Andy Ostmeyer

I remember having a lot of free time as a kid. For the most part, that was good. Not always. But I don't remember sports consuming the volume of kids' time back then that it does today.

Now maybe it did and because I wasn't a standout athlete, I wasn't aware of it. It also may explain why I wasn't a standout athlete.

But as the parent of four children, and as a former volunteer high school coach, there's little doubt in my mind that sports has become a large part of kids' — and their parents' — lives.

I also remember more pick-up, sandlot and informal games in my childhood than I see today, games organized by us as kids, without adult coaches to tell us what to do and without adult referees and umpires to settle our every dispute.

We learned a lot doing it ourselves, even if our way of resolving those disputes occasionally erupted into usually benign fisticuffs.

Something of childhood has been lost because of the changes, I think.

Anyway, as adult-led — and sometimes adult-driven — sports take on that larger role in childhood, parents have a lot more questions.

To that end, the Globe will introduce this week a new sports column written by Eli Cranor, an Arkansas resident, athlete and coach. Cranor tackles parents' questions: Should your kid play various sports as seasons change, or specialize in one thing? What about using creatine? Any tips on handling it when the coach's kid gets more playing time than your kid?

It's one of two new columns we're launching.

The other, by John Newby, a former Oklahoma newspaper executive, is titled "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street," and it explores what it means to support your local community. That is a much bigger question than simply shopping local. His argument is that not all economic development is equal, and residents need to be savvy about what adds to their community and what doesn't.

As part of that, he'll touch occasionally on something close to my soul — the importance to communities of having a local newspaper.

As newspapers close (about 2,000 of them since 2004), and as what are called news deserts expand, studies are noting the many ways that communities lose.

• A report in the Journal of Communication found that as local newspapers decline, communities become increasingly partisan.

Johanna Dunaway, professor of communication at Texas A&M University, said of her study: "Replacing local media with national alternatives and the resulting increase in political polarization has broad implications for everyone. If the information we get about politics is reduced to national party politics, the local issues that affect us most will be neglected by voters and politicians alike.”

She also said: "Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation. And the more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government."

• Another study, reported in the journal Urban Affairs, found a correlation between staffing levels at newspapers and the number of candidates who run for mayor.

The authors concluded: "We argue that when local government officials are subjected to regular public scrutiny by newspapers, citizens are better able to hold them accountable, leading to emergence of challenger candidates, more competitive local elections and a more engaged citizenry that turns out to vote."

• Another study, this one in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, found that as newspapers report on emissions of toxic chemicals by companies, those emissions decline. They wrote: "When newspapers cover the emissions of consumer goods producers, these reduce their emissions by 29% with respect to those plants that were not covered."

The implication is clear: Communities without newspapers are dirtier and less healthy.

• A Brookings Institution report found communities without a newspaper are not as financially healthy, either.

The study, "Financing dies in darkness: The impact of newspaper closures on public finance," concluded: “When local newspapers aren’t there to hold governments accountable, we see costs increase due to a lack of scrutiny over local deals,” according to a statement by Paul Gao, a finance professor at Notre Dame and lead author. “With the loss of local news coverage also comes higher long-term borrowing costs for cities — more so than in neighboring counties. Costs for bonds increase from 5 to 11 basis points, and these results are not due to underlying economic conditions."

In short, communities depend on their newspapers as much as newspapers depend on their communities — something Alexis de Tocqueville was observing two centuries ago.

Let me know what you think of the new columns. Email me at aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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