A Pillar of American Democracy – Moosmosis

In recent years, the labels of “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” have been prevalent when talking about the media, especially from the White House. The hostile rhetoric from Washington has had a considerable impact on the public: Americans’ trust in mass media is at 41%, a significant 4% drop from the previous year. Additionally, partisanship has dramatically increased as many Americans opt to solely consume news media that perpetuate their beliefs, leading news companies to produce blatantly partisan content, and thus, further promoting partisanship among their readers. This cycle creates an echo chamber that results in a sharply divided and often misinformed population.

Distrust towards the news media was prominently displayed during the 2016 election cycle. When Donald Trump was elected, many journalists were taken by complete surprise; after all, polls from trusted sources had the chances of a Hillary Clinton presidency at up to 90%. In the fallout, political analysts blamed the news media for contributing to a large portion of Trump’s success, pointing to the endless hours of coverage on his most recent controversy or tweet. For many Americans who watched the 2016 campaign on television, the entire event seemed to resemble a reality TV show rather than a platform to pick the most competent leader. With the onslaught of attacks against reporters, community newspapers and news channels play an increasingly critical role in fostering political discourse.

Line graph. Percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the mass media since 1997.
Trust in mass media has consistently fallen well below 50% for the last 15 years.

Benefits of Local News Media

As a trusted part of the community, local news organizations are able to extensively report on local or regional events that large, coastal papers often fail to cover, especially in rural areas. Local papers are often the first to report on local elections, new public programs, or policy changes; the loss of these organizations result in less political and community engagement. In fact, researchers have found a decrease in split-ticket voting in areas without a local newspaper. Voters are more likely to vote exclusively for one party, suggesting that they are less informed on the candidates’ platform and are thus forced to rely on partisan voting. Additionally, fewer papers are sending journalists to statehouses and government bureaus, resulting in areas like education and public health to be under-reported. The lack of media oversight on local governments allows for misconduct of power to remain undisclosed to the public.

Local news also serves as important sources for large, national news organizations, such as The New York Times and The Atlantic. National reporters look to community newspapers as a resource for information and inspiration when writing stories. The decrease in local news results in lower quality reporting as journalists have less sources to inform their articles.

According to a 2019 Knight-Gallup study, trust in local news outweighs trust in national news.

Challenges Facing Local News

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is FT_17.05.25_newspapers_circulation3.png

With the emergence of instantaneous information through the internet, traditional print subscriptions of local newspapers have greatly diminished, forcing organizations across the country to print their last issue. Many companies have experienced a large decline in profit as revenue from advertising fell by 42% from 2008 to 2013. With diminishing subscriptions and advertising revenue, employment in news media has also fallen. From 2008 to 2018, employment in newsrooms dropped by 25% while newspapers experienced a 47% drop. The result of these factors is the closing of more than 2,000 newspapers across the country, leaving hundreds of counties without a local newspaper.

The lack of news agencies presents a grave danger to democracy as ill-informed voters are unable to choose qualified political candidates or stay updated on important local events. With the rapidly growing partisan divide, it is more important than ever to support the growth of local news media in our communities.

Works Cited:

Barthel, Michael. “Circulation, Revenue Fall for US Newspapers Overall despite Gains for Some.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 1 June 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/01/circulation-and-revenue-fall-for-newspaper-industry/.

Brenan, Megan. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Edges Down to 41%.” Gallup, Gallup, 26 Sept. 2019, news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-down.aspx

Dehli, Joyce. “Rebuilding Local Journalism as an Essential Democratic Force.” The Pulitzer Prizes, The Pulitzer Prizes, http://www.pulitzer.org/article/rebuilding-local-journalism-essential-democratic-force.

Hendrickson, Clara. Local Journalism in Crisis. The Brookings Institution, 2019, http://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Local-Journalism-in-Crisis.pdf.

Leetaru, Kalev, and John Sides. “A Deep Dive into the News Media’s Role in the Rise of Donald J. Trump.” The Washington Post, The Washington Post, 24 June 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/24/a-deep-dive-into-the-news-medias-role-in-the-rise-of-donald-j-trump/.

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