What effect do newspaper closings really have on a town? Or a nation? Depending on a person’s reading habits, the answers to these questions range from “It’s the death of democracy!” to “Newspapers? What newspapers?” But with the demise of two major metropolitan dailies, the 149-year-old Rocky Mountain News and the almost equally venerable 145-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the last month alone, the issue is becoming a matter of practical rather than just theoretical concern. (See the 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America.)
A glimpse into what might happen has been offered up by a new study out of Princeton University. Assistant Professor of economics and public affairs Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido looked at communities affected by the closing of the Cincinnati Post at the end of 2007, and it’s not an attractive view.
The study is very small in scope, since the Post had a total of only 27,000 subscribers in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. And it measures only the outcomes in northern Kentucky, since Ohio has not had municipal elections since the Post’s closure. But even with those limitations, a few trends seemed to emerge: in towns the Post regularly covered, voter turnout dropped, fewer people ran for office and more incumbents were reelected. That is, when there were fewer stories about a given town, its inhabitants seemed to care less about how they’re being governed.
When a town loses its newspaper
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