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Nov. 25, 2019, 10 a.m.
Reporting & Production

A new Report for America partnership with the AP will fill statehouse reporting gaps in 13 states

“If a state can’t see itself reflected in the national political story, that’s a problem.”

The Associated Press will add a statehouse reporter in 13 states as part of a new partnership with Report for America, the organizations announced Monday.

“Government accountability is a huge issue and editors are acutely aware of how the powers that be can run amok in a lot of places where there isn’t good coverage, so this approach is well-timed,” said Steven Waldman, RFA’s president and cofounder. “The Associated Press is the leader across the country in statehouse coverage, and them getting behind this in such a big way is so thrilling and important.”

Report for America, like Teach for America or the Peace Corps, places eager, mostly fresh-out-of-college people into “service opportunities” in high-need places for a limited term — only instead of developing countries or struggling school systems, its reporters go to work for local news outlets. RFA generally pays half a reporter’s salary (up to $20,000) while the host news outlet pays the other half; terms are usually one year, though they can sometimes be extended. (The AP-RFA statehouse reporters will be paid according to AP’s guild contract.)

Noreen Gillespie, the AP’s deputy managing editor for U.S. news, said the two organizations came up with a formula to determine which state bureaus would most benefit from an RFA corp member. The AP already has at least one reporter covering all 50 statehouses, so each bureau was required to fill out an application explaining its need for another reporter and what beat they would cover.

Using those applications, third-party data on news deserts, and evaluations on the health of the state’s press corp, the AP decided to place RFA reporters in Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah. Their beats will range from budget and policy decisions to voter access and suppression.

Along with those 13 reporters, a 14th job will go to a data journalist to support the RFA statehouse reporters. The AP will also publish statehouse reporting by other RFA corp members placed at different news organizations and distribute its coverage to news outlets that aren’t AP subscribers.

Pew study: New media outlets attempt to fill void in statehouse coverage across the U.S. ]

Local news coverage of state governments has been shrinking due to limited resources and general uncertainty around the future of local news. In 2014, Pew found that only 30 percent of U.S. daily newspapers had a statehouse reporter, and that number has likely increased since then.

“If a state can’t see itself reflected in the national political story, that’s a problem,” Gillespie said. “By putting all of these reporters in all of these states, we understand better what the political story is in a given state and that helps us, in turn, better understand ourselves as a country.”

Photo of the Indiana Statehouse rotunda by Mr. Nixter used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 25, 2019, 10 a.m.
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