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Big Sky Connection - As the number of full-time reporters covering statehouses continues to decline across the U.S., university-led reporting programs are working to fill these news gaps, while helping students build their journalism skills and learn how the government works. Comments from Richard Watts, founder, Center for Community News, University of Vermont.

Click on the image above for the audio. As of 2022, 448 statehouse reporters across the U.S. work at newspapers, making up 25% of the statehouse corps. That's down from 604 statehouse reporters - 38% of the total - in 2014. (Adobe Stock)

Kathryn Carley

May 9, 2023 - Student reporters are stepping up to fill gaps in news coverage as the number of full-time statehouse reporters continues to decline. State legislatures handle important matters, including educational standards and access to healthcare, but increasingly it's students working with university-led reporting programs who are making sure these stories get the coverage they deserve.

Richard Watts, founder of the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont said students are working under the direction of veteran reporters and bringing fresh perspectives to the job.

"Students want to do real things these days," he said. "They really don't appreciate writing papers that go anywhere when they could actually write something that people read and has an impact."

More than 10% of statehouse reporters are now students, mainly from public colleges and universities. Watts hopes more private universities will use their vast resources to ensure their students get this type of on-the-job training, and communities get the news they need.

Research shows the loss of local news coverage has real impacts on local communities - decreasing civic engagement and voter turnout, and increasing costs for municipal governments. Watts says local news is vital to a thriving democracy.

"Without local news, people turn to these competing ideological news sources, and it leads to increased polarization," he said.

Watts said public colleges and universities are fulfilling their public service missions by helping their students fill local news gaps for media outlets, which continue to downsize due to the loss of ad revenue. The Center for Community News has documented more than 100 university-led reporting programs so far across the Municipal governments: