As the mainstream press struggles with the impact of technology and recession, how many reporters are on Capitol Hill to cover the 111th Congress?
The latest data are available and come at a time when the Senate Press gallery is facing entreaties to accredit more organizations with non-profit status.
In 2009, the number of reporters representing newspapers declined sharply from the previous Congress. This year, 819 mainstream U.S. newspaper and wire service reporters were accredited in the Congressional galleries, down from 1,012 in the previous Congress, a drop of 19%.
But the numbers continue to rise for another component of the press gallery—niche and specialized publications. As a result, the total number of U.S. journalists accredited to the galleries has remained more stable over the past decade—from 1,362 in the 1997-98 Congress to a peak of just under 1,500 in 2007-08 to just over 1,300 today. But newspapers and wire services make up a smaller percentage of that total. Those working for daily newspapers, for example, fell from nearly two-thirds of the total in 1997-98 to less than half in 2008-09.
In our February study, PEJ reported a different set of data for newspapers in the Hill press galleries: it counted the number of newspapers accredited to the Hill, not reporters. We have since discovered that in 1989-90 the Congressional Directory changed the way it presented data for newspapers, though that change in methodology was not noted in the directory. Separate listings for newspapers represented solely by a corporate chain bureau reporter were dropped, with only the corporate bureau left listed. Thus at a time when chain bureaus were beginning to replace individual newspaper bureaus, the directory showed a 72% drop in the number of newspapers listed on the Hill from the mid 1980s, which overstates the actual decline.
With no reliable way to reconcile the two different accountings of newspapers, PEJ has instead counted each reporter—a metric which remained consistent year to year. According to this accounting, the number of newspaper reporters on the Hill in 2009 is down 17% since the mid 1980s and 30% since the 1990s.
As the original report found generally in Washington, the rapid growth of niche outlets, meanwhile, partly compensated for the loss of newspaper reporters accredited to the galleries. The number of people accredited to these publications is up from about 335 in 1997-98 to roughly 500 currently.
Overall, the total number of organizations listed with Hill credentials from the Press galleries declined from 165 in 1998 to 149 in 2008 and then 137 in 2009 – a 17% drop.