"Name one community where people won't say that," Mr. White says, addressing local claims of inadequate coverage. "This is a silly conversation." Asked in a phone interview about the home page of the Haverhill Gazette's website, where the most recent story in the schools section was more than 100 days old, he replied, "Do you want to have a conversation, or do you just want to harangue me?" Then he hung up the phone.
The effects of closing daily newspapers have been more formally studied by Lee Shaker, a communications professor at Portland State University in Oregon. Professor Shaker examined the death of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's print edition. "They were deeply embedded in their communities, in terms of people waking up in the morning and reading them and also as clearinghouse institutions where reporters had spent their entire careers," Shaker says. "[The reporters] knew how things worked and could shed light on the truth." Both papers were approaching their 150th anniversaries when publishers pulled the plug in 2009.
From a research perspective, they couldn't have expired at a better time. Months earlier, the US Census Bureau had started collecting data to assess how deeply citizens were involved with their communities in big cities across the country. This set the stage for what social scientists call a "natural experiment."