The News about News Deserts

You’ve probably heard of the term “food deserts,” generally speaking, an area of a town or city where there are few, if any, places for people to buy nutritious food. But what is a “news desert?”

A news desert is defined by the University of North Carolina’s Hussmann School of Journalism and Media Center for Sustainability in Local Media as a “community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

News deserts have become an increasing problem over the years as changes in the technology and economics of media have led to the decline of traditional news gathering operations like daily newspapers, news magazines and quality broadcast news outlets.

The Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin recently teamed up with a nonprofit online news operation, the Dallas Free Press, to survey the news consumption habits of residents in two “disinvested” (predominantly Black and Hispanic) neighborhoods in Dallas. The study also asked residents how they felt about the available sources of news.

The findings were not entirely surprising, but worth noting. Facebook was the primary source of news for these residents, followed by the Dallas Morning News, and the two top local TV news outlets, the ABC and Fox affiliates.

As for how they felt about the coverage they were getting, “Many participants had never communicated with a journalist, and a third of participants had never seen one engaging with people in their neighborhood or community,” said the report. “They felt coverage of their area was too negative, sensationalized their community, and left out key information.”

The study made four topline recommendations about how news entities should cover these communities.

  1. Develop relationships in the community
  2. Be fair and consistent
  3. Be a community resource
  4. Show empathy

The full report can be downloaded here.

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