“If this had run 25 years ago, it would have been gobbled up,” Grant Lally, the publisher and owner of the North Shore Leader, told Waldman. “There’d have been 20 follow ups from Newsday and other publications and the weeklies.” But the weeklies that once served Long Island towns have "mostly merged into larger chains, and many don’t even have editorial offices in the covered towns anymore," Waldman reports. "Another part of this case, though, is the attention economy."
Because "the local media ecosystem is compromised, even when someone manages to get a good story, the rest of the system can’t amplify it or pursue it," Waldman writes. "If a small paper broke a story, it would be picked up by a bigger paper, or The Associated Press, which would prompt the TV stations and radio stations to dive in. Now the hyperlocal small newsrooms rarely do investigative work, and when they do, the bigger players don’t pay attention. And in smaller communities, the weekly papers are the entire foodchain, so their demise is even more consequential."
There are stil more than 6,000 weeklies, but many of them, and some dailies, are “ghost newspapers . . . slim papers full of wire copy, press releases and ads," Waldman notes. "One consequence of this hollowing out is that voters have little to no information on which to base their choices in local elections. This would seem to be a fairly significant problem for, you know, democracy. And ironically, the more local the election, the worse the coverage is likely to be. But the harm goes much deeper. Other studies show that areas with less local news have more corruption, fewer competitive elections, less resident involvement in PTAs, and even lower bond ratings. . . . There’s now evidence that the decline of local news exacerbates polarization, too. Studies show, for instance, that in areas with less coverage, voters are less likely to split their tickets. That’s because the vacuums created by the contraction of local news are filled largely by national cable TV, radio, and social media. The contraction of local news accelerates the nationalization of politics while at the same time, we have less of the kinds of information that binds together communities—everything from obituaries to high-school sports. And as "many communities have moved from good information, to no information, to deceptive information, a new wave of “pink slime” sites—often set up by political activists—to impersonate traditional news sites while actively promoting particular candidates or businesses."
Waldman, who runs Report for America, notes the book, News Hole, by media scholars Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless, who wrote that most discussions about the problems of democracy “don’t account for the most dramatic change in the civic life U.S. communities have experienced in the last 20 years: the decimation of the local news media.” He promotes his coalition's main cause, the proposed Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would give tax credits to newsrooms to pay local journalists, to small businesses that advertise in local news outlets and to consumers who purchase local news: "Perhaps Rep. Santos could co-sponsor the bill."
|Screenshot from CNN|