Monday, March 11, 2019
Government Watchdog Disappears As Newspapers Die
According to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina, more than 1,400 towns and cities in the U.S. have lost a newspaper over the past 15 years. Many of those are in rural and lower-income areas, often with an aging population.
The loss of a reliable local news source has many consequences for the community. One of them is the inability to watchdog the actions of government agencies and elected officials.
Newspapers typically have played the lead role in their communities in holding local officials accountable. That includes filing requests to get public records that shine a light on government action — or inaction — or even filing lawsuits to promote transparency.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Notre Dame found that municipal borrowing costs increase after a newspaper ceases publication. They found the increase had nothing to do with the economy. Rather, the demise of a paper leaves readers in the dark and emboldens elected officials to sign off on higher wages, larger payrolls and ballooning budget deficits, their study found.
Stanford University’s James Hamilton applies a wider lens to the problem of newspaper closures, examining the benefits that come with investigative journalism — and what is lost when it disappears.
In his book “Democracy’s Detective,” he examined several case studies of newspaper investigations, including police shootings of civilians, and found that each dollar spent by the news organization generated hundreds of dollars in benefits to society.
“When investigative scrutiny declines, stories go untold, which means waste, fraud, and abuse will be less likely to be discovered,” said Hamilton, director of the Stanford Journalism Program. “News outlets will still have stories about a bad doctor, identified through court cases or patient complaints. The story about a bad hospital, which would require more resources and analysis to document, will be less likely to be told.”
Posted 1:20:00 AM