Political & Media Commentary

America’s unstable relationship with the news industry

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America takes newspapers and the freedom of information for granted.

In a world where a greater population of citizens resort to social media and word-of-mouth as a primary source for news in Washington– and their local politics– it’s difficult to change the minds of those who have cut the “news budget” out of their households. No longer will this upcoming generation have the head of the household reading the newspaper at the breakfast table or come home to the paper and a stiff glass of scotch. Maybe as times progress, the way Americans collect information progresses.

However, newspapers themselves have been an integral part of daily life in America, central to the consumption of power, critique or culture, as said by Paul Starr. More so than any other form of widespread information, newspapers have produced the news in which have been American’s eyes “on the state, our check on private abuses” and “our civic alarm systems”

No matter how integral these outlets and mediums, the question of how well journalists conduct their jobs is under attack, in addition to the vital concern of the First Amendment. In some incidences, each case differed from the other, some outlets have failed to execute the basic duty of a newspaper as well as they should have.

From daily newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post— print editions that have thrived in the past– will continue to live on, despite budget cuts and layoffs. Investigative journalism and focused beats may take a backseat but the basic duties of these reporters will continue without as much fault as their smaller counterparts. Local papers, such as South Boston’s Dorchester Reporter [DOT News], or even smaller- such as the Norwich Bulletin in southeastern Connecticut or the East Boston Times of East Boston, MA, will soon begin to vanish or further deteriorate.

With plummeting circulation levels and advertising revenues, it’s not surprising to see news deserts scattered across the United States. How fast these news deserts have spread has remained nearly a mystery until a new study conducted by the Poynter Institute was set to release in late June of 2018. The study has said to have a coverage of more than 900 communities across the U.S. where the news industry has gone dry since 2004.

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There have been four major U.S. Presidential Elections since 2004, eight midterms and a multitude of special elections and local races. Have these households within these communities remained in a total blackout of credible information? How are they receiving their information? How are they making an educated vote? And how can journalists, not politicians, reach out to them to say “you need us?”

The majority of this data has also confirmed that news deserts become before abundant in some of the shakiest of landscapes, where local economies and civic health may already be on its last thread and typically increase in less-than-affluent communities, according to the data. These locations have little-to-no original reporting done and people find it difficult to find out what’s going on in their local government, including the very officials in which they are voting on in the poll booths.

These communities have become civically malnourished because of the state of U.S. journalism, as first said by Tom Stites in 2011 as part of a Nieman Lab project. These very “news deserts” have not only lacked a journalistic feeding ground for its civilians, but also attract the “snakes” of the political world.

While some local papers have merged with similar papers instead of closing altogether, the shift has created dramatic staff cuts to the bare bones.

As local newspaper begin to merge or disappear altogether, the opportunity* for those in political power to “help themselves” increases. According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago that a municipality’s borrowing costs will increase in statistically significant ways within a news desert. As local papers close their doors, these same communities are losing out, as said by Kriston Capps in CityLab.

According to the study, without investigative daily reporters carving their way through city halls, with an average of three years after a newspaper closes their doors, the city’s municipal bond offering yields increased by an average of 5.5 basis points and then the bond yields in the secondary market increased by 6.4 basis points, which is statistically significant effects.

As revenue has slowed from circulation numbers in most newspapers, the business being brought in my advertising has converted to online platforms instead. Print newspaper advertising revenue decreased from $60 billion to $20 billion between 2000 and 2015, according to a 2016 article in The Atlantic. On the other side, Facebook ad revenue has increased by double digits.

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By Pew Research Center, 2018 “Note: For each year, the average traffic for each website for October/November/December was calculated; the data point represents the overall average of those numbers. Analysis is of the top 49 newspapers by average Sunday circulation for Q3 2016 and Q3 2017, according to Alliance for Audited Media data, with the addition of The Wall Street Journal. For each newspaper, the comScore entity matching its homepage URL was analyzed. Source: comScore Media Metrix Multi-platform, unique visitors, October-December 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.”


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By Pew Research Center, 2018

In terms of the total revenue for U.S. newspapers, while advertisers have continued to drop in sales, circulation levels have increased recently, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Nonetheless, some key factors may play into a brighter future for the industry. Using Alliance for Audited Media [AAM] data, digital circulation in 2017 was projected to have fallen: weekday subscriptions down nine percent and Sunday subscriptions down nine percent. According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2018 reports as of mid-June 2018, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal saw significant gains in digital circulation in the past year: 42 percent increase for the Times and a 26 percent increase for the Journal– on top of the already large gains in 2016. Some of the low circulation levels may have been brought back up by digital paywalls, a titanic and wobbling political climate or, possibly, education.