Oregon," said the report. "Yet previous Pew studies show that local television is the primary place Americans go for news."

“A lot of people still get their news from TV and they’re not here,” the report quotes Stephen Miskin, spokesman for the Pennsylvania House speaker and majority leader as well as the Republican caucus.

The 10 noncommercial stations with statehouse reporters do not generally have an evening newscast on which to put that reporting, but instead use it for in-depth, long-form programming on issues. Pew said some of that programming came in response to what noncom official said was "a reduction in reporting" by legacy outlets.

The report is based on questionnaires e-mailed to 1,928 reporters and editors at 839 news organizations (between August and November 2013), as well as "outreach to press secretaries, legislative staff or state government employees and direct contact via email or phone calls to remaining news outlets with missing or conflicting data."

“We have not seen the Pew report, but we’re troubled by the suggestion that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to news reporting at the local TV level would truly benefit viewers," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Some stations – particularly those in cities where state capitals are based – focus lots of attention on statehouse politics.  Other stations might devote more attention to education, or immigration, or consumer investigative reporting. We think a diversity of editorial choices made by broadcasters at the local level best serves our millions of local TV viewers.”

Broadcasters and newspaper owners have also argued that if the FCC would loosen its crossownership rules to allow more TV-newspaper combos in smaller markets, they could team up to better cover local news.