In 2001, Albany, New York had 51 journalists and 29 news organizations covering the statehouse. By 2008, the numbers had fallen to 42 journalists and 27 news organizations. The Staten Island Advance, the Schenectady Daily Gazette, the Troy Record, the Jamestown Post Journal, and the Ottaway News Service are among those that have eliminated their statehouse bureaus entirely.
In Pennsylvania, Jeanette Krebs, editorial page editor for the Harrisburg Patriot News, remembers more than 40 correspondents crowding the Capitol’s pressroom in 1987 when she was an intern. In 1994, when she was president of the Pennsylvania State Legislative Correspondents Association, there were 35. Now, 19 reporters cover the statehouse, including some who come only when the legislature is in session. “Our state Capitol used to be bustling with the media,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation. “Now, you can swing a dead cat and not hit anybody in the state Capitol newsroom.”
Nine journalists—print and TV—covered the Nevada legislature in 2010. In better times, according to Ed Vogel of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, more than 20 would have been there. As the coverage has shrunk by half, the state has more than tripled in size.99 “If you’re not there, it changes how legislators look at it,” says Vogel, the lone remaining reporter from his newspaper. “The oversight, the watchdogs won’t be there. It’s a benefit to society that won’t exist anymore.”
In many cases, smaller newspapers have abandoned statehouses altogether. For years, the Champaign (IL) News-Gazette had a reporter in the Capitol, in Springfield, to cover topics of particular importance to Champaign-Urbana—home to the University of Illinois’ largest campus—such as higher education bills and state pension issues. In 2010, legislative coverage was done from the Champaign newsroom. “We miss the in-depth coverage and the perspective and nuance that having a reporter there every day provides,” editor John Beck says. “What we’re missing more is the enterprise coverage…the investigative coverage. As newsrooms have lost staff members, which we have like all other newsrooms, it makes it harder to do these kinds of stories.”
For nearly five years, Aaron Chambers was the statehouse bureau chief for the Rockford (IL) Register Star. At one point, he broke the story that the executive branch was improperly managing government contracts, potentially risking millions of taxpayer dollars. In 2008, his paper eliminated its statehouse bureau; Chambers went into public relations.