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When Local Newspapers Disappear So Do Non-Partisan Politics

It can be hard to escape national political news. On the flip side, it's getting harder to find out what's going on in our own backyard. In our region, we've lost around 70 local papers in recent years. A new study says that trend is contributing to today's partisan politics.

Matt Hitt, a political science professor at Colorado State University, co-authored the study. He said in this particular political moment, when it can feel like the two parties have two different sets of facts, local newspapers play an important role.

"A local newspaper is sort of one central place where a lot of members of the community could go to get the same source of information. And you have local reporters acting in the interest of local concerns, that really changes the way people think about politics," Hitt said.

His study found split ticket voting for the president and Senate is less likely in communities without a local paper. He said that's because local reporting connects candidates to local issues. Without that information people are more likely to vote along party lines.

"And I think that communities that don't have papers, you're going to see more and more straight-ticket voting all the way down to County Commissioner, and lower and lower," said Hitt.

He encouraged folks who don't have a local paper to assess a candidate's plan of action rather than just party affiliation.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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