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12/3/2018 11:03:00 AM
COMMENTARY: Another academic study suggests the value of local newspapers

Bob Zaltsberg, Herald-Times Editor

An academic study released in May was highlighted in this column earlier this year. It was titled: “Financing dies in darkness? The impact of newspaper closures on public finance.”

Study authors from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago concluded that after a daily newspaper closes in a community, municipal borrowing costs rise, government wage rates rise, the number of government employees rises, and closely related, tax dollars paid by citizens rise. For their study, they defined closing as reducing publication to three or fewer days.

The authors quoted from other research that led them to their conclusions: “... in many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional accountability reporting. This is likely to lead to the kinds of problems that are, not surprisingly, associated with a lack of accountability — more government waste, more local corruption, less effective schools and other serious community problems.”

Now comes new research, authored by Joshua P. Darr, Matthew P. Hitt and Johanna L. Dunaway — professors at Louisiana State University, Colorado State University and Texas A&M University, respectively. They have studied split-ticket voting to look at the issue of political polarization.

They found that in a community in which a local newspaper closes, polarization in politics increases. The research was published in the Journal of Communication.

The research studied the time from 2009 to 2012, so it came before President Trump. In summarizing the research, Chloe Reichel of the Journalist's Resource wrote: “The authors found that in counties where newspapers closed before the 2012 election, split-ticket voting decreased by 1.9 percent. While the number may seem small out of context, ‘this is comparatively larger than findings in other studies of changes in the local media environment,’ the authors write.” The Journalist’s Resource is based at the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The researchers said the decline came because the lack of local information was replaced by consumption of national news sources, with high-intensity messages and more partisanship.

They also said local newspaper coverage tends to focus on actions of representatives, rather than framing messages in terms of winners and losers.

The abstract on their Journal article states: “We argue that the decline of local newspapers has contributed to the nationalization of American politics: as local newspapers close, Americans rely more heavily on available national news or partisan heuristics to make political decisions. ...”

They didn’t study how thorough the closed newspapers covered local politics, just that when they were no longer available political polarization grew.

To reiterate what I wrote in June, the H-T is not planning to go anywhere. The newspaper will continue to emphasize local news, including political news. It will continue to try to put national issues, including political issues, into context and perspective.

The outcome of this study, as with the study in June, is offered to give you more incentive to support our local newspaper and those in whatever community in which you live. These studies provide evidence that local newspapers serve communities in ways that might not be clear until they are no longer in operation. And they can’t operate to their highest potential without support from readers and advertisers.

Copyright 2018, HeraldTimesOnline, Bloomington, IN

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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