The end of the P-I and what it means for local politics

These fellows are civically engaged

These fellows are civically engaged

Boy that’s a long title, but it’s a big subject, and one worth dwelling on. Erica over at Slog mentioned in passing a study that shows a correlation between the loss of a newspaper and decreased civic engagement. Uh oh. Half of that sounds familiar.

The study, conducted by researchers at a place called “Princeton” (we’ve never heard of it either) basically says this: when you lose a paper, people pay less attention to local news, and are less engaged in local politics.

The money quote:

“Assessing the consequences of the closing of the Cincinnati Post at the end of 2007, the researchers found that fewer people voted in subsequent elections, fewer candidates ran in opposition to the incumbents and that, as a result, the incumbents had a better chance of being returned to office.”

Ouch. That sounds a little painful. And while the Cincinnati experience is not wholly analogous to what’s happening in Seattle now, parallels can and should be drawn.

The good news: there are a host of local online news resources in Seattle and Washington, one of the strongest concentrations in the country. Further, younger news consumers get their news much more heavily online than in print, and as a state we trend young.

But it’s not all good. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two experiences is the relative size of the papers. In Seattle the pre-shutdown P-I had circulation of around 117,000 to the Times’ 198,000. The now-closed Cincinnati Post had a circulation of just 27,000 compared to the surving Enquirer’s 200,000.

If the effect of a much smaller paper’s close was so dramatic, should our local concerns be even larger given the relative size of the P-I to the Times? Time will tell…


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