The 2010s was a decade of massive and quick change. Our technology advanced by leaps and bounds, especially smartphones as they became more integrated in our lives.
It was a decade of challenge as well, particularly for the newspaper industry as it struggled to adapt to rapid technological changes and tastes. As a result of a lopsided partnership — if it can be called that — with digital behemoths Google and Facebook, which profit off content they did not create by collecting and selling data about visitors, newspapers watched as advertising revenue shifted to Silicon Valley. Newspapers owned by hedge funds were further challenged by the drive for short-term profits over the service historically provided to communities.
Throughout the 2010s, hundreds of newspapers closed, often leaving behind a “news desert.” In the U.S., 225 counties have no local newspaper. Half of all counties, 1,528, have just one, usually a weekly, according to the University of North Carolina School of Media.
The result: A more polarized America.
Joshua Darr, Matthew Hitt and Johanna Dunaway in a study published in the Journal of Communication’s December 2018 edition “argue that the decline of local newspapers has contributed to the nationalization of American politics: as local newspapers close, Americans rely more heavily on available national news or partisan heuristics to make political decisions.”
“National news focuses on that polarization and conflict, covering the partisan fights in Washington and framing politics as a game with winners and losers. In doing so, national news makes the parties seem more different and emphasizes their conflicts,” the trio wrote for The Conversation.
Recognizing the growing divide, politicians on both sides of the aisle are promising to unite the nation. They offer us this platitude in nearly the same breath used to criticize the other side. It’s no wonder they can’t succeed.
Rather than lament the growing divide, make a resolution to do something about it. Support your local newspaper, contribute your voice with letters to the editor, focus on community level politics first, and tune out the breathless attacks of partisan pundits dependent on your hatred of the other party. Share your newspaper with a neighbor by pointing out feel good stories or local government decisions that may impact them.
“If Americans can tear themselves away from the spectacle in Washington and support local news with their dollars and attention, it could help to push back against the partisan polarization that has taken over American politics today,” the study trio wrote.
It won’t hurt to try.