A bump in State House press presence 

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. 

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.

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Getting the boss’s approval: Through a quirk in state law, legislative staffers seeking to unionize need the approval of their bosses. Will the Senate’s pro-union tilt continue when its own staffers are unionizing? Read more.

Opioid settlement: Massachusetts receives $525 million as part of a national $26 billion settlement with four major drug distributors. Attorney General Maura Healey, who helped negotiated the deal, indicates she supports safe injection sites as part of a harm reduction effort. Read more.

Koch’s fare-free skepticism: Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a member of the MBTA’s board of directors, says he is skeptical about fare-free bus service given the fiscal cliff looming at the transit authority. Read more.

Exoneration 40 years later: Barry Jacobson, 78, was convicted of setting fire to his vacation home in the Berkshires in 1982 and served 42 days in jail. Now he has been exonerated because of anti-Semitic comments made by jurors at his trial. Read more.

OPINION

United front: Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute and John McDonough of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard applaud the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for forming a united front with other state regulators to rein in rising health care costs in its recent ruling on Mass General Brigham expansion plans. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The Worcester City Council announces Eric Batista as the new interim city manager, with the chance of becoming a permanent replacement for retiring city manager Ed Augustus. (Telegram & Gazette) MassLive runs a profile of Batista. 

Hampden County municipal leaders are supporting legislation to reconfigure the Hampden County Regional Board of Retirement after a stinging audit of the body’s finances last year. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Department of Public Health-run COVID vaccine clinics run one weekend in January at state Lottery sites in New Bedford, Springfield, and Lawrence and gave vaccines to 68 adults, a quarter of whom wereAsians. DPH is planning to replicate the model. (Boston University Statehouse Program)

The Alzheimer’s Association is mounting a full-court press in support of Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm in advance of next week’s expected ruling by Medicare on whether it will cover the treatment for any patients with mild Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

JetBlue jumps into the bidding for Spirit Airlines, which is already being pursued by Frontier. (New York Times)

South Shore residents, many of whom brought dogs into their apartments during the pandemic, are using an app called Sniffspot to rent private yard space by the hour where their dogs can play. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Gov. Charlie Baker and other leaders hailed the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology at the groundbreaking for the two-year college’s new Roxbury campus. The school plans to be renamed the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology following a recent $12.5 million bequest from the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation. (Boston Herald) Globe columnist Adrian Walker says the new campus will help the Nubian Square area finally realize its potential. 

The Boston school superintendent search committee has tapped a Texas-based firm to help recruit candidates for the post. (Boston Herald)

Attorney General Maura Healey joined with state education leaders to vow to clamp down on hate and bias incidents in high school sports. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Drake, Amherst’s first live performance venue, is set to open this month. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington hired a Chicago media relations firm for three months during her first year in office. (New England Public Media)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial supports efforts by the tiny communities of Dalton and Hinsdale to share a police department. 

Police arrested three men in connection with the recent theft of a headstone from a Roslindale cemetery that appears to be part of action among Boston gang rivals. (Boston Herald

Massachusetts jails and prisons will be required to offer three kinds of medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder under an agreement with the US attorney’s office. (Salem News)