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Statehouse Reporting Declines; South Dakota Has Fewest Capital Correspondents

The Pew Research Center released a study yesterday on journalism in our state capitals. Pew finds 751 full-time statehouse reporters and 851 part-time statehouse reporters. Newspapers have retreated from the statehouses, but they still provide the largest portion of that press corps, 38%. Television stations provide 17%, just barely more than the 16% coming from non-traditional media like non-profit groups and online news outfits.

Pew Research: full-time and part=time reporters assigned to statehouses, plus organizational source, 2014

70% of all newspapers and 86% of local TV stations don't bother to assign anyone to their statehouse beats.

Radio stations make up only 8% of the statehouse press corps. Public radio stations provide almost half of that noble corps.

South Dakota wins special mention for having the fewest full-time statehouse reporters, two. Bob Mercer works the capital for a group of South Dakota newspapers. The Associated Press also maintains a Pierre desk.

A straight count is perhaps unfair, since South Dakota has far fewer news consumers than most states. Texas has the most statehouse reporters, 53, but with some 26 million residents, that breaks down to one reporter for every 490,000 Texans, compared to one for every 410,000 South Dakotans. (Pause a moment. Think about that, Bob: you're the only guy on the job for over 410,00 people.)

But let's not make excuses: all four states with less population than South Dakota manage to station more reporters in their capitals.

Pew Research Center: Statehouse reporters in ten least populous states.
Pew Research Center: Statehouse reporters in ten least populous states. [Pew Research Center, "America's Shifting Statehouse Press," 2014.07.10, p. 30. Click to embiggen!]
North Dakota has five full-time reporters in Bismarck. Wyoming sends six full-timers to Cheyenne, plus eight part-timers and four session-only correspondents.

Why does this matter? Recall the theory that geographic isolation of a capital contributes to less press coverage, which in turn facilitates more corruption. One recent study ranks South Dakota eighth for corruption. Neither North Dakota nor Wyoming appear in the top ten.

Hmm... maybe getting candidates to challenge one party rule is only one way to tackle South Dakota's corrupt regime. If we can't field candidates, maybe we need to field correspondents.


  1. Jerry 2014.07.11

    How much money does a representative or senator get paid for the job? The ones that go to Pierre seem to be pretty well heeled so that eliminates a lot of working people that would do a great job there.

  2. Tara Volesky 2014.07.11

    More correspondents and open government. If investigative reporters had access to EB-5 documents this election might not turn out as planned.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.11

    Jerry, current pay for legislators for the session is $6,000. They also get $110 per diems for mileage, food, and lodging.

    Tara, help me figure out which would be harder: lining up candidates, donors, and voters to win a statewide campaign; or lining up reporters, investors, and readers to support a new statewide news service like Northern Plains News?

  4. Tara Volesky 2014.07.11

    Well Cory, I get my political news from you, SoDakLiberty, South DaCola, The Constant Commoner, Northern Valley Beacon, Fly Over Wire, The Daily Dose along with a few others. The Daily Papers are aligned with crony capitalists and rich politicians. So I read sports, letters to the editor and just glance over the fluff stories about politics. With your talent Cory, every major newspaper or TV station should offer you a nice contract as an investigative reporter. If Myers gets elected, your hired. We'll have you, Sentema and a couple other hard working bloggers to break open the EB-5 scandals and the SDDSS among other things. There is plenty of work for a lot of you guys. Myers would also hire an Independent Investigative Prosecutor. Are you up for it. You have my word, now help get him elected. This state is ready for some transparency.

  5. Tara Volesky 2014.07.11

    I really didn't answer your question, because I don't know. I do think it would be pretty hard putting together a newspaper.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.11

    Tara, I appreciate the vote of confidence. Of course, I'd hate to change my electoral loyalties and campaign for a candidate just because he's offered me a job in his administration. ;-)

    Consider where Tara gets her news. She lists a whole bunch of good blogs, all of which offer their content for free. Can anyone of us dare to try offering a for-fee product, when readers like Tara will likely just throw us overboard and stick with the remaining array of cheaper options?

    There's the sticking point: we all want better coverage of Pierre. A bunch of us try to do a patchwork job of it from a distance for free. But who's willing to pay for gas and sandwiches and an 8x10 room with wi-fi... not to mention the emotional strain of sleeping somewhere other than next to my lovely wife?

  7. Steve Sibson 2014.07.11

    You are right Cory, most don't want to make the sacrifice required to be a public servant. [not intended to knock you Cory, I am guilty too] That is why we are stuck with greedy politicians supposedly representing us.

  8. Tara Volesky 2014.07.11

    Cory, you can still remain a Democrat:-) Heck, Lora is going to remain a Republican. Now that's what I call liberal thinking.....outside the box. lol. I really do think you guys are getting screwed over, especially when that Sioux Falls paper steals your stories. Charge them and maybe charge your readership fee instead of free subscription. Don't worry Cory, I am not going to throw you under the bus. You won't see the Myer's campaign advertising on SDWC. They are nasty! I hope you guys come up with something, because you deserve to get paid. Don't feel to bad Cory, I am not getting paid either. I consider being Mike's campaign manager missionary service.

  9. bearcreekbat 2014.07.11

    As I told you earlier Cory, my doctor suggested Madville to me because of the quality of your work. So far I have not been disappointed.

    As for Pierre politics, we have such a one trick pony that I fear it will not matter for a long time. But I have faith that the political pendulum always swings, so as with Sisyphus, I hope those who actually care about South Dakotans will keep pushing that rock up the hill with the hope of making it to the top. Indeed, there was even a time when it was Republicans who were the "progressives," and I would like to imagine a time when our Republicans actually exhibit concern for their fellow humans (note I did not say citizens or "legals"), rather than demonize them.

  10. Doreen Allison Creed 2014.07.12

    The situation in Pierre is repeated across the state. The news media has quit covering nearly all hard news of governmental entities. It's a sad state of affairs. There is little accountability because the public has no idea what is going on within its local and state government. Having an open meeting law is meaningless when there are no reporters. There are a lot of hard working elected officials, who are trying to improve their communities etc. but their accomplishments are not known to the public. Members of the news media rival teachers in pay. Most J school grads need years of on-the-job training to learn all the in-and-outs of government and the many ordinances etc. that can be different in each community/entity. Most reporters get burnt out by the long hours etc. and throw in the towel for easier, higher paying jobs. As a result, newspapers and airwaves are filled with useless info about some celeb, animal story, or other soft, inexpensive news. Plus, like it or not, the majority of the people will read about a celeb before EB-5. I believe people have given up on government and concentrate their time with family and matters that take little thought.

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