In the modern era, changing perceptions of space and place and external intrusions into local space and culture have been theorized as weakening ties between people and the places they live in. Improvements in transportation and communication have enabled this process. Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1990, 1991) describes the phenomenon as "disembedding" and considers it a hallmark of modernity while geographer Doreen Massey (1994) describes an increasing "disruption" of local spaces occurring over time.
This dissertation provides empirical evidence to support those theories. It examines the changing "sense of place" from 1894 to 2005 in two Canadian metropolitan daily newspapers: the Toronto Star, independent for most of the period under study, and the Ottawa Citizen, owned by a series of national chains since 1897.
The results show a significant decline in local content and the priority it is given in both newspapers over the 112-year study period. Content analysis was used to compare articles from all sections of the newspaper between three time periods: the Victorian (1894-1929), the Professional (1930-1970), and the Corporate (1971-2005).
While the quantity and priority of local news declined significantly in both newspapers after 1970, the decline was much sharper in the chain-owned newspaper. Furthermore, disappearing local content was replaced almost entirely by national stories in both newspapers, with the chain newspaper displaying a much greater increase in national content. The phenomenon replaced many stories that imparted a local sense of place with ones whose sense of place was national.
Three possible reasons for this increase in national content after 1970 — which is the study's major finding— are suggested in the conclusion: the threat of Quebec separatism, rising corporate influence on newspaper priorities, and a gradual process of spatialization that appears to favour the national and the global over the local.
This study relies heavily on Barnhurst and Nerone's (2001) theories about how the form of news structures its messages, and its results support their finding of increased corporate control of news since 1970. Other theories of representation are also examined in an effort to understand how newspapers create and shape a sense of place.