News deserts and how New Zealand can avoid them

I felt like the Grim Reaper when I was talking to community newspaper folk last week about news deserts.

News deserts are communities lacking a news source that provides meaningful and trustworthy local reporting on issues such as health, government and the environment. Their communities were once served by local news outlets but these have died.

The term emerged more than a decade ago and I showed the attendees at the Community Newspapers Association conference in Auckland a map of the United States where it had first been encountered. In the US, traditional owners have closed a quarter of the country’s titles – more than 2500 mastheads – since 2005. They have also divested themselves of large numbers of their regional and local titles, and new owners have undertaken massive consolidation, hollowing out local news production in the process.

The map, contained in a report last year by the Medill School of Journalism, showed that 200 counties have no local newspaper and more than 1500 have only one paper, usually a weekly and often an emaciated one. Those 1700 territories represented more than half the counties in the country. And within those counties live 70 million people. Continue reading “News deserts and how New Zealand can avoid them”