To the Editor:
According to a recent Journalist’s Resource report by Chloe Reichel, between 2004 and 2015 the U.S. newspaper industry lost 1,800 print outlets due to closures and mergers.
In a democracy, the basis for self-government is an informed citizenry. Local news media, and newspapers in particular, bear the primary responsibility. As the result of closures and mergers, the American newspaper industry has lost hundreds of news outlets, shedding journalists and investigative reporters, leading to a more challenging news landscape.
Ms. Reichel highlights various studies indicating that areas with fewer local news outlets and declining coverage not only have lower levels of civic engagement and voter turnout according to the 2014 article by Lee Shaker titled “Dead Newspapers and Citizens’ Civic Engagement,” but also have increased borrowing costs.
Local media is essential for the continued economic, social and political health of a community. There is no substitute for on the ground reporting of events large and small that take place in communities. Large corporate and social media outlets are unable to capture the full scope and meaning of events that affect people’s daily lives. Covering the actions of elected governing bodies, volunteer boards and commissions are of vital importance for keeping citizens informed and serve as a check on government activity.
Some scholars, e.g. Gao, Pengjle, et al. in a report titled “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance,” also explain the financial impact. Their main finding is that newspaper closures have a significantly adverse impact on municipal borrowing costs, because they raise the cost of borrowing by approximately 0.1 percent three years after a closure. This increase in borrowing costs adds tens of millions of dollars to 10-20-year municipal bonds. The increase of borrowing costs results from a perception by potential lenders that this community has a lower level of oversight, with respect to corruption or mismanagement, than a community with a vigorous local media.
Citizens care about their local communities and want honest, factual information about their elected representatives, the candidates for public office, and the issues of government interest. The more information they have, the more they exercise their right to vote and the more they contact and engage with their municipal officials.
A recent example of this is the lawsuit filed by the Seacoast Media Group and others which was successful at the N.H. Supreme Court this June. The decision stated that municipalities cannot use the public records laws to shield settlements using taxpayer dollars from the public (this ruling was in response to a settlement involving Portsmouth police officer Aaron Goodwin and the estate of Geraldine Webber).
For all of these reasons, we should not take for granted the critical role of local media to keep government accountable to the citizens and maintain an informed, engaged electorate. In addition, they save us taxes as well. Thank you, Portsmouth Herald, New Hampshire Gazette, WSCA Portsmouth Community Radio, and Portsmouth Public Media TV.
Joan Hamblet, Candidate for District 31, (Greenland, North Hampton, Newington and Ward 3- Portsmouth)
Richard DiPentima, Candidate for District 30 (Ward 1, 2, 4, 5- Portsmouth)
Peter Somssich, State Representative for District 27 (Ward 3-Portsmouth)
Damon Thomas, Attorney, resident of Portsmouth.