If ever something was going to encourage you to donate to NPR, this “Starving the Watchdog” episode of Hidden Brain will. The high-level story is that as local news (think: print, radio, TV, etc.) have been consolidated, bought up, and shut down, our society has lost a class of investigative journalists that helped uphold the accountability of individuals, businesses, and politicians. The cynic will also note we’ve replaced some of that societal class with social media – which Pearls Before Swine nailed in “Rat’s Recipe for Disaster.”
An informed public is only one aspect of our collective loss, however. Less accountability has been shown to lead to poor governance and greater fraud, which can raise the cost of public finance. For the non-finance people, that means if the local paper goes away, the crooked local politician has an easier time embezzling funds with no one asking questions, and next time the town needs to borrow money to fund a project, the cost of financing for places that have lost local papers tends to be higher. Everyone pays that price. Not just from the embezzled money, but the future strain via higher interest payments too.
Take a listen. This is an important issue to be aware of and understand. In the short-term, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Few of us read that local paper anymore, so maybe it was just its time we think. But, the long-term effects of not having someone do the work that goes into that paper can be deep and vicious. We need watchdogs, we just have to rethink how we pay for them.