aerial view of water overflow on damaged dam

Downsizing Local News Contributes to Crumbling Infrastructure

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. “Heat, floods, drought and fire are putting new stress on aging and deteriorating infrastructure, which must be maintained to protect communities against these growing climate risks,” said Megan Mullin, faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and co-author of the study. “Our study shows that investing in facilities that improve our resilience to climate hazards requires investing in the health of local news.” Deep cuts to local news staffs nationwide have led to reduced original reporting and local political stories in favor of national news that can be centrally produced and shared in many newspapers within the same ownership structure, the study’s authors noted. “Empty newsrooms and AI reporting don’t provide communities with the information they need to make investments for their own health and security,” said Mullin, a UCLA Luskin professor of public policy whose research focuses on environmental politics. — Alison Hewitt

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