When local newspapers shut down, studies have shown, voting in state and local elections becomes more polarized. Now there is fresh research that suggests newspapers can actually reduce political polarization within their communities by focusing on local issues and leaving national politics to regional and national publications.
This news comes in an 85-page paper, “How Local Newspapers Can Slow Polarization,” by Joshua P. Darr, Matthew P. Hitt, and Johanna L. Dunaway, currently available from Cambridge University Press for free download until April 21. In their study, based on an experiment conducted with two western U.S. newspapers, the authors concluded that local papers can hold back the rising tide of political division in America “by turning away from the partisan battles in Washington and focusing their opinion pages on local issues.”
Since its founding, the Press has instinctively followed that advice, rejecting opinion pieces and letters on divisive national issues in favor of viewpoints on local matters that impact every resident regardless of party affiliation or ideological bent. But sometimes national and local issues overlap.
That seems to be the case as the Select Board considers whether to adopt a townwide policy in support of inclusiveness and diversity, one that affirms Harvard is a welcoming community that does not discriminate by race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. It’s clear that while a majority of Harvard residents embrace these values, opinions differ on how to achieve them.
Over the past two weeks the Press has received more letters to the editor than usual on the topics of racism, diversity training, and the policing of discriminatory acts. We are glad to have provided a place for the expression of diverse opinions, even as the nation undergoes a generational reckoning on race.
As discussion of these issues continues on our pages, we hope to keep it from becoming one that polarizes our readers. We will insist that submissions be respectful and fact-based. And we will sometimes ask letter writers to provide attribution or make revisions whenever we think a claim is overstated or unsubstantiated, likely to foster ire rather than insight.
The Press values vigorous, informed debate, and we encourage the continued expression of diverse opinions in our Letters to the Editor. The trick, according to the latest research, is to keep that discourse locally focused, seeking common ground as we confront issues that divide us