Survey Captures Public Media Coverage of State Government in all 50 States

June 22, 2022

Public media stations in all 50 states provide original state government reporting at least weekly when the legislature is in session, and stations in 31 states have increased this coverage to fill the void left by the decline of local newspapers, according to a recent study commissioned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

“State Government Coverage in Public Media,” a survey of 175 public media stations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam, conducted by Edison Research, provides a first-of-its-kind snapshot of the format, frequency, and depth of state and territorial government coverage. The sample included 87 radio stations, 41 TV stations, and 47 dual licensee stations, covering population areas ranging from just over 30,000 people to nearly 25 million.

CPB commissioned the survey in 2021 as a first step in its strategy to increase public media coverage of state government, an urgent civic need given the increasing influence of misinformation and disinformation in civic discourse.

“For decades, communities across the country have relied on public media stations for information on state governance, and this survey provides a baseline for measuring the growth of these services moving forward,” said Joy Lin, CPB vice president of journalism, who is presenting the survey findings on June 23 at the Public Media Journalists Association conference in Seattle.

Findings include: 

  • One hundred forty stations, even those with the most limited resources, provide original, weekly reporting on state government when the statehouse is in session.
  • Public media stations in 45 states plus Washington, D.C., have at least one reporter dedicated full-time to the government beat, a total of 134 reporters, out of the 752 who cover state government at least some of the time.
  • Of the stations surveyed, radio stations accounted for 40% of the statehouse beat reporters, with 33% coming from joint licensees and 27% coming for public television stations.
  • In at least 11 states, stations have formally pooled their resources to cover state government.
  • Public television stations in 12 states broadcast live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of legislative proceedings via secondary channels.
  • Newsmaker interviews were the most common programmatic offering, provided by 87% of the TV and radio stations surveyed. Stations were less likely to deliver state government coverage requiring more resource investment, such as investigative journalism, voter guides, email newsletters, and digital-only video.
  • Forty-five stations in 22 states cover tribal government, and 1 in 6 stations provide coverage in a language other than English, most often in Spanish.

“We were pleased to see stations citing collaboration as a positive change they’ve seen in state government coverage.” Lin said. “Moving forward, we hope to leverage this collaborative culture to help stations deliver robust yearlong reporting, increase investigative reporting capacity, and develop formats that reach new audiences.”

The survey identifies coverage gaps that could be addressed through new models of collaboration, and this report ushers in a new phase in CPB’s journalism investments, designed to ensure that American citizens are fully informed about state and local governance. Since 2009, CPB has invested more than $42 million to help launch 41 local and regional news collaborations, which have helped stations develop best practices for how to partner together.

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