Politics in 2018 — Polarization: How the Roundup can help to lessen the gap

From our mission statement:

“In a time where newspapers are becoming extinct, the Clovis Roundup is beating the odds, growing every issue thanks to local business and public support. The concept was for a betterment of people, to share interesting and uplifting stories and to bolster community pride. Our rich stories are best told by the people – people that live and work here, people that care about the “Clovis Way of Life” and its historic preservation.”

Here at the Roundup, we try to live up to our mission statement with every word we write, every paper we publish and every person we meet.

This past year in politics was wrought with rhetoric, scandals and divisiveness. As 2018 comes to a close, we want to reflect on this idea of political polarization and be ready to do whatever we can as your trusted community news source to make sure this gap doesn’t widen.

Clovis has proven itself to be a community that just won’t quit. And, as long as you don’t, neither will we.

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A Journalist’s Resource article by Chloe Reichel titled, “Political Polarization Increases After Local Newspapers Close,” is a great example of the shift in politics happening all around the globe and how they impact local communities.

The article looks at a study done by three professors about the relationship between local newspaper closures and changes to the local media environment between 2009 and 2012 and how it affected voting patterns.

The study used split-ticket voting as a measure of this political polarization.

“Split ticket voters are divided in their party allegiances when they vote,” according to Reichel. “For example, casting a ballot for a Democratic presidential candidate and a Republican senatorial candidate.

“The split in party outcomes in local voting districts is a reasonable metric for the electorate’s willingness to consider candidates from both parties,” the authors of the study write.

According to the study, in counties where newspapers closed before the 2012 election, split-ticket voting decreased by 1.9 percent.

In a phone interview, Joshua Darr, one of the authors of the study and professor of political communication in the Manship School of Mass Communication and the Political Science Department at Louisiana State University, used his own residences as an example of split-ticket voting.

“When I lived in Massachusetts, a predominantly Democratic state, there was a very popular Republican governor in office,” Darr said. “In Louisiana – a Trump 2020 state – there is a Democratic governor who is currently up for reelection.”

In 2016, the Presidential and Senate election had no split-ticket voting, according to Darr.

“That’s the first time that had happened in 100 years,” he said.

“Does it make sense to vote locally for the way you feel about Trump?” Darr asked. “Maybe, maybe not. But, the more polarized we get, the more we rely on party as the reason we use to vote.”

“The American privilege of split-ticket voting that we have? We have to use it, not everybody can,” he said.

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So what is causing this shift in how we are voting?

“When you lose local coverage or local papers in general, the focus shifts to national news in which readers think about party and not local politics,”Darr said.

According to the article, “the researchers attribute the increasing political polarization not to the loss of information resulting from local newspaper closures but rather to the substitution of national news in its stead.”

“Shifts in news consumption to national media seem likely to increase the effect of partisan heuristics, given the prevalence of high-intensity messages about national party politics in the national news during elections,” the authors wrote.

Darr simplified, “When you lose local coverage or local papers in general, the focus shifts to national news in which readers think about party and not local politics. This leads to heuristic voting — or a shortcut.”

“Local papers are extremely important,” said Lee Brown, Political Science Professor at Clovis Community College. “When you start to lose those — the local papers’ information gets lost to national information.”

Brown said local news sources should be covering “how politicians are voting on certain issues, what issues the community is facing and what the community and neighborhoods are concerned about.”

“It doesn’t help the small businesses if the community doesn’t know what is going on in the local government,” Brown said. “The people need to know how to vote. As a matter of fact, most people don’t even know who their representatives are.”

Brown continued, “Newspapers have a responsibility to make their readers aware of what is going on in local politics and hold council members, board of supervisors and other entities accountable.”

But, according to Brown, and the study, it’s not just a matter of reporting the local news.

“If this keeps happening, the divide will expand at the state and national level. The Fresno Bee won’t cover everything in Clovis or everything in Fresno, for example,” he said.

Even though our cities are a mere miles apart, we just don’t always face the same issues or find the same stories of interest. But the bottom line is this, according to Brown: “The more we keep them informed, the more they are willing to know and participate in the democracy. Otherwise they don’t know, they just don’t know.”

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“What I find most interesting about the study was that local news has to exist, “Darr said. “And just by existing, it is the antidote to this polarization.”

“Politics will function better with local news as a factor. If it can do that, it will be a force for good,” Darr urged.

“We are living in a world of infinite choice and, when it comes to our news sources, we used to look for attributes like trustworthiness,” Darr said. “With a paper like the Roundup, you may have read their paper, you may have been featured in it, you might even know someone who works there because you’re involved with this small community. Therefore, you have a strong connection to your local paper, you know your source.”

“Now when source and news become disentangled, you get your national news, your fake news and the worst part about this is that you are disconnected from a source you trust,” he warned. 

“People, your readers need to know more about the choices they have, and local community newspapers can provide that,” Darr said.

Jim Boren, Fresno State journalism professor and head of the Institute for Media and Public Trust said, “Good journalism at the local level increases civic engagement and gives your readers better understanding of complex public policy issues.”

“My advice is to continue to write about local issues and represent all sides in your reporting,” Boren said. “Your paper is hyper-local so your mission is very clear: cover the stories of interest in your community.”

“I think local papers such as the Bee and the Roundup make their mark with local reporting,” Boren concluded. “You can get national stories from many sources. But who will cover the school boards, city hall, water agencies if the local papers don’t?

“Local journalism matters.”