Downsizing local news contributes to crumbling infrastructure

Study co-authored by LCI faculty director links local journalism with voter support for investments critical for climate resilience

Pile of Newspapers

Credit: Filckr / Daniel R. Blume

By Alison Hewitt

Key takeaways

  • A new study from UCLA and Duke University shows local journalism that produces detailed coverage about aging infrastructure increases voter support for additional infrastructure investment.
  • Basic, undetailed reporting, like that from severely understaffed newsrooms or AI-generated stories, resulted in lower support for infrastructure spending.
  • Voters demonstrated a willingness to hold local politicians accountable when provided with context in local reporting. 

Reading strong local journalism is tied to greater support for funding dams, sewers and other basic infrastructure vital to climate resilience, according to new research from UCLA and Duke University.

The study, published this month in the journal Political Behavior, found that reading fictionalized samples of news coverage with specific local details about infrastructure maintenance requirements led to as much as 10% more electoral support for infrastructure spending compared to reading bare-bones reporting. Just a few extra paragraphs of context in the mock news stories not only increased support for spending, but also increased voters’ willingness to hold politicians accountable for infrastructure neglect by voting them out of office.

“Local news reporting builds public support for infrastructure investments,” said UCLA political scientist Megan Mullin, a co-author of the study and faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. 

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