Ants at the Picnic: A Status Report on News Coverage of State Government

May 25, 2010
By Gene Gibbons

Gene GibbonsGene Gibbons

Shorenstein Center Goldsmith Fellow, Spring 2010
Former Executive Editor,

Read the full paper (PDF).



I borrowed a wonderful quote from Ross Ramsey, managing editor of The Texas Tribune, for the title of this discussion paper. His is one of the more interesting Internet start-ups focusing on news coverage of state government. “It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the journalists [covering state government] now, it’s that we need more ants at the picnic,” he told me. Ross Ramsey’s observation captures the essence of what I found in my research: there’s a feast of news and information to be had about what’s happening in the 50 state capitols — news and information that matters much more directly to the average news consumer than what’s happening in Washington, DC — but the traditional media, for a variety of reasons, is not covering it the way they used to. All is not lost, however — an army of Internet start‐ups, some practicing traditional journalism in a new medium, others delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism — are crawling all over the picnic. My paper includes an overview of news coverage of state government (pp 2–7), findings of a survey that shows how some state officials view the situation (pp 7–15), a look at a couple of interesting new state news initiatives (pp 15–19) and what I call “Journalism with an asterisk” (pp 19–27), and some conclusions about what might be done to reinvigorate this critical journalistic endeavor. (pp 27–33).

Read the full paper (PDF).