Local newspapers in Washington state are so gravely diminished that our democracy is at risk, according to “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy,” a study published by the League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund.
The study was prompted by a series of national reports tying the decline of local newspapers nationwide to reduced voter turnout, increased political polarization, higher government costs and less community engagement. It provides an in-depth look at how the local news crisis is playing out in the Evergreen state.
The study focuses on the closure of more than two dozen Washington newspapers, the loss of more than two-thirds of the state’s newspaper editors and reporters, large cutbacks in news coverage, and significant decreases in circulation and readership. It was approved by the LWVWA board of directors at their November 14, 2022 board meeting.
In the summer of 2021, delegates to the state League convention voted in favor of initiating the study partly because of the intersection of local newspapers with the League’s mission to empower voters and its vision for a democracy where all persons have the desire, right and knowledge to participate. Newspapers also play a critical role in supporting the organization’s value that people should be informed and encouraged to participate in government and understand major public policy issues.
Throughout Washington, scholars and researchers, government and elected officials, and public health officials and other community leaders interviewed by the League express grave concerns about the newspaper decline. One Washington State University professor, in fact, has declared the crisis to be not a journalism problem, but rather a democracy problem.
The League’s work on this issue is far from complete.
Through March 2023, local Leagues throughout Washington will read and discuss the study’s findings, embarking on a process to determine whether the League will adopt a policy position supporting local news. That process, known as seeking consensus, is not a simple majority vote, nor is it necessarily unanimity. Rather, it is the overall sense of the members’ sentiments as expressed through the exchange of ideas and opinions.
Based on the feedback they receive from local Leagues, members of the state board will determine in spring 2023 whether to adopt a policy position regarding local news. If they do so, delegates to the May 2023 state convention will vote on the proposed position. Adoption of a policy position would allow the nonprofit, nonpartisan League to advocate in support of local news across Washington.
A virtual presentation highlighting the findings of “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy” is scheduled on December 1, 2022 at 7 PM.
Representatives of the 10-member League committee will provide a summary of the nearly two-year-long study that reviewed the effects of the closure of more than two dozen newspapers and the loss of more than two-thirds of Washington’s local newspaper reporters. The report addresses the impacts on civic engagement, political polarization, public finance, public health, and other areas.
Full Study (PDF): The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy
Brier Dudley, The Seattle Times: New study documents Washington’s local news and democracy crisis
Study CommitteeDee Anne Finken, co-chair, LWV Clark County
Delores Irwin, co-chair, LWV Kittitas County
Sally Carpenter Hale, LWV Clark County
Linda Hughes, LWV Bellingham-Whatcom County
Joanne Lisosky, Ph.D., LWV Tacoma-Pierce County
Carol Rikerd, LWV Tacoma-Pierce County
Lauren Snider, Ph.D., LWV Seattle-King County
Lyn Whitley, LWV Whidbey Island
Sharon Wilhelm, LWV Tacoma-Pierce County
Reading CommitteeJudie Stanton, chair, LWV Clark County
Lucy Copass, LWV Clallam County
Carolyn Maddux, LWV Mason Count
Dee Ann Kline, LWVWA board liaison
Kelly McNabb, graphic artist
Amanda Clark, copy editor
Technical ReviewWilliam Dietrich, journalist, novelist, assistant professor
Brier Dudley, Seattle Times, Save The Free Press Initiative editor
Benjamin Shors, Washington State University, associate professor
Peggy Watt, Western Washington University, associate professor