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Is the death of newspapers the end of good citizenship?

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More than sentiment is at stake. The number of American daily newspapers has fallen from 1,878 in 1940 to 1,382 last year. When daily newspapers die, communities become less connected and collaborative, new studies suggest. Economists and media researchers are seeing a drop-off in civic participation – the same kind of collective vigor readers showed in fighting for The Times-Picayune – after the presses stop rolling.

"More of American life now occurs in shadow. And we cannot know what we do not know," said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, testifying at a 2009 Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing on the future of news.

New research suggests that fewer people vote after their communities lose a daily print newspaper. Fewer run for office. Fewer boycott – or buy – something based on what they think of a company's values. Fewer contact public leaders to voice opinions. Fewer pitch in with neighborhood groups. More incumbent politicians get reelected. And these things happen despite the presence of digital and broadcast media.

What you don't know may hurt you

Tom Stites founded the Banyan Project – an initiative to develop reader-owned, online news cooperatives, which he incubated as a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society – because he worries about "news deserts."

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