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Opinion: Local journalism helps taxpayers save money, research shows

Politicians and senior administrators want nothing more than a public that has no way to keep an eye on them.
A woman reading a newspaper and having coffee.

Savour and cherish this piece of Prince George heritage and history and all the good things it has brought for this community. Because if our local paper of record is gone, things will get worse for everyone.  

We can’t foresee exactly how, but recent research has shown that one of the things we can expect when we lose our local paper is for taxes to go up.

Yes, lose your local paper, expect politicians and city administrations to loosen up that belt of fiscal responsibility.

This was demonstrated back in 2018 in a report called “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”

The authors found that “the loss of government monitoring resulting from a closure is associated with higher government wages and deficits.”  They concluded that local papers actually saved taxpayers money.

Local media is also linked to healthier local democracy.

A 2019 paper called “Political Consequences of the Endangered Local Watchdog: Newspaper Decline and Mayoral Elections in the United States” found that the fewer local reporters there were, the lower the political competition, and the lower the voter turnout.

Politicians and senior administrators want nothing more than a public that has no way to keep an eye on them. Not only does this create an apathetic electorate, it makes it easier to get greasy. It makes it easier to use political power for personal gain.

If we don’t have the news media reporting on conflicts of interest, that type of behaviour becomes normalized and before you know it you are paying the clerk to get your shoddy blueprints stamped.  

We can’t expect provincial media to cover local scandals, and our publicly-funded CBC is AWOL, producing endless amounts of reassuring fluff and avoiding any suggestion our institutions are failing us, with some noteworthy exceptions particularly in Quebec and the National. 

I don’t know if people know how bad this stuff already is, but it will get worse.

Few people pay for news anymore and much of the revenue from digital advertising goes to the social media giants. It seems the City of Prince George would rather peddle its propaganda through Facebook (and hire more employees to do that) than speak to local reporters.

A new federal law, the Online News Act, is meant to require social media giants to start paying news outlets for the content that gets shared, but it appears the giants will simply block these articles from being shared completely.

Dark days lie ahead and unless we come up with a plan to keep local journalism afloat, all your local news will be written by internet meme-warriors, government PR flacks, and corporate spin doctors. 

And that’s a sure-fire recipe for the decline of the quality of your services, the increases in your taxes, and the eventual death of your good government and democracy.  

James Steidle is a Prince George writer.