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Is the death of newspapers the end of good citizenship?

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Shaker examined the bureau's findings from before and after the closures of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Even though Denver and Seattle were each left with one daily print paper – previously, both had been two-newspaper towns – the change was significant. Shaker saw a decline in certain public-minded behaviors, including boycotts, which outpaced other cities.

The data did not explain why. So, asks Shaker: "Did civic engagement decline because people stopped reading a newspaper? Or because you took a newspaper out of the community?" After all, newspapers play a dual role: keeping readers informed and acting as watchdogs.

Having a paper around, Shaker adds, "is a public good we all benefit from, even if we don't read it, because it means journalists are pounding the pavement, holding officials accountable, activating the community."

The death of The Cincinnati Post, the final edition of which appeared on New Year's Eve in 2007, created a similar effect, according to another scholarly paper, which is forthcoming in the Journal of Media Economics. When the Post and its sister edition, The Kentucky Post, closed, political participation dropped across the northern Kentucky suburbs. Though the area's other daily newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, remained in business, the Post had provided 80 percent of the papers' combined coverage of that suburban zone.

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