July 16, 2009

The New Washington Press Corps

Methodology

Research conducted for The New Washington Press Corps came in three main forms: 1) One-on-one interviews with current or former members of the Washington press, 2) Computing and indexing yearly reports from published directories of Washington journalism bureaus and staff and 3) background documents. The research was conducted by Tyler Marshall over three-month period. What follows is a brief explanation of the process involved for each.       

Interviews

Much of the material for the report came from one-on-one interviews by Marshall with about 60 sources, almost all of them residing or working in the Washington, D.C., area. More than 20 of these interviews were conducted face-to-face and usually lasted between 30 to 90 minutes. About 40 additional interviews were conducted by telephone and usually lasted between 10 and 60 minutes. With few exceptions, telephone interviews were shorter than those conducted face-to-face. Interview subjects included Washington-based reporters, editors, publishers and other news executives either currently working for daily newspapers, news magazines, radio, network television and online publications in the capital, those who were in the process of leaving or those who had already left work in such jobs.

Also interviewed were academics, executives of non-profit organizations, members of Congress, staff aides of individual senators and congressmen, staff members of the Congressional Press, Radio and Television Correspondents, Periodical Press, Press Photographers galleries and federal government employees, who were either working with the Washington news media or researching it in some way.

The Numbers

There is no single definitive, comprehensive database that lists every news organization and every journalist based in Washington, D.C. The lack of such an accepted, authoritative source is one reason why reporting on changes in the Washington media have been largely anecdotal in nature. However, there are sources—mainly directories, accreditation lists and membership lists—available that do list a significant percentage of those reporters and news organizations based in the nation’s capital. After studying several of those sources, we decided to work with three:

  • Congressional Directories
  • Hudson’s Washington News Media Contacts Directories
  • The Capital Source

Each reflects a different collection of data about news organizations. Like most organizational directories, the accuracy for any one year is subject to omission, human error and/or inaccurate or incomplete reporting on the part of the news organizations themselves. But each directory, overtime, provides trends about those particular measures. In addition, the three directories taken together provide broader evidence of shifts in the makeup and character of Washington, D.C. reporting.    

The fact that data in the three directories—gathered by different groups in different ways—tended to show similar patterns and trends over time helped to reinforce our conclusions.

Congressional Directories

Published for every Congress (therefore, every two years) since 1888, the Congressional Directory lists both the news organizations and individuals accredited by one of the four media galleries— Press, Radio and Television Correspondents, Periodical Press and Press Photographers—to  cover Congress. To establish trend lines, we drew data from directories for the 99th (1985-86), 105th (1997-98) and 110th (2007-2008) Congresses. For each of the three Congresses, we tallied the total number of organizations listed by media category (eg: US news agencies and daily newspapers, magazines and periodicals) to measure the change in the number and type of media organization covering Capitol Hill over time. Some of this data appears in the chart titled, “Media Organizations Accredited to Congress.”  To track the change in size of selected media organizations over time, we also tallied the number of individuals listed as representing each selected news outlet.

News organizations sometimes accredit every member of their Washington staff, including support staff. Thus the number of congressional accreditations for a news organization sometimes exceeds the number of journalists it employs and the number of actual reporters on the beat for any one year. Still, the changes year to year reveal accreditation patterns over time, and provide one way to identify and track these trends.

Hudson’s Washington News Media Contacts Directory
Published annually since 1968, the Hudson’s directory lists news organizations with a presence in Washington by category (eg., newspapers, radio, television, specialty or niche publications , news services, etc.,) and also lists individual journalists working at each organization. Data tallied from the 1985, 2000, 2004 and 2008 editions were used to compile the data on the number of newspapers represented by corporate bureaus and those newspapers with their own Washington bureaus and also the data for the chart that shows television network Washington bureau staffing over time. The preface of most editions of the Hudson’s Directory contains the number of media outlets listed that year as having a physical presence in Washington, DC. That data is displayed in the chart at titled “Media Outlets with a Presence in D.C.”

The Capital Source
This directory was published annually (and occasionally twice a year) by the National Journal between 1985 and 2007. It lists media organizations with an office in Washington by category. We tallied the number of organizations listed in these categories to establish population growth or decline over time. Some of that data is used to create the chart, “News Organizations with Presence in D.C.”

Background Material

Background documents for the narrative consisted largely of newspaper, magazine or online articles, most of them written over the past year, relating in anecdotal terms to the decline of U.S.-based daily newspaper reporting power in the nation’s capital. Other noteworthy documents included an in-depth article on how news agencies and U.S. daily newspapers covered the agencies of the federal government, written by Lucinda Fleeson: “Who’s Got the Beat” published in the Oct. 2002, issue of the American Journalism Review. The narrative also drew from a speech delivered by McClatchy Bureau Chief John Walcott on Oct. 7, 2008, at Harvard University in accepting the first I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. The text and a transcript of a follow-up discussion session are available on the Nieman Program site: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu.