The connection between local news and political polarization is a hot topic that scholars in political science, journalism, and other fields have explored from multiple angles. It's not often that a real-world experiment presents itself, but that's exactly what happened when a Google alert landed in the inboxes of Joshua P. Darr., Matthew P. Hitt, and Johanna Dunaway. During the month of July 2019, the Palm Springs Desert Sun dropped national politics from its opinion page and instead filled the space with columns from local writers and letters to the editor about local issues.
In Home Style Opinion: How Local Newspapers Can Slow Polarization (Cambridge UP, 2021), the authors use a show that after this quasi-experiment in Palm Springs, politically engaged people did not feel as far apart from members of the opposing party, compared to those in a similar community whose newspaper did not change. While it may not cure all of the imbalances and inequities in opinion journalism, an opinion page that ignores national politics could help local newspapers push back against political polarization. Darr and Hitt join New Books Network host Jenna Spinelle for this conversation.
Joshua P. Darr is assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. Matthew P. Hitt is associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. Jenna Spinelle is an instructor in the Donald. P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State and host of the Democracy Works podcast.