A bump in State House press presence 

Pew report finds more reporters at state capitols, though fewer full-time journalists

THERE’S AT LEAST some good news about the news business for a change. 

According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, the total number of statehouse reporters nationwide has increased by 11 percent since 2014, the last time the center carried out a similar survey. But the news was not entirely positive when it comes to coverage of state government, as the report found that fewer reporters are now assigned to state capitols full-time. 

The study reports that there are 1,761 statehouse reporters across the country, up from 1,592 eight years ago. Of those, 850, or just under half, are working their beats full-time. That is down from 904 full-time statehouse reporters in the 2014 survey. 

The total number of reporters covering the Massachusetts State House has increased from 32 in 2014 to 43 today, according to the report. Bucking the national trend of fewer statehouse reporters being assigned there full-time, the number of full-time journalists working the State House increased from 15 in 2014 to 17 in 2022. The study reports that Massachusetts has 17 full-time reporters, 13 part-time reporters, 11 students, and 2 other types of reporters covering Beacon Hill. 

Recent years have witnessed devastating cuts in journalism, driven mainly by contractions in the newspaper industry, whose advertising business model has been undone by the internet. Newsroom employment at US newspapers dropped by an astounding 51 percent from 2009 to 2019, going from roughly 71,000 employees to 35,000. 

The report found that nonprofit news outlets are playing an increasingly important role in filling a “legacy media gap” in statehouse coverage. Nonprofits now account for 20 percent of the statehouse press corps nationally (including both full- and part-time reporters), up from just 6 percent in 2014. Nonprofit outlets now account for the second largest share of statehouse reporters, following newspapers, which account for 25 percent of statehouse reporters. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

The importance of state government coverage is underscored by the degree to which state capitols are increasingly becoming the focus of pitched ideological battles over hot-button issues. Partisan sorting has put more state capitols under one-party control, making them ripe for the kind of aggressive moves by conservatives and liberals that are difficult to advance nationally in the more divided government in Washington. The New York Times reported earlier this week that control of legislative chambers is now split between Democrats and Republicans in only two states – Minnesota and Virginia. Thirty years ago that was true in 15 states. 

“From voting rights and redistricting to abortion and public education, state capitols across the United States are at the epicenter of the nation’s key public policy debates,” said the Pew report, with pandemic debates over mask and vaccine mandates and other COVID policies only adding to that.