Why Reporters Love Regionalism

The Des Moines Register yesterday reprinted an article I wrote for Governing a few months ago about collaboration among local governments in Iowa. That's not ...
by | September 18, 2006
 

The Des Moines Register yesterday reprinted an article I wrote for Governing a few months ago about collaboration among local governments in Iowa.

That's not exactly the zippiest topic -- even for Governing -- so I shared my surprise with Rox Laird, one of the Register's editors, that they were interested in reprinting the story. Laird noted that the paper had editorialized in favor of the abortive attempt to merge the Des Moines and Polk County governments and so had an abiding interest in the topic.

It's not entirely surprising that a newspaper would take a strong stand in favor of regionalism efforts. Some papers will pick apart talk of merger or consolidation, wondering whose ox will be gored if the promised savings ("we'll spend $35 million less on police services!") were actually to occur.

In general, though, newspapers are among the leading cheerleaders for (often doomed) regionalism discussions. The Courier-Journal, for instance, provided a major platform promoting the Louisville-Jefferson County merger. But why are journalists enthralled with regionalism?

I posed this question to a couple of people who follow regionalism closely. Mark Muro, a senior policy analyst with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, says it's because newspapers themselves are regional in nature. "They have regional advertising sheds and regional readerships."

Or, at least they hope too, says John Parr, president of the Alliance for Regional Stewardship. Some argue that newspapers add to parochialism with separate suburban editions, but Parr says the nature of their business informs newspapers about the nature of regional economies.

Regions, after all, are defined not just by commuter sheds or natural boundaries such as water basins, but by media markets as well.

"Increasingly, more papers see the bigger picture, driven by their own financial needs," Parr says. "Newspapers are clearly getting this regional economy idea."

Proving his point, Steven Pearlstein, the business columnist for the Washington Post, had a piece on Friday laying out the argument for why D.C. now has a regional economy and cries out for regional planning and thinking.

I'll add one thought of my own. We're generally pretty supportive of regionalism here at Governing. I think the further you get away from being in love with the local firehouse or school district, the easier it is to see the value in consolidation or streamlining.

Journalists have no dog of their own in most regionalism battles, and so can take that bigger picture approach. Of course, the prospect of having fewer school boards to cover may also be welcome.

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