Jan 14, 2020

A major investment in statehouse reporting

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In the next 12–18 months, States Newsroom, a nonprofit company that supports a group of state capital-based, independent newsrooms, will expand to cover up to 20 more states, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: Its efforts are the latest in a string of investments into revitalizing coverage of state governments across the country.

  • Coverage of local government and state municipalities has been hit particularly hard in the local news crisis. Between 2003 and 2014, there was a 35% drop in statehouse reporting specifically.

Details: On Tuesday, States Newsroom, which is backed by non-disclosed donors, will launch its newest local outfit in Minneapolis called the Minnesota Reformer, led by J. Patrick Coolican, who recently left the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

  • Other states that the company is looking to expand to include Louisiana, Tennessee, Kansas, New Hampshire and Montana, says Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom.
  • "Our funding model is a bit different than traditional for-profit and even nonprofit media outlets. All of our work is free," says Fitzsimon. "We will never put content behind a paywall or create a roadblock to readers like a subscription service for premium content. We don't run ads of any kind."

By the numbers: To date, States Newsroom has opened 14 news operations in states including Virginia, Arizona, Michigan, Maine and Maryland.

  • The entire company employs nearly 60 reporters and editors. By the end of 2020, they plan to have more than 80 on staff between state capitals and its D.C. office. Each newsroom has three to four reporters and editors.

Between the lines: Most of the reporters and editors hired to work at States Newsroom outlets are veterans of the local paper from that particular city.

  • For example, States Newsroom launched the Iowa Capital Dispatch last week, led by veteran Iowa journalist Kathie Obradovich, formerly the politics editor of the Des Moines Register, where she had been for the past 16 years.

The big picture: There's a lot of nonprofit and philanthropic interest in journalism right now, particularly targeted toward state capitals.

  • AP and Report for America announced last month that they would place 14 reporters in state legislatures across the country.
  • ProPublica said in 2018 that it would expand its Local Reporting Network to focus on accountability journalism on state governments and state politics.

Yes, but: As a nonprofit, Fitzsimon says States Newsroom "doesn't accept corporate donations or underwriting, just philanthropic donations." While Axios research has verified that the websites run by States Newsroom are indeed independent, Fitzsimon won't disclose who the company's donors are.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that States Newsroom will expand to cover up to 20 states (not at least 20 new states).

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