That seems to be an understatement. Just about everywhere you look, news sites and publications are adding more reporters to cover Congress. While many city halls and state capitals have lost news-media enterprise, Capitol Hill looks like journalism’s growth market.
Last fall, the venerable National Journal underwent a massive makeover, hiring a platoon of big-name Washington journalists, including Fox News’s Major Garrett, and fattening its editorial ranks by about 10 percent, to a staff of 100. Bloomberg, already a big player on the Hill, has added 150 staffers for the launch of Bloomberg Government, a trove of news, policy data and wonk intel that costs subscribers $5,700 a year. Politico has a similar venture called Politico Pro and added about three dozen staffers for its launch last month.
Not to be outdone, CQ and Roll Call — two longtime Hill journals now joined under the banner of Britain’s Economist Group — have begun an “unprecedented” hiring spree, as chief executive Andrew Rashbass terms it. The publications are filling some 35 new editorial positions, reloading after merger-related cuts two years ago.
New energy is coming from the online side, too: the Huffington Post, RealClearPolitics, Daily Caller and Talking Points Memo, among others, have started doing original reporting from the Hill.
With so many reporters chasing the news, “it’s like a NASCAR race” in Congress, says Kevin Madden, a former congressional press secretary who is an informal adviser to potential Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “The pileups are huge because everyone is moving so fast and they’re so closely bunched together. . . It’s a very, very competitive news environment up there.”
The media frenzy is most visible every Tuesday around lunchtime, when reporters stake out the Senate’s weekly caucus lunches in search of quotes and comments. Reporters gather outside the LBJ and Mansfield rooms like birds on a wire, until the flock grows to 40 . . . 50 . . . 60 . . . sometimes 100-strong.
The emergence of a leading senator sets the scrum in motion, with reporters jostling each other for position. Others roam the periphery like sentinels, ready to pounce on backbenchers before they slip away. The size of the media ring around each senator might be a pretty reliable indicator of a lawmaker’s power or importance.