HomeOpinionHow Craigslist killed State and Local Politics

How Craigslist killed State and Local Politics

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Watching the comment storm created by the HopNews articles on Town Meeting and a pair of Ashley Fogg op-eds has caused me to consider the role of journalism in our community, and specifically the declining coverage of local politics.

Classified Ads: The Golden Goose of Newsrooms

Classified ads first appeared in newspapers around 1704. They provided consumers with a way to browse local deals, typically listed by private sellers. For readers like me, browsing the classifieds over a cup of coffee was a Sunday ritual. I enjoyed seeing the eclectic things people were selling, browsing various job listings, and dreaming about owning a cooler car than the beat up Nova I was driving. 

By the year 2000, classified ad revenue peaked at $19.6 billion, constituting 40% of newspaper industry ad revenue. But by 2012 it had dropped to just $4.6 billion, a 77% decline over twelve years.

This is because Craigslist (and the Internet in general) disrupted this revenue pattern. In the early 2000’s, with classified ad sales falling off a cliff, newsrooms started consolidating and cutting staff. 

From 2005 – 2021, about 2,200 local print newspapers closed in the US. Between 2008 and 2020 the number of newspaper journalists was halved. 

With newsrooms and ad revenue rapidly shrinking, publishers were less financially viable, leaving them vulnerable. Some went up for sale and others went out of business. My hometown of Seattle had two daily papers – The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (or the P-I, as we called it). For decades they competed fiercely, but the P-I lost and went to a bare-bones online version in 2009. Locally, the Upton/Mendon Town Crier disappeared last year and the Holliston Reporter will likely cease operation in August.

With the market in turmoil, Gannett Company, which owned USA Today and many others, saw an opportunity to purchase these weakened operations. Gannett now owns more than 100 dailies and 1,000 weekly newspapers. They own 93 newspapers in Massachusetts, including the Worcester Telegram, Milford Daily News, MetroWest Daily News, and the Grafton News.

Part of the Gannett playbook is to consolidate newsrooms to cut costs. Instead of maintaining a local reporter in each town they hire a reporter/editor to cover a region. Some may remember when the MetroWest Daily News had a Hopkinton-based reporter.

The economics of local journalism simply don’t work anymore. Newsrooms like the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, who initially were free in digital version, are now behind pay walls. Nearly all of the Gannett papers are behind a pay wall.

Effect on Politics

State and local political coverage was driven by newsrooms that were funded by classified ad revenue. The resultant effect of this consolidation is less coverage of local issues and more coverage of national issues. There is less coverage of local stories because there are fewer local reporters to write them.

What kinds of stories used to be covered? Road work, town meetings, school board issues, and local elections. The sometimes boring but often critically important stuff. We are fortunate in this town to still have the Hopkinton Independent covering those topics in detail. Mary Ellen and Jerry admirably service this community.

I have interviewed many job applicants over the past decade, and there is one question I always ask: What is wrong with this country? Typically this is met with a long pause (presumably while the candidate calculates how likely they are to offend me with their answer) and then invariably they say something like “No one listens to each other anymore”.

It’s true. There is a divisive discourse, a hyper-partisanship, like we have never seen in the history of this country. And that’s because there are only two dominant national narratives. Increasingly voters are participating in culture wars, even when those issues don’t present to them locally. For example, there are not very many people that identify as “transgender” in Iowa, but there are many voters in Iowa that vote based on where a politician falls on issues that affect trans healthcare.

State and local politicians, who once were free to advocate for the issues that their constituencies cared most deeply about, are now forced to align with the national narrative to receive the financial support of their national parties. Ron DeSantis in Florida is one such example of this. Clearly he has presidential aspirations, and to attract the broader donor base, he has very publicly taken on Disney. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, is similarly ambitious. He has embraced many of the left-wing’s culture war ideas in the hopes that he will become a viable presidential candidate. The dominant national narrative now plays out across local politicians too. How this will effect our democracy long-term remains to be seen.

Fortunately, a movement to support local journalism seems to be gaining traction. High net-worth individuals, such as Lauren Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs) and several foundations are increasingly investing in smaller news organizations. “I actually think that we should think about [local journalism] as a civic good, a public good that should be supported by public and private entities,” Powell Jobs told Recode’s Kara Swisher in 2019. To that end, Hopkinton voters did their part in approving continued funding for HCAM-TV at Town Meeting.

I think Josh Stearns, the director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund, put it best. 

“Journalism is a foundation for everything else you care about,” he said. “For some people there’s a deep-seated concern about their community being informed. They look at their local newspaper and see it crumbling, falling apart or shrinking and it concerns them. They don’t know where they’re going to get trusted information. For some, that’s their motivation, but for many, media is the secondary issue. Whether you care about climate change or reproductive rights or whatever it might be, making sure there is really good journalism about those things is critically important.”


  1. “For example, there are not very many people that identify as “transgender” in Iowa, but there are many voters in Iowa that vote based on where a politician falls on issues that affect trans healthcare.”

    It is in bad faith to call this a ‘culture war’ issue. Putting transgender in quotes invalidates the fact that this is the truth to a vulnerable population. It doesn’t matter if there is one person or a million people, there is a right and wrong side of the discussion. Removing gender-affirming care removes humanity from the gender-nonconforming population. This is not a point of debate – there is a side which admittedly views gender-nonconforming people as inhuman. It is unacceptable, period.

    If you were to put another population in this argument, it wouldn’t hold weight. 2, or .0518%, of Hopkinton residents identify as Black or African American by the 2020 census. Should we not consider their rights when discussing issues within local politics?

    I agree that journalism is failing us – but not in the fact that it’s narrative based. Most mainstream journalism parrots talking points without actually critically examining what is being said. I haven’t seen many instances of mainstream journalism asking questioning and investigating claims.

    The media portrayed the questioning of the 2020 election as a legitimate form of discourse. Most media organizations present questioning the election’s legitimacy, which has been proven false by many sources, as a debatable point.

    Journalism isn’t being killed by partisanship. It might have been on life support due to the decline in revenue. Journalism died when it started allowing gaslighting by politicians under ‘alternative facts’.

    • Correction:

      Based on the 2020 census data, Hopkinton has 25 residents, or 0.6468%, who identify as Black or African American. The 2 residents, or .0518%, identify as Black or African American with Hispanic origin.

      I apologize for the misreading of the data.

  2. I think you misunderstood. I did not quote “transgender” to invalidate the population, I used quotes to indicate the way a person is asked to identify in a population survey. I would have used quotes for “black”, “hispanic” or “white” too.

    To your point about “Most mainstream journalism parrots talking points without actually critically examining what is being said”, I agree. It is because of media consolidation that there are only a few dominant narratives. This YouTube video on Sinclair Broadcasting illustrates my point: https://youtu.be/TnIQalprvR8

    • I did misunderstand the quotation of the identification. I apologize for the implication that you were invalidating the identity of those who identify in that fashion. I also apologize for some of the more negative comments that were directed at the conversation.

      Not directly on topic, however: I still believe talking as a ‘culture war’ is obfuscating the problem. The issues aren’t differences of opinions in policy which has escalated; rather, it’s a population intent on hurting vulnerable populations. For example, in a poll among likely republican voters, 57% would prefer to vote for a candidate that “makes liberals angry.” (https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/lf2x46gr89/cbsnews_20230501_1.pdf)

      To me, that isn’t a disagreement in direction, as culture might imply. Instead, it’s a matter of survival, where one ‘group’ wants to eradicate the other. It’s a war based on the fundamental view of the humanity of populations.

    • Also: I prefer the John Oliver take on Sinclair – similar information, but a much more in depth piece.

      Thank you for sharing all of this. As a citizen of Hopkinton, I would definitely independently financially support a local journalism outlet which would do more in depth examinations on local issues. I would financially support a journalism outlet which wasn’t focused on catering to, for lack of a better analogy, ‘corporate overlords’.

      I, honestly, don’t know much about HopNews as it is now. There were some concerns I had in previous years about the direction and focus on some stories. It wasn’t until I was doing some digging into your background that I found HopNews had changed hands in December 2022. Additionally, I had no idea you were the editor-in-chief.

      Thank you for your work.

  3. “There is a divisive discourse, a hyper-partisanship, like we have never seen in the history of this country. ”

    For a most interesting read on this topic, ‘Perilous Times’ a book by Geoffrey Stone.

  4. Perhaps a start in Hopkinton would be to discontinue having partisan elections. As of 2018, we were one of only 15 towns (out of 312) in the Commonwealth who still have local candidates selected by party caucus. At our local level, national party politics don’t (or shouldn’t) have much bearing on our elections. A Special Act of the Legislature is required to discontinue the practice, preceded by a vote at Town Meeting. The town of Sturbridge did this in 2012, and Hopkinton could do the same.

    • The problem with this is a culture of most candidates saying only anodyne platitudes in their campaigns, making it very difficult to know their positions on substantive issues. Party affiliation is an imperfect proxy for what they really think, but it’s better than nothing.

  5. Just for clarification, the Upton Mendon Town Crier only stopped publishing because Al Holman died. It was soon revived and is thriving today.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Local news is vital and evaporating all around us.

    I live in Grafton, we had a resident running the Grafton Common for several years until she was offered an opportunity she could not pass up. Great for her of course but since then the amount of times I’ve heard “I didn’t know about that” has increased substantially.


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