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American Journalism Review
Depleted Capitals  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   July/August 1998

Depleted Capitals   

By Charles Layton
Charles Layton (charlesmary@hotmail.com) is a former editor and reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer and a former AJR senior contributing writer.     


The Project on the State of the American Newspaper surveyed all 50 capitals to find out how many reporters are covering state government full time, and whether the number has risen or fallen at individual papers since the early '90s. The trend is as clear as it is troubling – the figures are down in 27 states, up in 14, unchanged in nine.

Much of the downward spiral is a result of cost-cutting by the major chains. In the past decade, Gannett reduced statehouse staff at 15 of its newspapers and consolidated bureaus, a 14 percent net loss in full time reporters. Gannett's knife has been felt across the board, from the Detroit News and Louisville's Courier-Journal to South Carolina's Greenville News, whose four-person capital bureau was halved. Knight Ridder has cut capital staffing by 14 percent in the '90s. Seven of its papers saw declines, not just at major metros – e.g., the Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, Detroit Free Press – but at smaller papers like those in Macon and Columbus, Georgia, where long-standing bureaus were closed. Morris has pulled one capital reporter each from its consolidated Atlanta bureau and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

Papers owned by Times Mirror , the New York Times and Newhouse have seen much less fluctuation, and where they are down it's not by much. Dow Jones and McClatchy showed slight improvements. But there's little commitment at the small-paper chains. Thomson ,has eight capital reporters for 59 papers, Donrey six for 48. Hollinger , with 55 papers, has but one statehouse reporter, for the Chicago Sun-Times. And Liberty , which sprouted last year when it purchased 55 small Hollinger dailies, also has just one.

In the state-by-state census of full time reporters, the Project did not count interns, reporters who split their time between government and nongovernment issues, or specialists (such as transportation or environmental writers) who occasionally cover state issues. Columnists and editorial writers who devote most of their time to state issues were counted. The charts also show whether papers add staff for legislative sessions, and the "Status" arrow reflects overall reporting commitment in recent years, as of April 1998.

Chart information was compiled by reporter Charles Layton and researcher David Allan.

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