The following editorial by Chuck Douglas is reprinted from his Bow Times.
“If You Want to Keep Government in Check Subscribe to a Newspaper”
That was the headline for an Op-Ed written by Andrew Cline last July and published in the Union Leader. He is a former editorial writer and is now President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in New Hampshire.
Cline pointed out that recent studies show that less media scrutiny leads to higher government spending.
In a 2018 study, professors at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at 1,596 newspapers in 1,266 counties from 1996 to 2015. They found that municipal borrowing costs increased in communities that lost newspapers.
“You can actually see the financial consequences borne by local citizens as a result of newspaper closures,” one professor said.
Last year 3,000 journalists were laid off nationally with a total of 39,000 gone between 2008 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.
An Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina found 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 areas, often with an aging population.
The Associated Press study last March said “the loss of a reliable local news source has many consequences for a community. One of them is the inability to act as a watchdog over the actions of government agencies and elected officials.”
The AP said “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.”
UNC Professor Penelope Abernathy, who studies the news industry, said local information “is what you are missing when you don’t have someone covering you and bringing transparency or sunlight onto government decisions and giving people a say in how those government decisions are made.”
“The absence of a local newspaper playing a watchdog role also can translate into real costs to a community and its taxpayers,” said the AP.
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 also 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.
“Our evidence suggests that a local government is more likely to engage in wasteful spending when there is no local newspaper to report on that government,” said University of Illinois Chicago’s Dermot Murphy, one of the study’s authors.
Luckily for us, New Hampshire is a small state and only 10 counties with each having a daily, weekly or other papers circulating among the voters, who in the town and school meetings directly decide on taxes and spending.
But the lights can easily go out here as happened to this paper (the Bow Times) for several years after the Great Recession. The Suncook Valley Sun closed last year after a half century of publishing a weekly in Pittsfield and the daily Laconia Citizen closed earlier.
Historically newspapers played an important role in the Patriot cause in the American Revolution. Bartlett Center’s Cline closed his piece with some words from one of this State’s founders: William Whipple wrote to John Langdon on July 8, 1776: “I must refer you to the papers for news…” and he wrote to John Langdon on June 10, 1776: “Colonel Bartlett sends you newspapers.”
Words to live by even today.