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This chapter lays out one route to reinvigorating local news, by increasing demand among younger and older Americans alike. Based on survey data and a series of experiments, we show that the simple acts of informing citizens of the importance of local government and reminding them of its relevance can go a long way toward increasing local news consumption. The newspaper industry of the twentieth century is a thing of the past, but growing consumer interest in local news – from both traditional outlets as well as emerging digital sources – can create incentives for news organizations to provide the coverage of local government that democracy needs.
The story of this chapter is that when it comes to local engagement, the decline of local news affects the political behavior of citizens across the spectrum very similarly. The growing scarcity of reporting about local government has led to growing disengagement among Americans of all stripes.
At a time when political observers worry – justifiably – about the health of the US’ national political institutions, threats to local democratic governance cannot be ignored. The local news media – by providing accurate information to citizens about what is happening in city halls, county governments, school boards, and other local political institutions throughout the country – constitute a vital link in the democratic process. Political representation and government effectiveness thus depend on reinvigorating the local news media and the citizen engagement that goes along with it. It can be done, but without a collective effort by citizens, journalists, and groups committed to strengthening local journalism, the long-term health of American democracy may be in peril.
This chapter provides a thorough empirical account of the connection between local news and political engagement during the last two decades. Drawing on a variety of data sources, we go beyond the existing research to demonstrate that the demise of local newspapers we documented in Chapters 2 and 3 indeed contributes to reductions in political engagement in America’s cities and towns.