The BBC last week published an article examining the effect on communities when hundreds of local US newspapers close or merge.
Political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Danny Hayes studied the effect of both closures and curtailed coverage across America on elections for US Representatives. Those races are for national office, but their voters are local.
Hayes says when papers close or cut coverage, people are less able to identify who’s running, know the candidate’s issue positions and, ultimately, are less likely to vote
“When local papers cut coverage there’s essentially nothing to take its place in these local communities,” he says, adding while there have been many online local news experiments they tend to be in already media-rich environments or not as focused on public affairs.
This effect happens to everyone, Hayes says, even those who are considered politically engaged.
“I suspect over the long term, people who are pretty politically engaged figure out ways to sort of maintain their level of participation,” he says.
“I’m not sure they’ll be necessarily as knowledgeable as they were.”
No local papers around here are shutting down to my knowledge. But we’ve seen the detrimental effects of cuts.
A few years ago the NOW sites including Franklin’s dropped all their bloggers, dozens of them. These bloggers wrote exclusively about their communities, often covering local government meetings. That coverage was never replaced.
Today the local news coverage of Franklin in the restructured mysouthnow website is pretty skimpy. They’re not exactly breaking any news bulletins and tend to shy away from controversy.
That happens when a news service and media voices are cut or eliminated. Whole neighborhoods suffer.