This article points to Colorado as a microcosm of what is happening to newspapers nationally (including Iowa), and the impact of the loss of journalism on elections. Colorado lost 50% of reporters covering elections in the last 5 years with the closing of Rocky Mountain News, the state’s second largest newspaper. The Denver Post is the only major daily paper left in Colorado, and they have been experiencing layoffs. In Iowa, The Des Moines Register, thanks to Gannett, is a shell of its former self and is trending in a similar direction. You can read the entire story here.
What if you held an election and nobody showed up to cover it? Americans have now discovered the answer: You get an election with lots of paid ads, but with little journalism, context or objective facts.
Between 2003 and 2012, the newspaper workforce decreased by 30 percent [italics BFIA’s] nationally, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That has included a major reduction in the number of newspaper reporters assigned to cover state and local politics.
Newspaper layoffs have ripple effects for the entire local news ecosystem, because, as the Congressional Research Service noted, television, radio and online outlets often “piggyback on reporting done by much larger newspaper staffs.” Meanwhile, recent studies suggest the closure of newspapers can ultimately depress voter turnout in local elections.
“With so many newspapers and news outlets in general having fewer resources, there’s no pressure or incentive for candidates to engage with the press [ Joni Ernst] and there’s no echo chamber that makes candidates feel like they have to respond to anything,” Fox 31 reporter Eli Stokols said. He noted that Republican U.S. Senator-elect Cory Gardner, for example, rarely appeared in unscripted settings with journalists, preferring instead to simply blanket the airwaves with ads. [Sound familiar?]
Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic candidate in Colorado’s closely contested 6th district, said that what little campaign coverage there is often ends up being about the candidates’ ads, because that requires minimal time, travel and expense to cover. [How much time did we spend ruminating over the Joni Ernst hog castration ad?]
“It’s not quite a ‘Seinfeld’ episode,” he said. “It’s not a show about nothing, but the coverage has become a show about a show.”
The trouble, of course, is that the show should be about important issues like economic policy, climate change and national security (to name a few). And with a more vibrant local media doing more than just regurgitating poll numbers and reviewing ads, it can be. But that vibrancy requires two things: a genuine commitment and willingness to do the hard work of serious journalism and enough resources to succeed.
Both of those factors are in short supply. That means the most basic ingredients of a functioning democracy will probably remain in short supply, too.