community issues Community Journalism

Closing of newspapers leads to more local political polarization

The rise in political polarization in the U.S. in undeniable, but it may have nothing to do with the politics, according to a recent article published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

National publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have seen tremendous growth in the age of polarization.

But what about local publications?

According to NiemanLab, in 2006, local American newspapers employed over 74,000 people and circulated to 52 million readers on weekdays. In 2017, this number dropped significantly to only 39,000 people employed by a local paper and a circulation of fewer than 31 million Americans.

The“death” of newspapers has been much-talked-about, but the political polarization that arises from a lack of local news hasn’t been discussed near as much.

The Journal of Communication” argues that losing a local newspaper can encourage citizens to rely on national media, which is typically overwhelmingly partisan, and can change their opinions while voting.

NiemanLab found that “voters were 1.9 percent more likely to vote for the same party for president and senator after a newspaper closes in their community, compared to voters in statistically similar areas where a newspaper did not close.”

Additionally, NiemanLab reported that split-ticket voting decreased by 2 percent in towns that lost their local newspaper.

What can we do to stop it?

My answer: Support your local newspaper.

A couple dollars toward a subscription to your local publication could make the difference between a city filled with polarized, one-sided news and one filled with honest, unbiased reporting — information needed to participate in your democracy.

Pay a few bucks. It’s worth it.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers FOI

Can the school board start out in executive session?

Question: We have a school board who (at every regular meeting) meets at 6 p.m. in a called executive session. They come out of executive session at 7 p.m. and enter open session of their regular monthly meeting. This is unlike any body I’ve ever covered. Generally, executive sessions come at the end of the regular meeting and are only entered if needed. Many times they are deemed not needed. This board, on the other hand, religiously has executive session before the called meeting. Is this kosher?

Answer: The Open Meetings Act requires meetings to start in open session. The law could not be more clear about this. See below.


If a closed meeting is allowed under this chapter, a governmental body may not conduct the closed meeting unless a quorum of the governmental body first convenes in an open meeting for which notice has been given as provided by this chapter and during which the presiding officer publicly:

(1)  announces that a closed meeting will be held; and

(2)  identifies the section or sections of this chapter under which the closed meeting is held.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers FOI

Should an outside presentation to a city tourism board be open to the general public?

Question: A city council appointed tourism board requested an organization come to town and give them a presentation, with q&a afterwards, on how they could and could not spend Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT). The board invited city council members and had the intent to invite the general public, but invited only a subset of the community. At the presentation, a quorum of the board was present. Members of the board asked questions of the presenter. Questions included examples of ways they had spent and planned to spend HOT funds. No meeting notice was posted about the event. Was this an Open Meetings Act event or not?


Yes, if a quorum of the board is present, and they’re deliberating (which this appears to be) or receiving information and asking questions of a third person (which this also appears to be), then this is a “meeting” under TOMA. See the definition below.

(4)  “Meeting” means:

(A)  a deliberation between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, during which public business or public policy over which the governmental body has supervision or control is discussed or considered or during which the governmental body takes formal action; or

(B)  except as otherwise provided by this subdivision, a gathering:

(i)  that is conducted by the governmental body or for which the governmental body is responsible;

(ii)  at which a quorum of members of the governmental body is present;

(iii)  that has been called by the governmental body; and

(iv)  at which the members receive information from, give information to, ask questions of, or receive questions from any third person, including an employee of the governmental body, about the public business or public policy over which the governmental body has supervision or control.