What the US Newspaper Crisis Means for Public Accountability

Working Paper

This paper examines the connection between declines in local journalism in the US and the possibility of declines in federal prosecutions for public corruption, defined by the US Department of Justice as crimes involving the abuse of public trust by government by federal, state, and local public officials. Journalism has long been presumed to serve as a check on the powerful, shedding light on wrongdoing; however, given the significant declines in local newspaper journalism in the US, extant theory suggests that wrongdoing such as public corruption would be less visible to the public–and in turn, make it more difficult for these abuses to come to light so they can be prosecuted by the US government. We assess whether declines in local newspaper journalism are associated with declines in prosecutions for public corruption and whether efforts to supplement the loss of news with non-profit journalism and philanthropic funding for investigative journalism might mitigate the loss of local legacy newspapers.