As lawmakers weigh a variety of plans to help revive the ailing newspaper industry, a recent study highlights how newspaper closures reduce public interest in local politics. Ideally, the report will
help bolster efforts to provide tax incentives for subscribing to a local paper and foster a more informed citizenry.
To measure the relationship between local news and political
involvement, researchers led by Michael Sinkinson, an assistant professor of economics at Yale School of Management, studied a period when broadcast television expanded throughout the United States
after World War II.
The Federal Communications Commission in 1948 suspended the licensing of new TV stations to resolve technical challenges. The four-year period known as the
“FCC freeze” offered a way to compare how the advent of television affected local newspapers and voting patterns in different communities, Yale Insights reported
The researchers gathered data on
newspaper circulation, number of printed pages, types of content, advertising costs and the number of print ads sold yearly. They found that people began to stop reading newspapers – especially
evening editions -- as they watched TV instead. National advertisers shifted their media spending from print publications to TV to reach these growing audiences.
industry continued to expand its audience during the advent of TV, but more slowly. TV’s higher growth rate lured away more advertising dollars, leaving newspapers with less money for coverage
of local topics.
The effects on political outcomes were seen in voting patterns. Sinkinson and his team studied split-ticket voting, or when a person votes for different
political parties at the national and local levels. This kind of voting is an indication that people are focusing on specific candidates rather than parties.
The markets with
TV stations showed a lower portion of split-ticket votes, perhaps indicating that people had done less research on local elections by reading a newspaper that provided more comprehensive
The advent of the internet and social media has hastened the demise of many local newspapers, which is worrisome considering that digital media are also rife with
misinformation, conspiracy theories and politically divisive sock-puppet campaigns. Silkinson’s study adds to the growing body of research about the consequences of newspaper closures, including the rising cost of public corruption
Amid concerns about dying newspapers, several lawmakers last summer reintroduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act to provide tax credits to local newspapers
, subscribers and advertisers for several years.
The proposal looks workable as a market-based solution that would give readers more choice in supporting local news.