NEW YORK (AP) -- The Washington press corps at the dawn of the Obama administration is far more specialized and less interested in reaching average Americans than it was just a few years ago.
The capital also has many more foreign reporters covering the U.S. from an outsider's perspective — to the point where the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera have nearly the same number of accredited journalists as CBS News, a report issued Tuesday said.
The Project For Excellence in Journalism documented a press corps that is markedly different from what it was just a few years ago.
Cutbacks at newspapers, magazines and TV networks have sharply reduced the number of reporters watching Washington for general interest publications.
Since the 1980s, the number of newspapers accredited to cover Congress has dropped by two-thirds, the report said. Time and Newsweek have less than half the staff in Washington than they did in the 1980s. BusinessWeek's Washington staff went from 20 to three in just three years.
The Long Island newspaper Newsday had 15 people in Washington when President George W. Bush took office in 2001; now it has one correspondent. The Los Angeles Times had 54 people in Washington in 2004. Now it shares 35 staff members with the Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Hartford Courant, the report said. Many smaller papers have gotten rid of their Washington presence altogether.
TV networks have also retrenched, though not as dramatically.
The result is a press corps far less likely to cover state delegations, for example, or report about how Washington's actions affect communities across the country, said Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director.
"The watchdog role that the general interest press has played has clearly shrunk," he said. "What has risen in its place is something that's geared to special interests. It's not the same thing as journalism aimed at citizens."
Specialized publications are thriving, many with journalists let go by newspapers or magazines. They include publications like ClimateWire, Energy Trader, Traffic World, Government Executive and Food Chemical News. They all cover a narrow slice of Washington for interested lobbyists or industry executives who can afford them. Started less than a year ago, the online ClimateWire has twice the reporters as the Hearst News Service and is available for a yearly subscription of $3,495, the report said.
No mainstream media organization lists the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a full-time beat. Inside NRC, a biweekly newsletter that covers the nuclear power industry, costs $2,495 a year.
"What we found striking is that even the journalists who are part of the transition worry about it," Rosenstiel said.
The change makes news services like The Associated Press significantly more influential, he said. It's also made for plenty of business opportunities, like the rapidly growing Politico Web site. Creative news executives may find more: Newspapers in some states may have cut back on reporters, for example, but may be able to make money by selling a specialized service devoted to their interests.
Decades ago, many countries overseas learned about what was going on in Washington from the perspective of U.S. news organizations. Not anymore. When the Foreign Press Center opened in 1968 for non-U.S. media outlets, there were about 160 foreign correspondents. Now there are nearly 10 times as many, the report said.
Technological advances have helped usher more reporters in, and there was a rush of interest after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the Bush administration's response, the report said. An influx of media members from Asia, the Middle East and Africa has been pronounced in recent years.
Now, TV networks like al-Arabiya not only give viewers an alternative view of what's going on in Iraq, they give a different view of what's happening in Washington, the report said.
For example, when former Vice President Dick Cheney commented on the Obama administration's new policies for the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, it was a minor story in the U.S., but it was big overseas, Rosenstiel said.
The changing face of the press corps means that "governing is that much more complicated for people in power," he said.
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