WASHINGTON — On Monday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper laid off 14 newsroom employees — a third of its existing news staff — the latest severe cutbacks in newsrooms across the country that have left communities with scant local coverage and a dearth of accountability of those in power.
Now, new studies suggests the elimination of media jobs has exacerbated political tension and misinformation across the country.
“As local newspapers disappear, citizens increasingly rely on national sources of political information, which emphasizes competition and conflict between the parties. Local newspapers, by contrast, serve as a central source of shared information, setting a common agenda. Readers of local newspapers feel more attached to their communities,” according to a recently published study in Scientific American.
“Unless something is done, our politics will likely become ever more contentious and partisan as the media landscape consolidates and nationalizes.”
Two decades ago, the Plain Dealer had a unionized staff of 340 journalists; post-layoff the staff will be 33.
The study compared voting patterns in counties where local media had closed, to those where local media remain. One focus of the study was on ticket-splitting — where a voter chose candidates from different parties for different offices.
The study found that voters in counties with a newspaper closure split their tickets about 1.9 percent less where local news remained. “This difference is more than enough to swing an election outcome: in 2018, the U.S. House races in Minnesota’s 1st district, Utah’s 4th district and Illinois’s 13th district were all decided by less than that margin,” the researchers noted.
So far this year, more than 2,400 media jobs have been eliminated, according to Business Insider. A Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor statistics from 2008 to 2017 found newspaper newsrooms staffing nationally dropped by 45 percent and overall newsroom employment fell by 23 percent, according to news reports.
“As newspapers continue to close, these dynamics are likely to get worse,” the study researchers wrote. “The polarized electorate will continue to turn towards nationalized, partisan media outlets unless local news makes a comeback. Locally-oriented journalists may need to experiment with novel business models.”
Existing media entities are trying find ways to restore the vitality of local news. For example, the Knight Foundation recently announced a $300 million, five-year commitment to develop ways to keep local news healthy.
New ventures, such as NewsPrime Inc., are garnering attention. NewsPrime seeks to create a news syndicate from the 3,000 local newspapers and 1,400 local television stations in which news is shared and local entities receive two-thirds of all profits.
“It has to be a profitable venture. It has to return local news to the economic value chain,” Alberto Pando, a co-founder of NewsPrime, told TMN in an interview.
Co-founder Roberto Prado, said that linking local newspapers and television stations would create a social network and news syndicate unmatched by any other. “NewsPrime was born out of 25 years of work on my part, longer if you count my college years, to integrate media in the Internet based ecosystem,” he said.
“I vowed then that I would build a network designed entirely to protect author integrity, flood the country with professional, quality, media content and shut out the bad actors,” he said.
“The moment you load content up to a social network, revenue is being routed away from you,” Pando said. NewsPrime, which is designed to work online and through an app, is “a soup to nuts solution designed to align the economic interests of all the stakeholders: content creators, distributors, advertisers and their consumers,” he said in the interview. “It’s meant to restore local news’ prime place in the value chain. In order to save local news, it has to once again become a viable, profitable business.”