ICYMI: Dean DeChiaro: “Decline of local journalism is likely increasing voter polarization”

With local elections occurring nationwide today, and just one year from the 2020 elections, Dean DeChiaro for Roll Call details the ever-pressing need for journalism in a polarized America. The story highlights that with the decline of local news,  voters succumb to using social media and national news to bring them coverage on their local politics, leaving them uninformed and without clear information on their local officials. This information gap leaves Congress members without a channel to communicate their message to their constituents, leaving everyone in the dark. 

The catastrophic collapse of local news has stemmed from none other than giants like Facebook and Google, whose dominance in the ad market has allowed them to siphon off billions of digital ad revenue that journalists and publishers rightfully deserve.  Because of this, the growing crisis of local news has spread its roots into all aspects of American society, including elections. Not only have more than 3,000 newsroom staff been laid off in 2019 alone and 60 percent of U.S. counties lost daily newspapers, it is clear that this decline is not only affecting journalists and publishers but the country and its constituents as a whole. 

Dean DeChiaro’s story is excerpted below and available here

…But that may be a pipe dream because voters — with fewer sources of local news and greater access to national media outlets and social media sites, whose algorithms focus on divisive national topics — are becoming more polarized. And though it’s partially a citizen’s duty to stay informed, the current situation isn’t entirely their fault — the decline of local newspapers, partisanship by national cable news outlets and a dangerous rise in online disinformation are all contributors to national polarization.

“This is going to result in people having a harder time finding information about their local elections,” says Kristy Roschke, managing director of the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, which tackles engagement and news literacy issues. “In the absence of clear information about local races, candidates, ballot initiatives, people turn to what they see, which is a never-ending stream of national politics on cable news.”

Going into the 2020 cycle, voters will have less information than ever before on the local races they’re going to decide. That means local candidates, and even people running for Congress, will face more questions on national issues, like the ongoing impeachment inquiry related to Trump’s Ukraine dealings, even if they’re hardly involved.

With 60 percent of U.S. counties no longer benefiting from daily newspaper coverage, the negative side effects of the collapse of local media on American civic life are well-documented: Research has found that in places that have lost a newspaper, fewer people tend to run for mayor. Municipal costs increase. Voter turnout declines.

There are also fewer reporters around to cover the local member of Congress, and the members themselves have lost a crucial pipeline for communicating with their constituents.

House members, especially, “have always relied on the local news to get their messages out, to tell people what they’re doing in Congress,” says John Stanton, a journalist who, after being laid off by BuzzFeed in 2018, helped establish the Save Journalism Project, a nonprofit combating the decline in local news. “Without local news, it’s very hard for them to get that information out to people.”