The news industry has changed markedly in the era of the internet and social media.
Ask young people where they get their news. You'll find out that very few read a newspaper or watch television news, the primary sources of news in the not-to-distant past.
Today, there is more information available than ever but it comes from so many different sources, some reliable, many not. Ask those same young people about credibility of the news they get. They are uncertain.
The fragmentation of media has resulted in major cutbacks in personnel and expenses by traditional media. Television has felt it. Radio has changed drastically. Newspapers, if you believe the drumbeat of naysayers, are all but dead.
For the record, newspapers are not dying -- but they are changing out of necessity. Traditional readers of the printed product are generally older. As their numbers dwindle, they are not being replaced by younger readers with no affinity for print. Thus the traditional measure of business success, paid circulation of the printed newspaper, is in a downward trend.
Newspapers are amid their most expensive business model, maintaining a printed product for fewer readers while transforming into a full-fledged digital medium. Though newspapers, including this one, have more readers than ever in the internet era, the economics remain a work in progress.
The result around the nation is a decline in the number of newspapers and the number of journalists. And that is not good for people needing professional reporters bringing them reliable news from state capitals to town halls. Fewer journalists and fewer newspapers (and other traditional media outlets as well) mean a decline in the watchdog role of the media in a free society.
Now comes further information on the down side of less reporting about government. A new study has found the loss of local newspapers and journalists across the country contributes to the nation’s political polarization.
With fewer opportunities to find out about local politicians, citizens are more likely to turn to national sources like cable news and apply their feelings about national politics to people running for the town council or state legislature, according to research published in the Journal of Communication.
The result is much less “split ticket” voting, or people whose ballot includes votes for people of different parties. In 1992, 37 percent of states with Senate races elected a senator from a different party than the presidential candidate the state supported. In 2016, for the first time in a century, no state did that, the study found.
“The voting behavior was more polarized, less likely to include split-ticket voting, if a newspaper had died in the community,” said Johanna Dunaway, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, who conducted the research with colleagues from Colorado State and Louisiana State universities.
Researchers reached that conclusion by comparing voting data from 66 communities where newspapers have closed in the past two decades to 77 areas where local newspapers continue to operate, she told The Associated Press.
“We have this loss of engagement at the local level,” she said.
Fostering community engagement is exactly what local media, led by the newspaper, is all about. People need to know what is going on around them -- and they need to care enough to find out.
The Times and Democrat is not immune to the dynamics of today's newspaper business and the broader media industry. But we remain committed to fulfilling our role of bringing you news that allows you to make informed decisions.
Hopefully, that results in more understanding of opposing views rather than uninformed divisions.