The interests of the paranoid and the preservers of the free press are converging: Mainstream media’s coverage of Washington, D.C., has shrunk to the point where big stories are being left uncovered. Meanwhile, more “niche” media outlets are moving in, but catering to the interests of the wealthy few.
That’s the essence of a 28-page report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which says that the number of journalists covering D.C. at the beginning of the Obama administration “is not so much smaller as it is dramatically transformed.”
You can read Howard Kurtz’s narrative in Wednesday’s Washington Post, or you could take a look at the main points we found in the release, presented bullet-point style for busy folks.
A new sector of niche media has grown… offering more specialized and detailed information than the general media to smaller, elite audiences, often built around narrowly targeted financial, lobbying and political interests. Some of these niche outlets are financed by an economic model of high-priced subscriptions, others by image advertising from big companies like defense contractors, oil companies and mobile phone alliances trying to influence policymakers. [News you can use, and pay for. It may deprive the public of its low-cost right to know, but at least it's a business model. -ed]
The contingent of foreign reporters in Washington has grown to nearly 10 times the size it was a generation ago.
In 2008, newspapers from only 23 states had reporters based in Washington covering federal government… That is down from 35 states listed in the director’s 1985 edition — and that was before a host of further cutbacks in 2008.
Since the 1980s, the number of newspapers accredited to cover Congress has fallen by two thirds. The number claiming a presence in Washington generally, according to Capitol directories, has fallen by more than half.
Since the mid-1980s, the number of U.S. wire services and newspapers accredited to cover Congress… has fallen 72 percent… In 1985, reporters representing 564 of these outlets carried Hill credentials. By the early months of 2007, well before the latest round of cutbacks, that number had fallen to 160.
The number of local TV and radio stations with access to feeds and news stories from corporate news bureaus in Washington has fallen 37 percent from the mid-1980s to 92 stations. [Does that mean fewer TV crews smacking me in the head with their cameras while I'm trying to cover a Senate presser? That used to irk me when I covered the Hill. -ed]
The two most prominent [weekly magazines], Time and Newsweek, now operate with less than half the Washington staff they had in the mid-1980s.
Today, many of Washington’s most experienced and talented journalists no longer explain the workings of the federal government to those in the general public, but to specialty audiences whose interests tend to be both narrow and deep. [Examples: ClimateWire, Energy Trader, Traffic World, Government Executive, Food Chemical News.]
In short, those influencing poliyc have access to more information than ever, while those affected by those policies — but not organized to shape them — are likely to be less informed.
As always, we want to know what you think. How is DC coverage at your local news outlet? Is there any? Write to us.