Reporters for niche outlets, some of which offer highly specialized information services at premium subscription rates, now fill more seats in the U.S. Senate Press Gallery than do daily newspaper reporters. As recently as the late 1990s, daily newspaper staff outnumbered such journalists by more than two-to-one.
Also increasing in number are reporters for digital news publishers – some of which focus on niche subjects, others on a broad range of general interest topics. In 2009, fewer than three dozen journalists working for digital-native outlets were accredited to the Press Gallery. By 2014, that number had risen to more than 130 – roughly a four-fold increase.
At the same time though, between 2009 and 2014, 19 local newspapers disappeared from the Press Gallery books, reducing the number of states with any local newspaper staff on the Hill from 33 to 29. Since those 2014 figures were tallied, other papers have turned out the lights in Washington, closing their bureau or simply electing not to replace an outgoing correspondent.
Some local papers have reestablished a presence in Washington – eight, between 2009 and 2014. And a handful of the digital start-ups with correspondents in Washington are locally-oriented. However, the rolls of the Regional Reporters Association – a group of Washington-based reporters that produce local and regional coverage – sit at 59 in 2015, down from around 200 in the mid-1990s.
For the American public, this translates to more digital options for coverage at the national level as well as options for those who have access to trade publications and specialized information products, but also a continuous chipping away at the number of reporters on the Hill covering the federal government on behalf of local communities.
When looking at how these different types of reporting add up in sheer volume for readers, wire stories carry the weight, both in the papers with and without D.C. correspondents. Fully 52% of the federal government stories produced by papers supporting a D.C. correspondent came from wire services – more than six times that of the 8% of coverage coming from D.C reporters. Stories from D.C. reporters were also less than half as prevalent as stories produced by other staff writers (18%) or other news outlets (22%). Papers without a D.C. reporter produced about the same amount of coverage, with wire services playing an even more critical role – providing 62% of all coverage about the federal government.