New SOM Research Explains Rationale and Consequences of Decline in Local Journalism
A new study from the School of Management shows how local journalism has declined as people turn to television.
Hannah Qu and Alessia Degraeve
A new research initiative from the Yale School of Management has shown that the decline of local newspapers in America is creating uninformed communities that do not engage in local politics.
Yale Insights – a research publication managed by SOM – published research detailing the effect of the lack of local newspapers in the United States. Michael Sinkinson, assistant professor at SOM, analyzed the decline of local newspapers as more Americans turn to television news. He said it creates communities that lack civic engagement.
“Economists believe there is a positive news externality, which is that newspapers help eliminate corruption in government,” Sinkinson told The News. “[News] is a product that we consume and that slightly improves society. With the emergence of new technologies, the local information market has withered away. … Newspapers do important work for society, and I think it’s important to understand the economics of how they operate.
Sinkinson and his colleagues discovered that the presence of television poses a threat to the survival of local newspapers. While newspapers rely on information like weather, sports, local and national news, these can now be easily found on TV alongside free entertainment. Newspapers have traditionally made their money “selling people’s attention” to advertisers, Sinkinson said, but as television now competes in this market, it is more difficult for newspapers to advocate with large national advertisers. Sinkinson noted that it is therefore crucial to explore a new business model for local newspapers.
Additionally, Sinkinson and his colleagues found a smaller percentage of informed voters in communities that depended on television as their primary source of information, as opposed to a local newspaper. The study found that as citizens turned away from local newspapers and turned to television instead, their appreciation of local events in the region declined. He concluded that the decline of local journalism and the resulting national perspective on politics led voters to choose candidates simply on the basis of their party affiliation.
“People only pay attention to national politics. … They no longer hold politicians to account, ”Sinkinson explained. “I hope we will see more engagement at the local level as opposed to this nationalization.”
Sinkinson suggested that when reporting local news, reporters should connect with the impact of readers’ daily lives and keep them informed and engaged.
Professor Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03, director of the Yale Journalism Initiative, said Sinkinson’s research presented important new findings regarding the relationship between television and the decline of local news.
“We know there has been an extraordinary shrinkage of local newspapers since the advent of the Internet, but this research takes us back further to notice that this problematic trend started at the entrance to television,” Oppenheimer said. .
Yale offers journalism courses and helps students start careers in the industry through the Yale Journalism Initiative. The University also offers subscriptions to hundreds of online newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
“I definitely feel the presence of journalism on campus,” said Kennedy Anderson ’25. “Upon entering the dining room, there are always copies of newspapers, including the Yale Daily News and the Yale Herald, waiting to be read.”
Many Yale students write for campus publications, which range from newspapers and magazines to literary collections. Zack Hauptman ’25, who has written for the Yale Daily News and the Yale Herald, said writing for publications had been “instrumental” for his time at Yale so far.
However, Roger Guo ’22 told The News that he felt that campus publications lacked fact-checking and that few people used college newspapers as their primary source of daily news.
Sinkinson noted that Yale students should recognize that they are not only part of the University, but also members of the New Haven community. He suggested that Yale students support New Haven journalism as much as possible and be aware of events in the city. For aspiring student journalists, Sinkinson recommended reaching out to alumni in the field and researching conferences and events to learn more about journalism opportunities.
The Yale Journalism Initiative was founded in 2006.