It’s a bad thing for our democracy when local newspapers must continually cut reporters to stay afloat financially. Those reporters too often were crucial government watchdogs, informing the community about the workings of city hall, school districts and other government agencies.

While other local news outlets have stepped up their game to fill the vacuum left by diminished newspapers, most still don’t have the reporting resources that newspapers had when they were in their financial prime. Bad things happen in local government when politicians aren’t being watched by independent journalists.

Fortunately, newspapers are still doing watchdog reporting, but not at the level they did when the business model was strong. However, newspapers still set the news agenda in their communities.

A new study points out the impact that newspaper reporters and editors have on the news content that is produced in a community. Take a close look at “Who’s Producing Local Journalism? Assessing Journalistic Output Across Different Outlet Types.” You can read the study here.

“The results show, fairly convincingly, that despite the economic hardships that local newspapers have endured, they remain, by far, the most significant providers of journalism in their communities,” according to the study’s authors. “And while there is great hope and expectation that newer, online journalism sources will emerge to compensate for the cutbacks and closures affecting local newspapers, our study has shown that this has yet to take place.”

The study pointed out that while local newspapers accounted for roughly 25 percent of the local media outlets in the sampling, newspapers produced “nearly 50 percent of the original news stories in our database.”

“Local newspapers significantly outperform local TV, radio, and online-only
outlets in news production, both in overall story output and in terms of stories
that are original, local, or address a critical information need,” the study says.

Watchdog reporting brings transparency to government, and that gives members of the public the chance to say whether they approve of how their elected officials are conducting themselves. But if no one is reporting on these issues, the public does not have the opportunity to weigh in.

As the reporting environment changes, other media outlets must do deeper coverage of government issues. We all lose when politicians think no one is looking closely at what they are doing with taxpayer dollars.