Press coverage often does hold politicians accountable — on the local level at least.
That’s according to a new working paper by David Stromberg and James M. Snyder Jr.
They found that congressmen from districts with newspapers that aggressively cover local politics tend to work harder to represent the interests of their constituents.
Such congressmen are more likely to break with their parties, more likely to bring home pork-barrel projects, and more likely to participate actively in committee hearings than congressmen from districts without a strong local press.
In the study, the accountability effect is strongest where the boundaries of one media market most closely match the borders of a single congressional district. In big cities, where one newspaper might cover several districts, or in rural areas, where there may be no local paper coverage at all, press coverage of local congressional representatives “becomes more selective and superficial,” according to the authors.
In these districts, fewer voters know the name of their congressman, let alone how he or she votes in Congress. That reduces the incentive for a congressman to be responsive to the needs of his or her district.
The study also found that television news coverage had almost no effect on voter knowledge of their congressmen, and it found mixed results with internet news coverage.
With the number of local newspapers declining across America, and the dwindling circulation of those that remain, will Congress become less responsive?