Politico’s intention to expand its reporting business beyond Washington and New York comes at a time when news coverage of statehouses across the country is in steep decline. And that’s only one of a several good reasons for expansion.
The Pew Research Center reported in July full-time coverage of state legislatures has dropped 35 percent in little more than a decade. The Center’s census of statehouse reporters showed that 741 full-time journalists are assigned to statehouses, but nearly 100 of those are in Texas and California alone. (For a look at the overall decline of beat reporting, check out this recent episode of On the Media.)
The result is a lot of uncovered stories. Fewer reporters, more opportunities, less competition.
While Politico’s European expansion seems to be further along, the push into states is news, though the assumption is that the reporting model is already in beta via Capital NY, purchased by Politico last year. In his Washington Post piece, Erik Wemple calls it a “patented, no-detail-too-small approach to political reporting.”
Politico’s move into state coverage comes at a time when much of the political and legislative action has shifted away from Washington. Party balance in Congress has been within five seats in the Senate and 10 seats in the House for more than two decades now, giving local and statewide races a much more visible role in shaping the national picture.
And the stories in the states aren’t just the familiar seasonal favorites on negative political ads and the presidential wannabes trekking to primary states. As Pew noted in this same July study, half the states passed more legislation in 2012 than the 112th Congress did in its two-year life. With that kind of action, advocates and corporations and causes need a media vehicle to drive their branding and lobbying. It may be a perfect fit for Politico’s print and online business model.
It doesn’t hurt that Politico has a reputation for balanced coverage of partisan issues. That’s another reason to drive interest among advertisers in the states. In its March State of the News Media 2014 study, Pew found that perennial news-consumer favorite local television is moving away from original content: “fully a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their news programs. Additional stations have sharing arrangements where much of their content is produced outside their own newsrooms.”
Like, say, WJLA-TV in Washington. Since its acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group, reporting by the Washington Post shows that the station has ditched some local reporting, started running partisan and anti-Obama commentary and content, and announced to the staff that “the station’s newsroom would ‘work for’ its advertising-sales department.”
The station was sold in July by Allbritton Communications, owner of Politico.