opinion | What newspapers can do for the wandering spirits of a democracy
“It often happens in democratic countries,” he continues.
that many men who have a desire or need to connect cannot because they are all very small and lost in the crowd, do not see each other and do not know where to find each other. A newspaper appears showing them the feeling or idea presented to each of them simultaneously but separately. All are instantly focused on that light, and those wandering spirits who have long sought each other in the shadows finally meet and unite.
A vibrant press is one of the forces that help shape individuals into members of a community with responsibilities and obligations to that community. It acculturates them into political life and binds them to other, like-minded people.
That’s one of the reasons why, throughout American history, whenever there’s been a reform movement, whether it’s the temperance movement, the abolition movement, or the labor movement, there have been newspapers and journalists associated with that reform movement.
One of the most striking aspects of the modern information environment, as many people have observed, is the almost total collapse of local and even regional news organizations. Where once every town or city, no matter how small, had a newspaper — with reporters who through their work helped the community understand itself — there are now large swathes of the country that exist in news deserts where there is little reporting from locals government on local events.
I think this decline has played an important role in undermining America’s democratic institutions and public confidence in democracy. It’s not just that the collapse of local news has made it harder to hold any number of officials accountable – adding to the general cynicism about the government’s ability to do anything constructive – but that Americans are increasingly deprived of the information lack what they need to participate in the political process in their communities.
“As Americans have moved away from local news, turnout in state and local elections has declined.” notes Brookings“and communities that have lost reporters have seen fewer candidates for local office.”
Americans have turned to national news and national news agencies to help fill the gap, but these larger institutions cannot replace what has been lost. The proximity makes it easier for me to respond if a local official is accused of wrongdoing. The same is not true for members of Congress, especially if they are not my own. The information we receive from national outlets is valuable, but it can also leave us hopeless and powerless. And it can contribute to “political hobbyism,” a tendency to treat politics not as a motive for action and an essential part of citizenship, but as a game in which the only goal — the only goal — is to somehow get our enemies in to embarrass and humiliate.
There has always been an element of entertainment in politics – it’s part of living in a mass democracy – but the total shift of politics into entertainment may have something to do with the lack of institutions that connect our political consciousness with something more local, something more connect more concrete than national political conflict.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/opinion/local-media-newspapers-democracy.html opinion | What newspapers can do for the wandering spirits of a democracy