Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's GOwen Local

It may seem like common sense that newspapers and other local and regional news outlets focus on community-based issues, but it seems that some of these outlets have forgotten their roots and have decided to focus on national or international news stories almost exclusively, which is a loss for local residents.

As part of my master's thesis, I am looking into the idea of social capital and the media's role within that particular theory. Social capital can be defined as the relationships and interactions between neighbors and community members. For my thesis, I suggest that one of the large contributing factors to the decline of social capital in today's society is the shift from local news coverage to a more nationalized focus in the media.

Robert Putnam, one of social capital's most widely-read theorists, argues that the decline in newspaper readership is a significant factor in the overall decline of social capital. But what caused this decline in readership in the first place?

Well there are several factors that may or may not contribute to this falling readership. Among those, the Internet, people are reading less in general, economic issues, etc. However, I believe that there was a significant shift in news coverage following the Watergate scandal that lead to this change. Watergate was the first widely-publicized story that made front pages of newspapers across the country. As a result, newspapers began focusing on issues of greater impact. The term "if it bleeds it leads," became a nationwide phrase rather than a mere description of local police beat coverage.

As a result, we've seen local media change their focus. Rarely to local stories lead on the front page, but rather that slot is filled with war, disaster or celebrity coverage that has happened in far away places.

I'm not suggesting that providing more local coverage is a save-all for newspapers. But to me, common sense suggests that when people read a newspaper, they want to read about what is happening near where they live. Now, this isn't to say that national news isn't important, but newspapers should place a heavy emphasis on community building rather than national news distributing. By providing more local coverage, newspapers can contribute to a city's social capital by creating a sense of belonging for its readers.

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