Journalism has been an industry under fire during the internet age. Print-based traditional news outlets have struggled to maintain their presence and mission as they try to reinvent themselves in an effort to remain financially relevant. The trend isn’t new, but new research from Politico reveals the true political impact of the demise of local journalism.
The report found a correlation between low traditional news subscription rates and the success found by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election compared to that of Hillary Clinton and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Trump outperformed Romney’s 2012 numbers in regions where newspaper subscription counts were low. As the percentage of local newspaper subscriptions rose across regions studied, it was found that Trump was highly likely to lose to Hillary Clinton in addition to underperforming when compared to Romney. Counties in the top 10 percent of newspaper subscriptions were twice as likely to sway Clinton’s way, while counties where Trump outperformed Romney held a subscription rate two-thirds the size of counties in which he underperformed. On average, Trump’s share of the vote decreased by .5 percent for every ten percent increase in households subscribed to a local news outlet within a given region.
The numbers, compiled with the aid of the Alliance for Audited Media from subscription statistics of more than 1,000 mainstream news publications, are a damning statement against the impact on the American public caused by the withering of local news outlets. As trusted local reporters and publications disappear or shift their focus to profit over integrity, more people turn to the echo chambers popularized on the internet for their news. Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines, which have become more permeated by skewed, unverified news stories and blatant propaganda, are becoming the go-to news source for the general public more and more.
President Trump’s Twitter account reaches more individuals than the total amount of newspaper subscribers nationwide, and he understands the tool he has. “What he’s doing is he is becoming the source and they believe him … It doesn’t matter if the people they don’t believe say he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s breakthrough is that he’s unencumbered by the truth,” said Rick Tyler, communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. Trump doesn’t have to throw his support behind companies like Sinclair, which has done more than their own part in devaluing local news outlets across the U.S., as he reaches millions with every misinformed ramble. Having Sinclair as an ally makes the president’s efforts to undercut the mainstream media that much more powerful and concerning.
Without local newspapers, which traditionally utilize news feeds from larger publications to circulate verified, fact-based stories on current events, the faucets of information have been cut off to a large number of communities. Trump wants to be the only source of information, and his political allies and supporters are perfectly fine promoting that idea to great benefit. As the industry continues to struggle, the battle to supply truth to the public will not get any easier.