The Strength of State Government Reporting: How In-Depth News and Investigative Coverage by Six U.S. Newspapers Fared from 2005 Through 2014 Open Access
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America’s legacy media institutions, particularly print newspapers, experienced transformational change from 2005 through 2014. The Internet’s rise as an advertising competitor, coupled with an historic economic downturn beginning in 2007, led to crippling financial hardship. In response, many newspapers slashed budgets, staff, and content. These trends raise lasting concerns about the vitality of American journalism. Previous research documents the industry’s financial woes, explores implications for its future, and proposes reforms. This study contributes to the literature by examining how news content changed during this unique period. Specifically, it assesses how state government reporting by six U.S. publications—California’s The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, Florida’s Tallahassee Democrat and Tampa Bay Times, and Pennsylvania’s The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Patriot-News—fared from 2005-14. A systematic content analysis of more than 4,000 articles measured two key indicators of journalistic strength over time: (1) the volume of in-depth news articles, and (2) the amount of investigative coverage. The research shows that across the six outlets, in-depth news pieces declined 30 percent from 2005-14, and investigative coverage dropped 17 percent. Half of the outlets experienced three or more consecutive years without any investigative coverage of state government. Below these topline trends, however, was a great deal of variation by outlet and year. These findings empirically support what media scholars and observers alike have suspected: The financial crises of the preceding decade diluted news content. More importantly, they underpin concerns that powerful actors are making critical choices on behalf of citizens with weaker media watchdogs holding them accountable.