A new Pew Research Center report found a decline in the ranks of newspaper reporters covering government from some of the most important venues in the U.S.—the 50 state capitol buildings. Our data also revealed that one key indicator of the size of a statehouse press corps is state population, with eight of the 10 most populous states—California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan—ranking in the top 10 in the number of full-time reporters.
But there is another way to look at the relationship between statehouse reporting power and population. The color-coded interactive map (below) ranks states by the number of statehouse reporters for every 500,000 residents. And by that measure, the results are very different.
News Reporting Power Varies Across 50 Statehouses
Click on a state to see its number of full-time statehouse reporters per 500,000 residents
The state with the highest rate of full-time reporters per 500,000 residents (at 10.4) is tiny Vermont, which at about 625,000 residents, is the second smallest state in the nation by population. The smallest, Wyoming, ranks third when population is factored in, with 5.3 statehouse reporters per half million people. Several other states with modest populations round out the top tier: Alaska (5.6); Montana (4.0) and Rhode Island and Idaho (tied at 3.8). The median state rate is 1.3 reporters per 500,000 residents.
Conversely, some of the largest states—with some of the largest statehouse press contingents—end up at or near the bottom in the rankings. California is second in overall number of full-time reporters (43) covering statehouse news for a population of more than 37 million. But that works out to only 0.6 journalists per 500,000 residents—the lowest rate in the nation. Texas, which ranks No. 1 at 53 full-time statehouse reporters, finishes in the bottom half of states by the same measure (1.1 reporters).
Our interactive map shows each state’s rate of statehouse reporters per 500,000 residents—as well as the total number of full-time reporters and the 2012 U.S. Census population numbers. It also includes the average length of a state’s legislative session.
In trying to identify the factors that might explain the size of a statehouse press corps, Pew Research looked at a number of demographic variables, including population size, income and education levels, age, race and ethnicity, percentage of residents living below the poverty line and the urban-rural breakdown.
Aside from population size, the other factor that correlates to the number of reporters in a state is the length of its legislative session. Of the 10 states with the longest legislative sessions—based on the average length of the past two sessions ( in 2012 and 2013)—eight of them also ranked in the top 10 in the number of full-time statehouse reporters. Of the five states that averaged a full 12-month annual session—Wisconsin, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and New York—only Massachusetts did not finish among the top 10 in reporters.