Serious Threat in 2024 Political Races
When it comes to consideration of the 2024 political races, most people are probably weighing which presidential candidate to support. After all, jockeying for position is well under way.
Behind the headlines, though, is a foreboding situation: the fading influence of local news media in political races. Especially newspapers, a key check-and-balance on local and state candidates. They are the folks often more important to daily life than someone sitting in Washington, D.C.
What caught my attention about this was a recent story by Time magazine’s Philip Elliott, titled “The Shrinking Newsroom Crisis Will Be Impossible to Ignore in 2024.”
In it, Elliott chronicled the alarming demise of newsrooms in his native Midwest. Figures like 200 journalists working at the Omaha World-Herald in 2015 shrinking to 40 this year. That mirrored the drop in Sunday circulation from 302,000 copies to 40,000.
It’s just as bad elsewhere. The Des Moines, Iowa Register—“arguably the most important voice in Iowa’s political landscape,” Elliott says—sank from 535,000 copies in the 1970s to 53,000 in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s circulation stood at 500,000 in the 1980s and just 95,000 in late 2019. Youngstown, Ohio, where the Washington-based political reporter began his career, no longer has a stand-alone newspaper.
What I found ironic about Time’s story was the photo accompanying the feature, of New York Rep. George Santos. After the election, a tempest erupted over revelations that numerous elements of his campaign biography were in fact fiction.
When the ruckus erupted, I thought, “Why wasn’t this uncovered by the New York news media before the election?”
The answer, as you can see from figures Elliott cites, is there likely weren’t enough reporters on duty to devote the time to double-checking the fluff spun by Santos’s campaign staff.
As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I have long been aware of the animosity directed at anyone out to tell the truth. If there’s one thing numerous political, business and other leaders don’t like, it’s accountability.
And when it comes to local and state politics, a lack of accountability can lead to situations like a current scandal unfolding in my state of West Virginia. In March, the state police superintendent resigned amid an uproar over allegations of theft by one officer, abuse of women by troopers, staffers’ extramarital affairs, and other unsavory behavior.
Who told us about these alleged abuses of power, which will reverberate for years? Those pesky news reporters. Critics can hurl “fake news” claims all day long, but it won’t change the truth that this was a situation crying for correction.
Hopefully, it will come after an investigation by the new superintendent, but a more vigilant local press might have scared the perpetrators into cleaning up their act sooner.
In his Time story, Elliott pointed out the problem of disappearing local news perspectives in politics. Mentioning how he followed unsuccessful U.S. senatorial candidate Tim Ryan last fall, Elliott commented on only one other local online reporter and a wire service photographer being at a key Ryan rally just weeks before the election.
This lack of coverage means fewer voters will understand the issues and stakes of a campaign, he said.
“Without that coverage, voters are left to listen to which candidates’ ads can dominate the airwaves and digital screens, most of it dominated by the whims of deep-pocketed donors,” Elliott said. “That…isn’t what democracy should look like.”
But when it does, the result is the best government money can buy.