chapter  9
20 Pages

The Media and Local Politics

When most of us think about politics, we think about the president, Congress, and the big media-the networks, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and perhaps even Rush Limbaugh. We don't think about local politics-the city or the state-and how they are covered on the news. Yet the decisions local officials make inevitably affect us. In Cleveland, Ohio, where I live, fans of the professional football team, the Cleveland Browns, threatened to do bodily harm to owner Art Modell when he disclosed that he was moving the team to Baltimore. In Philadelphia, business leaders organized a group to oppose the construction of a new convention center. Workers objected too, arguing that relocating to a new part of the city would disrupt their trips to and from work. Printer Frank Busillo went so far as to vow that he would shoot any city officials who forced him to move. "I'm going to get me a couple of .44s and sit at the back of the shop with a cowboy hat and wait for 'em," Busillo said. 1

Not all local issues evoke such violent reactions. But they frequently involve conflicts, as when homeowners organize to oppose a school levy or people protest the decision of a fast food franchise to open up a restaurant in a quaint part of town. The mass media play an important role in covering, investigating, and "cooling down" conflict situations. Local politics does not come immediately to mind when we think about political communication, but it should. People get more exercised about many local political issues than about national issues, as those examples suggest. This makes sense when you think about it. Local issues hit close to home; they impact people's jobs, neighborhoods, and their kids' schools. Recall that politics is defined as the process whereby a group of people who initially have different interests come to collective decisions that are regarded as binding on the group (see

chapter 1). City and suburban issues clearly fall under the political rubric. This chapter examines communication and local politics. The chapter

focuses on newspapers because they have traditionally played a larger role than other mass media in local politics. I also concentrate more on coverage of metropolitan than state issues because the former have attracted more scholarly interest than the latter.2