Newspapers opinion pages focusing on local issues reduces polarization

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By Johanna Dunaway Joshua P. Darr and Matthew P. Hitt 5 minute Learn

When you’re confused about opinion journalism and what it’s, you’re not alone. Many People are. Besides, the editorials, opinion columns, and letters to the editor that fill the op-ed pages might assist bridge political divides within the U.S. and supply some assist to struggling local information retailers.

Given this confusion and disagreement, it might sound unlikely that opinion journalism could possibly be a optimistic affect. However our analysis exhibits that it might.

We’re scholars who research politics and the media. We have now discovered that local newspapers—and local opinion journalism specifically—can bridge political divisions and entice extra readers.


Vibrant group discussion board

Opinion journalism just isn’t information reporting; it’s distinguished by its said perspective. It has three primary codecs: editorials; opinion columns, or “op-eds”; and letters to the editor.

Editorials are written within the newspaper’s voice by the editorial board, usually composed of editors, homeowners, and group members. Op-eds are usually written by skilled columnists or group leaders. Letters are written by common readers.

Op-eds make sure that perspectives from nonjournalists seem within the newspaper, assist most of the people interpret major events, and may change readers’ minds on the issues. The perfect op-ed pages function virtually like a city sq., permitting readers to debate and debate issues necessary each to their communities and past.

In June 2019, Desert Solar editor Julie Makinen introduced a giant change for the newspaper’s opinion pages: no nationwide politics. [Screenshot: The Desert Sun]

However the financial disaster in local information is making it more durable for the opinion web page to appreciate its potential as a vibrant group discussion board. Falling revenues and diminished numbers of workers have compelled local newspapers to use more syndicated columnists from outside of the paper’s community and whose work normally has a nationwide focus. Some papers have minimize the place of opinion editor fully.

With no devoted staffer to hunt out group writers and edit their work, newspapers’ reliance on syndicated columns means extra opinion columns centered on “right versus left” ideological conflicts between the two national political extremes, not local issues.

No extra nationwide politics?

Our book exhibits how doing the other—eliminating nationwide politics on the opinion web page and reinvesting in local opinion content material—might help newspapers entice readers and funky tensions of their group.


The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, tried this for the month of July 2019: no syndicated columns, no cartoons about nationwide politics, no letters about then-President Donald Trump.

We measured the methods this experiment modified the fabric that was printed and the attitudes of the folks locally.

It was a serious shift. In June, the month previous to this variation, half of The Desert Solar’s op-ed web page was nationally syndicated columns, and one-third of all columns referenced Trump. In July, nationwide syndication disappeared, as did all tales mentioning the president. California subjects have been the main focus of lower than half of all columns in June, however 96% centered on California in July. Mentions of the Democratic and Republican events dropped by greater than half, from 25% of all columns to 10%.

Local issues stuffed the web page: Issues like creative and cultural preservation, site visitors and downtown growth, and schooling and the atmosphere received rather more consideration. The distinctive character of Palm Springs shone by way of, as soon as given an opportunity.

We surveyed readers earlier than and after The Desert Solar’s experiment, in Palm Springs and a distinct metropolis, Ventura, whose local newspaper, the Ventura County Star, didn’t change its opinion web page. We needed to see if the change in opinion journalism shifted how folks assume and really feel about their political opponents.

Political polarization, which is when folks really feel far other than the opposing occasion, slowed considerably in Palm Springs in comparison with Ventura amongst sure teams:

  • Those that learn the newspaper;
  • Those that know lots about politics; and
  • Individuals who take part most in politics.

These teams are the folks most certainly to share their views and inform others, doubtlessly spreading the newspaper’s affect into the broader group. Even when solely a fraction of the group reads the newspaper frequently—The Desert Solar’s whole circulation is simply over 26,000—a change like this might have bigger spillover results.

The Desert Solar’s readers loved the change: On-line readership of opinion items nearly doubled in July, and in reader surveys we fielded after the experiment, virtually 5 instances as many readers said they approved as said they disapproved of the experiment. The experiment helped the newspaper recruit extra opinion writers, who then continued to jot down within the months that adopted.

Reinvesting in opinion

Supporters of local information might comply with the teachings of this analysis by elevating cash to pay for opinion editor positions and funding artistic pondering like The Desert Solar’s experiment.

The choice is that opinion pages will wither and stop to replicate their communities. A local-only opinion web page received’t restore the financial mannequin that supported newspapers in many years previous, however our analysis exhibits it might convey again some readers and bridge a few of the political divides that may drive American communities aside.