Change Has Come To Washington

There’s a valuable new report out this week from the Project for Excellence in Journalism quantifying the shifting—and in some sectors, shrinking—composition of the DC press corps.

Newspaper bureaus, as we’ve all heard, are shadows of their former selves:

Consider that during the course of 2008, a host of bureaus—corporate and individual—simply vanished altogether, while others were reduced exponentially. Newhouse Newspapers, Copley and the Copley News Service, Cox (in March of 2009), the (Salt Lake City) Deseret News, the Fairbanks News-Miner, the Portland Press-Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the (MA) Lowell Sun and the (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot-News all closed their Washington bureaus in 2008. Among individual newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel all became part of a single Tribune Co., bureau in November, 2008.

There’s been dramatic growth in foreign reporters stationed in Washington:

In 1968, Washington’s Foreign Press Center opened to serve the estimated 160 foreign correspondents reporting from the nation’s capital… Much of the growth of recent years come with an influx of media from Asia, especially China, the Middle East and Africa. All are regions where America’s policies and actions have taken on increased importance over the past decade. Last October, 1,490 foreign correspondents were accredited to the FPC in Washington—roughly 40% of all foreign journalists accredited nationally.

And there’s been a rise in niche publications that make more money by selling to fewer people:

These are publications with names like ClimateWire, Energy Trader, Traffic World, Government Executive and Food Chemical News. Their audiences vary, but most readers find the content increasingly important—even crucial—for their job, their business and their industry. Because of this, readers—usually with employer support—are willing to pay significant subscription fees—high enough that some are profitable with small readerships and little advertising.

Not much of that will be news to those who watch the DC press corps, but it’s nice to have it all drawn together in a quantitative way as we think about what sort of news organizations and political coverage we need for the sake of our democracy.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.