Sunday, March 22, 2009

New research on "Missing the newspaper"

Time magazine for March 22 has the first summary I've seen of a Princeton study of voter behavior after the demise of a local newspaper, putting a new twist on the phrase "people could care less."

In What Happens When a Town Loses Its Newspaper?, Time notes that the study is, well, timely, given the recent closing of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (Time ran a list of "the 10 Most Endangered Newspapers" and summarized the latest Pew State of the Media report earlier this month.)

It's too soon to read the impact of the most recent closings on their communities, so the smaller-scale report by Princeton's Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and Miguel Garrido looked at communities affected by the closing of the Cincinnati Post at the end of 2007. (A full text of the report is linked to the Time article, but I haven't read it yet.)

One troubling conclusion Time mentions (emphasis added):
" 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."
Smaller towns seemed to be less affected by the closure than larger ones, which Time called the report's "the only possible hint of a bright spot."