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, Stateline.org

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Excerpt

Introduction

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).

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