Here's an announcement from the AP that you probably missed today:
Building on The Associated Press’ unmatched presence in all 50 U.S. statehouses, we are adding to our competitive advantage by creating a team of state government specialists.
As announced today to the AP staff, the specialists will collaborate with statehouse reporters, as well as on their own projects and stories focused on government accountability and strong explanatory reporting. Their over-arching goal will be “to show how state government is impacting the lives of people across the country,” said Brian Carovillano, managing editor for U.S. news.
This is a very, very good idea.
As I have written many times in this space, one of the undertold-but-massively-important stories of the shrinkage of mainstream media organizations over the last decade is the disappearance of really good state capitol coverage. Many state and regional newspapers who took as their prime mission covering the machinations -- politically and from a policy perspective -- of each of the state capitols have been forced to make deep cuts in their budgets for that sort of reporting. And, for the most part -- and the WaPo may well be an exception in the Jeff Bezos era -- major national news organizations haven't been able to adequately fill that void.
The result? Not surprisingly, less coverage -- and, as importantly, fewer reporters with deep institutional knowledge -- of state capitols. That's particularly bad given how much is happening -- particularly when it comes to policy incubation -- at the state level of late, and how much it affects the national policy debate.
The AP never really left state capitol coverage. (They were all over Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's problems in the state -- and with his state legislature -- over the last few years.) But, adding an entirely new team to elevate to do deeper explanatory and investigative work in state capitols shows that the AP understands just how much they matter not only to states but to the federal government.
And that's not even mentioning the fact that at least eight governors (or former governors) -- Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Bobby Jindal for Republicans, Martin O'Malley for Democrats -- are in some stage of considering a run for president in 2016. Given how drastically over-covered Hillary Clinton's expected presidential campaign will be -- particularly given the small chance she will face a genuinely competitive primary -- having more people in these state capitols to mine the records of the various governors running for the big office is a smart investment.
Then there is the intangible value of having reporting tentacles in a state. The Post provides a great example in its Virginia coverage. Roz Helderman's time spent in Richmond was absolutely in integral to her series of stories that led to the conviction of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on 11 counts of corruption. The Post's commitment to Virginia also meant that T. Rees Shapiro was perfectly positioned to raise questions about Rolling Stone's story of a sexual assault at the University of Virginia or scramble dozens of reporters to the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in the middle of the last decade. Or that the Post can be all over the absolutely remarkable/appalling story of state Del. Joe Morrissey.
In our own small way, we here at The Fix have done what we can to preserve the importance of state capitol reporting with our annual list of the best state-based political reporters. (We last did this in 2013 and plan to update our list next year.) And the Post announced just today a partnership with the Texas Tribune, one of the best state-reporting models -- ok, the best model -- in the country.
State-level political journalism has taken a huge hit over the last 10 years. Let's hope the AP's move is the leading edge of a journalistic reinvestment in the states.