Last week was a bad one for online journalism, as Buzzfeed and HuffPost slashed jobs. It was a bad week for newspapers as well, as USA Today owner Gannett laid off employees at papers like The Indianapolis Star and The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
Staffing at local newspapers across the country has been on the decline for a while. Readers should care for many reasons, including that the disappearance of local news contributes to the political polarization of Americans, according to a study conducted by Texas A&M, Louisiana State and Colorado State universities.
The study, according to an article from The Associated Press this week, compared 66 communities that had seen their newspapers close over the past 20 years, and 77 that still have a local newspaper. In those communities that lost a local paper, readers turned to online and cable news sources, which made them view local or statewide issues in terms of how they aligned with national politics, voter data showed.
“The voting behavior was more polarized, less likely to include split ticket voting, if a newspaper had died in the community,” Johanna Dunaway, a communications professor at Texas A&M, told the AP. “We have this loss of engagement at the local level.”
Since 2004, 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States. About 7,100 remain. The timeline seems to correlate with the sharpness of political division in the U.S.
According to the study, in 1992, voters in 37 percent of states with Senate races voted for different parties in the presidential and Senate races. In 2016, no states did this, the first time that had happened in more than 100 years.
Reduced news coverage at the local level can also change how politicians shape their policy and direct their campaigns.
“They have to rely on party ‘brand names’ and are less about ‘how I can do best for my district,’” Dunaway told the AP.
If citizens want to fight the political polarization that most bemoan, supporting the local newspaper is a good way to start.