By Erin Foote Morgan, Bend Director
When Hubbell Communications opened an office in Bend last year, we were intrigued by the chance to help clients adapt from an older, more traditional media market to the new media landscape taking hold across America—a brave new world where social listening, digital advocacy and services like Google News reach more people than all daily papers combined.
With today’s news that The Bulletin will be sold off, as reported by OPB’s Emily Cureton in a piece titled “Bend Bulletin Owners Plan to Sell Everything and Dissolve the Company,” change is coming to our new high desert home and at an accelerated pace.
We don’t know, yet, what will happen to the paper—it could be purchased by an angel investor, as occurred with the Alaska Dispatch News in 2009 (which sadly ended in bankruptcy), or even move to a non-profit model, similar to the hopes for the Salt Lake Tribune.
But it is also possible that this 116-year-old institution could shutter, as have 1,800 other daily papers in the U.S. since 2004, according to a major study out last fall from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina.
Here’s what we do know for sure—losing a local daily newspaper spells a world of hurt for towns like Bend.
It’s a topic our very own principal, Chris Edmonds, recently weighed in on for the popular podcast The Dendrocast.
“It’s really important for us as a society to have watchdogs, to have oversight and accurate information,” said Edmonds. “The secondary effect of a newspaper industry is to have a better functioning government, society, a more educated populace—better outcomes for people that are delivered through journalism.”
The body of research here is pretty strong. Among the known effects of newspaper closures, based on studies in recent years, are:
- A decline in civic engagement (Dead Newspapers and Citizens’ Civic Engagement, As Local News Goes, So Goes Citizen Engagement: Media, Knowledge, and Participation in US House Elections)
- Increased polarization of voters as a critical forum for civil discourse dies and community members become more siloed and isolated in their own belief systems (Newspaper Closures Polarize Voting Behavior)
- Increased costs for taxpayers related to losing the watchdog function of local news. This shows up in both higher government employee wages (raises anyone!), and greater costs to bond for community infrastructure needs such as water, sewer and transportation projects. Turns out that credit agencies actually reduce the bond rating of a town if the newspaper closes due to this lack of oversight from the fourth estate (Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance)
But the news is not all bad.
The evolving digital landscape holds new promise for increasing public participation, voter education and new ways to monitor government, possibly even to a greater degree than daily journalism ever could.
We’re hopeful the paper will continue, but how will new digital strategies show up in Bend should The Bulletin close its doors? It’s time to start asking the question.