by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
democracy, journalism

Revisiting Newspapers' Role In Democracy: New Research Suggests An Impact

from the but-how-big-and-will-it-last dept

We've seen a number of stories recently claiming that the death of newspapers would somehow harm (or even do away with) democracy. The whole idea seemed silly, but some new research actually backs up some of that claim. And while I have some problems with it, it's worth presenting the evidence to the contrary as well. The research paper, Do Newspapers Matter? Evidence from the Closure of The Cincinnati Post (pdf file), looks at how the closing of the Cincinnati Post at the end of 2007 impacted local politics in Northern Kentucky in 2008. The research tried to control for other variables and found a noticeable impact: namely, more incumbents won re-election, fewer people ran for office and voter turnout decreased. Some of the impact was small, but the research does a pretty good job trying to control for many other factors.

That said... even the researchers admit that this is just one example, and only covers a short period of time. It's not surprising that immediately following the closure of a newspaper, there may not be other sources to fill the gaps (and even if there are, residents may not be as aware of them). What will be quite interesting to watch is what happens next. However, if you happen to live in the Northern Kentucky region, it certainly sounds like there's a wide-open opportunity to create a locally-focused news site.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    John Desmarais (profile), Apr 17th, 2009 @ 8:56am

    News or Newspapers

    Is it newspapers that matter, or the existence of a free press? I can see how the lack of easily obtainable local news could have an impact on local elections, but there are other potential sources of local news besides newspapers.

    I guess Northern Kentucky lacks other sources of local news?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    I don't buy it, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 9:04am

    Correlation of Cause and Effect

    I think this is an erroneous correlation of cause and effect. For example, the story says more incumbents won re-election and fewer people ran for office. So how does the absence of the newspaper correlate as the cause for this effect? You could equally argue the effect of fewer new candidates running naturally causes a higher chance of an incumbent winning.

    It should be noted there is another paper in this locality so I don't see there is necessarily a correlation that the closure of one paper caused a change in the political theater.

    The Post was a distant second to the Cincinnati Enquirer when it closed. It only had a circulation of 27,000. Cincinnati has a population of over 350,000 so it stretches credibility to claim a circulation that reached only about 10% of the adult population has such a far reaching and immediate impact.

    The post closed in January 2007. I wonder how many candidates had declared prior to the close of the paper. If fewer candidates were declaring before the Post's demise then the there isn't really a correlation between the closure and new entrants into politics. Political interest may have declining long before the Post exited the scene.

    And finally, let's not forget there was a bruising presidential primary campaign underway and a financial shock reverberating through the economy, both of which I am more inclined to believe had greater impact on politics than some low circulation local daily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 9:09am

    There are plenty of cities that had more than one daily at one time (Dallas, Houston, etc). This study would be more credible if they had done their analysis in these localities to see if the conclusions they made are a predictor or simply an anomaly. It would also be interesting to see of the trends continued or were simply short-lived effects until new information sources filled the void.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Comboman, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 9:12am

    Cincinnati Post?

    Isn't Cincinnati in Ohio rather than Northern Kentucky? Yes it's on the border but surely the newspapers in Louisville would be more relevant to a Northern Kentuckian? At least they can still get their news from WKRP. Their newsman has won 5 Buckeye Newshawk awards AND the coveted Silver Sow award.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Pangolin (profile), Apr 17th, 2009 @ 9:59am

    The internet is far from ubiquitous

    You can't replace a newspaper with the internet. At least in the areas you are talking about. TV replaces newspapers. The internet does not. Internet access is far from regular or assured in these communities. Not everyone has or can afford a computer and internet access. How do these people get their information? Probably newspaper and TV. The impact from this closure show how many use the newspaper. The fact that the newspaper went under has LITTLE to do with the internet and more to do with mismanagement and customer service complacency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Luke, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    Re: Cincinnati Post?

    Louisville is too far away to really cover that area successfully. Also, Louisville is more a part of Kentuckiana (the counties surrounding Louisville in both KY and IN) so they tend to cover that area.

    Cinci is the relevant city to that area of KY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    chad, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 11:32am

    hmm . .

    this seems applicable - (it's a web cartoon)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    Newspapers today are still the ones that pay reporters to go out and research a story. Television reporting is still all about ratings not the news. If TV news cared about the actual news it would all be like Jim Leher, talking about real news like the fact that Obama just released "secret" CIA documents and not Susan Boyle. We need newspapers, if if we don't read them. The bulk of news that we hear on TV comes from reporters from newspapers. Personally, I think the only way newspapers will continue to exist is if they partner up (monetarily) with large TV networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 3:33pm

    Re: News or Newspapers

    Well to answer your question:

    They call the airport the "Greater Cincinnati Airport" but it's located in Erlanger, KY. Cincinnati just seems to annex the surrounding towns to the point that everything in the smaller towns rely exclusively on the larger town. In this case the newspaper may be one of those things however I think they still have the Cincinnati Inquirer(or something like that) and a few more..but don't quote me on that..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 5:59pm

    Re: Correlation of Cause and Effect

    Typically economic crisis and heated presidential elections bring out more voters. The fact that there was a lower voter turnout in such conditions lends support for the conclusions of the paper.

    Note also that you tried to compare the Post to the Enquirer, but so did the paper. The paper noted that the suburbs supported most by the Post were the ones that saw the correlations reported in the paper's conclusion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 6:01pm


    These things would all be for other studies or followup studies. The paper studied the data and made a conclusion based on that data. The paper was well researched and the conclusions seem well supported. Does that mean your points are invalid? No, they just await other studies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 6:05pm

    Re: The internet is far from ubiquitous

    One other point I have yet to see anyone make is that the information that appears to have been missed the most is local news. It is easy to get national and international news on the internet. Local news frequently sucks on the internet, and in many locations there is not yet a suitable alternative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Small Business Loan, Jan 4th, 2010 @ 7:40pm

    Re: Correlation of Cause and Effect

    It was an amazing article! A writer like you should be given credit for your dedication to work as your provide good quality articles with the good purpose. I like to read such articles for they tackle different issues in our society as well as different practicalities and knowledge that a certain person should or must know. I will keep reading your next post that will be an interesting article again as usual.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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