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Measuring the Erosion of Local Political News [Research Assistantship]

Professor: Danny Hayes
Department: Political Science

Title: Measuring the Erosion of Local Political News

Description: The local news environment in the United States has withered in recent years. As revenues have fallen, newspapers have devoted fewer resources to public affairs reporting or shut down altogether. According to a growing body of research, these trends have resulted in declines in civic engagement. Yet our understanding of changes to the local news environment – and their consequences – remains incomplete, largely because of the lack of longitudinal data. As a result, many questions remain unanswered: Has the erosion of local news been steady, or have there been a series of precipitous declines? Have the trends been similar throughout the country, or have some papers been able to weather the storm better than others? Do cuts in circulation result in less political coverage, or do other topics take the hit? In this project, we rely on two new data sets to document changes in the volume of local political news between 1980 and 2016. We start with an examination of four decades worth of circulation and newsroom staff data at the largest circulating newspaper in each state. We then turn to a content analysis of the local political coverage in these papers over time. Although the patterns across the papers are not entirely uniform, the results paint a picture of an increasingly impoverished local news environment. Given this evidence of the erosion of local news, observers’ concerns about political engagement in communities across the United States appear very much justified.

– Help collect data from the Library of Congress on the newsroom staff of local newspapers around the country
– Help conduct a content analysis of local and state political news coverage, using newspaper archives in LexisNexis and other databases
– Help analyze data from the content analysis to contribute to an ongoing book project

* Please note that I am flexible about the time commitment. Below, I have estimated that a student would spend 4-6 hours per week on the project. But if a student would like to work more and thus gain additional credit, I am happy to discuss that. Likewise, if a student would prefer to work less, for 1 credit, I am open to that as well.

Time commitment: 4-6 hours per week (average)

Credit hour option*: 2

Submit Cover Letter/Resume todwh@gwu.edu

*If credit is sought, all registration deadlines and requirements must be met.  Students selected to be research assistants should contact Mary Rothemich at rothemich@gwu.edu whether they intend to pursue credit or not.