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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Impact of Local News Decline

Some national outlets are doing fine, but local newspapers are struggling.

Nancy Gibbs at WP:
The citizens whose votes count the most might have the hardest time learning about the issues and candidates running in their communities — because there’s no longer anyone reporting on them. Since 2005, newspaper employment has fallen 70 percent, [Penelope] Abernathy calculates, and local TV, radio and new digital start-ups don’t begin to make up for that decline. Fewer knowledgeable local reporters means less accountability, leading to higher public spending, lower social cohesion, fewer people voting or running for office, less ticket-splitting and more polarization as people rely on national news sources. In 1992, a third of the states with Senate races picked a senator from one party and the president from the other. In 2016, not a single state did so, and that hadn’t happened in 100 years.

If you’re a Democrat hoping to stand a chance of winning in a red state, or a Republican in a blue one, it helps if voters get to know you personally, see you at ribbon cuttings and town halls, hear where your views depart from party orthodoxy. That’s a lot harder to do without local reporters providing reliable coverage, no matter how many targeted Facebook ads you buy. By the same logic, winning candidates are accountable to the voters who elevate them — unless no one knows what they ran on or what they are doing with their power, beyond whether they have an R or a D on their jersey. If you weaken the connection between voters and their representatives, you empower their donors, lobbyists and conflict entrepreneurs.

Partisan players are well aware of the opportunity presented when a local paper dies. Potemkin sites that mimic authentic newsrooms have popped up across the country, more than 1,300 in all; they have the look and feel of reliable information sources, but their content is often partisan noise, produced by dark-money-funded propaganda factories. A single purveyor, Metric Media, claims to post more than 5 million stories a month. All kinds of disinformation and conspiracy theories find the desiccated news deserts to be fertile ground.