Students who were at Hill Country last Wednesday were in for perhaps the most #OnlyAtGW moment of 2023. They found themselves dancing to classic karaoke anthems with George Santos, a Republican New York representative in Congress, former drag queen, the subject of a criminal fraud investigation in Brazil and a serial liar. It seems like every headline uncovers another lie Santos has told, ranging from his family’s ties to the Holocaust and 9/11 to basic resume credentials like his education and employment history. The endless stream of lies about the new congressman prompts the question – how did we let this happen?
Santos was elected before the mainstream media picked apart his phony resume, largely due to the decline in local newspaper readership. The North Shore Leader, a local Long Island newspaper, broke the story about Santos’ false claims of an $11 million net worth two months before his election in September. But despite their reporting, the story wasn’t picked up until the New York Times covered it a month after the election in December. The disparity between the national reaction to the North Shore Leader’s and the New York Times’ coverage exemplifies the nationwide information drain from local communities.
As students at such a politically active institution living within a media climate of growing polarization, we must pay attention to our local newspapers instead of solely focusing on spectacles that larger media outlets publish. In doing so, we can better understand news within our communities, evaluate political candidates and hold them accountable for their actions in positions of power for the sake of avoiding another situation like Santos’ election.
The future of local newspapers casts a dark shadow on the prospects of democracy. Over the past 20 years, at least 2,500 local newspapers have gone out of business, according to a Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism study. The result has left gaping holes in news coverage within local communities across the country. Larger new sources are stretched too thin to react to local news stories with the same level of speed and coverage as the publications in those communities – the New York Times’ delay to the Santos beat proves it. They don’t have the local community ties that the North Shore Leader’s owner Grant Lally said led the newspaper to Santos’ lie-ridden resume.
Instead, mainstream media has turned their sights to nationwide controversies to capitalize off the polarization of President Donald Trump’s spectacle of a presidency. Readers have followed in droves, taking their subscriptions to community newspapers with them. While local newspapers like the North Shore Leader still deliver critical reporting, few readers are left behind, which in turn drains funding and resources. National newspapers that ignore local publications don’t help either.
“Downstream, local and regional newspapers used to monitor the weekly papers more closely. So, something that popped in a weekly would be picked up very quickly. They’re not monitoring to the same extent,” Lally told The Hill last month.
We already know that Americans can fail at evaluating political candidates – especially given the recent rise in popularity of unfit and low-quality candidates who lack honesty and experience, like Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz and Donald Trump. Media misinformation is a partial cause of this unfortunate trend. But receptiveness to local newspapers can be a catalyst for the spread of information, which will ensure experienced and honest elected officials.
Read your local newspapers, give credit to reporters and be aware of the conditions they’re facing. If your hometown’s local newspaper is lacking resources and funding, spread awareness within your community to neighbors and town leaders alike. Local newspapers deserve support during and after election season, and by keeping up with the news, we can help improve the quality of media information that those around us intake.
Mia Adams, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.
This article appeared in the February 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.