New SOM research explains rationale and consequences of local journalism’s decline
A new study out of the School of Management demonstrates how local journalism has declined as people turn to television.
A new Yale School of Management research initiative has shown that local newspapers’ decline in America is creating uninformed communities that do not engage with local politics.
Yale Insights — a research publication run out of SOM — published research detailing the effect of America’s lack of local newspapers. Michael Sinkinson, an assistant professor at SOM, analyzed how local newspapers decline as more Americans turn to television news. He said this creates communities that lack civic engagement.
“Economists think there’s a positive externality of news, which is that newspapers help root out corruption in the government,” Sinkinson told the News. “[News] is a product that we consume and actually makes society slightly better off. As new technology emerges, the local news market has been withering away. … Newspapers are doing important work for society, and I think it’s important to understand the economics of how it works.”
Sinkinson and his colleagues found that the presence of television poses a threat to local newspaper survival. While newspapers rely on information such as weather, sports, local and national news, these can now be easily found on television alongside free entertainment. Newspapers have traditionally made their money by “selling people’s attention” to advertisers, Sinkinson said, but as television now competes in that market, it is harder for newspapers to make a case to large national advertisers. Sinkinson noted that it is therefore crucial to explore a new business model for local newspapers.
In addition, Sinkinson and his colleagues found a smaller percentage of informed voters in communities that depended on television as their main news source, as opposed to a local newspaper. The study showed that as citizens switched away from local newspapers and turned toward television instead, their appreciation of local happenings in the area decreased. It concluded that the decline of local journalism and the ensuing national perspective on politics has led voters to choose candidates merely based on their party affiliation.
“People only pay attention to national politics. … They aren’t holding politicians accountable anymore,” Sinkinson explained. “I hope we see more engagement at the local level as opposed to this nationalization.”
Sinkinson suggested that when reporting local news, journalists should connect to the impact of readers’ everyday life and keep them informed and engaged.
Professor Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03, the director of the Yale Journalism Initiative, said that Sinkinson’s research presented significant 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 began at the entrance of TV,” Oppenheimer said.
Yale offers classes in journalism and helps students begin 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 certainly feel the presence of journalism on campus,” Kennedy Anderson ’25 said. “Walking into the dining hall there are always copies of newspapers including the Yale Daily News and Yale Herald waiting to be read.”
Many students at Yale write for campus publications, which range from newspapers to magazines to literary collections. Zack Hauptman ’25, who has contributed articles to the Yale Daily News and the Yale Herald, said that writing for publications has been “instrumental” to his time at Yale so far.
However, Roger Guo ’22 told the News that he felt publications on campus lacked proper fact checking, and that few people use 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 should support New Haven journalism as much as possible and be aware of the events in the city. For aspiring student journalists, Sinkinson recommended reaching out to alumni in the field and seeking out conferences and events to learn about journalism opportunities.
The Yale Journalism Initiative was founded in 2006.