Pew Report Details the Niche-ification of the Washington Press Corps

And some lessons about access.

The Pew Research Center’s new report on the Washington press corps basically confirms every trend you suspected. Digital media representation: up, by a factor of about four. Membership-based outlets offering shiny “products” for a fee: up. Local newspaper representation: down.

The report is an update of its 2009 look at the Washington press corps and analyzes what has happened since, looking at numbers from 2009-2014. “Since those 2014 figures were tallied, other papers have turned out the lights in Washington, closing their bureau or simply electing not to replace an outgoing correspondent,” reads the report. Local newspaper representation: down–more. A downer.

And what of for-Washington-by-Washington coverage? Pew reports that membership in the Regional Reporters Association, “a group of Washington-based reporters that produce local and regional coverage – sit at 59 in 2015, down from around 200 in the mid-1990s.”

The overall number of accredited reporters covering Congress is up by 4 percent since 2009. One category that grew in that time from an essentially non-existent status is what Pew describes as “broad-interest news websites,” which include Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. There were 73 accredited journalists from these organizations in 2014, compared to two in 2009.

New this year is a study Pew conducted to look at how coverage by Washington-based reporters from local newspapers differs from coverage in local newspapers with no Washington-based reporters. It found that papers with Washington-based reporters were more likely to produce stories that quoted politicos, and more likely to go for the (illusory) balance of Left quote/Right quote reporting. Less evident on the part of Washington-based reporters was an effort to tie back what was being said or done (or not done) on the Hill to the real-world implications for its audience and local communities.

Our fast and loose interpretation: the siren call of access is more likely to turn reporters into print digital megaphones for government officials.

For a full look at what is going on, read the report here.