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The Rise in News Deserts Threatens Democracy

The traditional newsroom is on the decline. Since 2008, newsroom employment has fallen by 26%. Although digital journalism has grown, some communities served by traditional newsrooms are not represented in new media (Pew). 

The result? Many rural and urban communities are news deserts with almost no daily local news. Some newsrooms refocused on hyperlocal reporting but only on affluent suburban communities (CJR). Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 80 newspapers have closed for business (Washington Post). Only 17% of news articles actually cover the communities their audiences live in (Poynter). 

Community members have the right to be informed about issues, struggles, and victories affecting their communities. News deserts are more susceptible to misinformation and disinformation. A lack of access to community journalism also influences political participation. In the months leading up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump performed better than Mitt Romney in areas that did not have strong local media (Vox). 

TAKE ACTION

• Make a one-time or monthly donation to your local news outlet – especially one led by marginalized voices. Here’s a list of independent journalism outlets across the U.S.

• Start your own newsroom! Just kidding, but not really. The Local Media Association assists small news organizations with strategy and sustainability endeavors.

• Support Report for America, a program that supports journalists working for local news organizations who are trained and compensated at market rates.

Local organizations simply cannot bring in the advertising revenue that stories directed at a larger audience do. However, without news, local communities cannot remain informed about what’s going on in their own neighborhoods. They miss information about local elections and other events that are specific to their own community (UNC). 

Significantly, there has been an emergence of news outlets owned and focused on Black and Latine residents. There have always been newsrooms created for people of color by people of color who have traditionally been left out of the narrative. El Misisipí, the first Spanish-speaking newspaper in the United States, was founded in 1808, and Freedom’s Journal, the first Black newspaper in the United States, was founded in 1827. The 115-year-old Chicago Defender is still publishing, now entirely online (UNC). 

It makes sense then that areas losing community representation in media and news have seen BIPOC media step up to cover the gap. A study at CUNY found that Black media was more likely to publish articles on issues that directly affect Black communities, such as racism, health disparity, and voting access (CUNY). Similarly, Spanish-language media in the United States is more likely to tell community-focused stories that humanize Latine communities than mainstream media outlets (CUNY). 

Recently, the push to revive local media has been strong, with nonprofit newsrooms attempting to enter the space once held by traditional newspapers. Nonprofit newsrooms rely on philanthropic funding instead of advertising revenue. With dedicated funding, large foundations can direct contributions to areas with funding deserts where media organizations in communities of color receive less funding (CJR). 

Local journalism affects the wellbeing of communities and is foundational to democracy. Today, the lack of local news is a threat to communities that need to be most informed.



KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • As many traditional news organizations have closed down operations, many communities exist in news deserts with minimal to no news coverage. 

  • Many news deserts exist in marginalized and rural communities as new media outlets focus primarily on largely populated areas, and community reporting efforts have often focused on affluent areas. 

  • There is an overall diversity problem in media, with white individuals representing the majority of newsroom staff.
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