Editorial: The danger of increased polarization in age of digital news

  • New research has found a relationship between loss of local newspapers and increased polarization among voters.

    New research has found a relationship between loss of local newspapers and increased polarization among voters.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 2/9/2019 4:27 PM

We have long believed, as you might imagine, that the newspaper plays an important role in the health of a community and, for that matter, the nation.

Our job is to inform and engage, to provide both a bridge to understanding and a forum for civic debate. In doing so, we try to help make the community and the world a little better place.


That is the tradition of newspapers, certainly the tradition of the Daily Herald.

But we live in a digital era where traditions of all sorts are being transformed and the newspaper tradition has been no exception.

The Associated Press reported recently that 1,800 newspapers have closed in the past 15 years, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the threat to newspapers. The vast majority of them have been smaller, local newspapers.

The 7,100 newspapers that so far have survived have done so, the AP report said, as "ghosts with much smaller staffs that are unable to offer the breadth of coverage they once did."

This decline is not so much a product of journalism failings as it has been due to a radical shift in the business model of newspapers -- the major loss of revenues from the classified and display advertising departments that used to pay the bills. Newspapers now depend increasingly on subscribers to bear the cost of journalism.

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How does this relate to our opening premise, that newspapers play a role in the health of a community?

Recently-published research by professors from Colorado State, Louisianna State and Texas A&M universities suggests that the loss of newspapers and journalists may be one of the factors in the nation's polarization.

The research, reported in the academic Journal of Communication, found that with fewer opportunities to learn about local politics, citizens have been more apt to apply their national partisanship to local issues. The AP reported that the research found that for the first time in a century in 2016, no state elected a senator from a different party than the one that won its presidential vote.

"The voting behavior was more polarized, less likely to include split-ticket voting, if a newspaper had died in the community," said communications professor Johanna Dunaway of Texas A&M.

The local campaigns are just warming up for the April 2 election. Covering them in a suburban area as large as Chicago's is no easy task. But we're committed to doing so to the best of our ability.


We owe it to you.

As citizens, do your part. Get out to the forums to listen to the candidates. Study the issues, not just in the Daily Herald, but wherever you can find the information.

We all owe it to the community.

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