When Journalists Disappear, Taxpayers Get Hit in the Wallet

When Journalists Disappear, Taxpayers Get Hit in the Wallet

A new study published in the Columbia Journalism Review has established how the cost of government rises when news coverage is cut back.

Surprise, surprise! When nobody’s looking, people–including politicians–aren’t always on their best behavior.

There has been a great deal of hand wringing about cutbacks at newspapers around the country. Now we can see one of the consequences in pocketbook terms. The watchdog role of the press is more thanto be a safeguard against corruption, it also serves the cause of efficiency, according to this study.

The results of the study  were nicely encapsulated in this guest editorial in the Northwest Florida Daily News:

“Daily journalism has been a fact of American life for so long that it’s been taken for granted.

“But now we’re seeing what can happen without reporters acting as watchdogs.

“A recent study by finance professors — and reported on by the Columbia Journalism Review — has documented that when local newspapers close, costs rise for local governments.

“ ‘We suspected that if local media are not present to keep their government in check, then there would be a greater likelihood of mismanaged public funds and other government inefficiencies,’ wrote Dermot Murphy, a University of Illinois at Chicago assistant professor of finance.

“And the suspicions were justified, according to Murphy.

“ ‘We found that local government borrowing costs significantly increased for counties that have experienced a newspaper closure,’ Murphy wrote, ‘compared to geographically adjacent counties with similar demographic and economic characteristics without newspaper closures.’

“After a newspaper closes, the inefficiency in local government tends to dramatically rise.

“The wages of government employees increase — and the numbers of employees swell, too.

“That’s in part because the local government knows there are no pesky reporters around to monitor what’s happening — or ask why it’s happening.

“And, no, alternative news sources can’t fill the information gap; so-called citizen journalists rarely have the reporting and writing skills of professionally trained journalists.”

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