Report: More journalists are covering the Utah statehouse, but fewer are doing it full time

While more reporters are covering the Utah statehouse, measures by lawmakers to restrict media access in the Utah Capitol have also increased.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol at dusk on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, during the legislative session.

The number of journalists covering the Utah statehouse, charged with sharing the actions and happenings of Utah’s Legislature and elected leaders with the state’s nearly 3.3 million residents, has increased by 51.85% since 2014, a recent study from The Pew Research Center shows.

As of 2022, 41 reporters covered the Utah statehouse, which is up from 27 reporters who covered Capitol Hill in 2014.

Of those, 14 reporters currently cover the statehouse full-time, 24 reporters cover the statehouse part-time (along with other beats) and three reporters, like college students and interns, fall into an “other” category, according to the report.

From debates around transgender kids competing in school sports to voting rights restrictions, state legislatures across the nation have played an immense role in shaping U.S. politics, leading some news organizations to fund more resources in their outlets’ statehouse coverage. The Republican Party’s investment in statehouse races, for example, has allowed the party increase support for conservative agenda items nationally.

Overall, the Pew study found that the number of statehouse reporters in the U.S. has increased by 11%. But data shows the number of full-time statehouse reporters has declined between 2014 and 2022. Nationally, the survey found about half of U.S. statehouse reporters covered the state capital full time.

In Utah, however, the number of full-time reporters covering the statehouse increased by one during that time period.

Brian Allfrey, executive director of the Utah Press Association, said it’s a good sign to see resources and “more sunlight” aimed at the Utah statehouse.

“That’s where decisions are being made and we’re seeing that in all these different issues that have been flashpoints in the last few years,” he said. “So much of our daily lives is affected by what decisions, and what deals and what laws are passed at the state Capitol. The more people we have covering, the more people that we have fighting for transparency and open government – the better everyone’s lives are going to be.”

In the report, Pew researchers attributed the expansion of reporters covering state Legislatures to new nonprofit news outlets hiring more statehouse reporters and news organizations shifting to more part-time statehouse reporting.

“After years of staff cutbacks in the newspaper industry, nonprofit news outlets have moved in to fill a legacy media gap,” researchers wrote of the national trend.

As the number of statehouse reporters in Utah has risen, measures to restrict media access in the Utah Capitol have also increased.

This past legislative session, Utah lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives barred credentialed press from having direct access to the statehouse floor to conduct interviews with lawmakers. The rules change also requires that journalists get permission before standing behind the dias of a committee room where photographers and videographers often stand to capture a lawmaker or witness testifying for or against a bill.

The change of rules in both chambers sparked swift criticism from media outlets and press advocacy organizations throughout the state who argued it limits transparency.