Post-print Democracy: The Decline of Newspapers and the Effects on Political Information, Political Participation and Political Power
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This thesis analyzes the loss of political information and decline in political participation associated with newspaper closures and circulation decline in order to help assess the impact on democracy from the precipitous decline of newspapers over the last several years. It also weighs this decline in the context of the changing media environment by analyzing the extent to which the Internet can compensate for losses associated with newspaper decline. This thesis analyzes the patterns of failures of newspapers from 1955 to 2010 and from 2000 to 2010 utilizing a Cox survival method analysis to determine what attributes of newspapers and the communities they serve are associated with failure and the implications of these trends. The thesis finds that papers with smaller circulations, lower rates of broadband access and locations in rural counties and state capitals demonstrate higher risks of failure. An additional analysis utilizes a fixed effects model to analyze change in voting turnout between the 2006 and 2010 Congressional elections based on changes in number of newspapers, newspaper circulation, unemployment, closeness of race, conterminous state and governor elections and levels of broadband access. It finds that circulation decline is associated with a modest overall decline in voter turnout with stronger evidence of patterns of lower turnout for rural counties, micropolitan counties and counties with lower rates of broadband access. The findings that some kinds of counties – particularly rural ones – are being hit harder by newspaper decline suggest the development of what I identify as a “print divide:” as newspapers contract, groups experience different degrees of loss in terms of access to information and levels of participation. This has implications for a redistribution of power in democracy. The findings further show that for some counties, the Internet is not compensating for newspaper decline but there is a dual deficit in political information and the combined effect also is associated with lower voter turnout. The findings from this thesis underscore the need for continued research into the effects of our “post-print democracy,” including those effects on political information, political participation and political power.