Access to news outlets

In this study, access to a news outlet was defined using multiple criteria. For print and digital media, access to a news outlet was defined as the coverage area specified by the outlet or in available databases. For broadcast media, access to an outlet was defined either as the counties within an outlet’s DMA and by FCC service contour maps.

Mecklenburg (42), Wake (39), Buncombe (38) and Caldwell (36) counties had access to the most news outlets. The ten counties that had access to the most news outlets were all classified as metro counties under the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural-Urban Continuum Codes, meaning they are part of an urban area with a population of 250,000 or more.

In contrast, seven of the ten counties that had access to the fewest news outlets were designated as nonmetro counties — Martin (8), Tyrell (9), Beaufort (10), Carteret (10), Hyde (10), Washington (12) and Camden (13). Pamlico (8), Currituck (13) and Edgecombe (13) designated as metro counties, were also in the bottom ten.

The counties that had access to the most news outlets are part of the two largest metro areas in the state, Raleigh in Wake county and Charlotte in Mecklenburg county. This is expected, as population influences the size of news ecosystems, but in our present study, our goal is to be descriptive. More detailed analyses that account for population, rural-urban designations, demographics, and socioeconomic characteristics will be part of a future report.

North Carolina counties had access to a median of 22 news outlets. We split counties into four tiers based on statistical quartiles:

  • Tier One: counties that had access to 7-15 outlets
  • Tier Two: counties that had access to 16-21 outlets
  • Tier Three: counties that had access to 22-27 outlets
  • Tier Four: counties that had access to 28 outlets or more.

Eastern North Carolina, as defined by North Carolina State Demographer Data, made up 96% of Tier One counties and 58% of Tier Two counties, whereas Central North Carolina made up 52% of Tier Four counties. Western North Carolina made up 46% of Tier Three counties.

Access to newspapers

There were 96 North Carolina counties that had access to a newspaper, with a median of two newspapers per county. Wake (13), Guilford (12), Mecklenburg (11), Durham (11), and Forsyth (9) had access to the most newspapers. Pamlico, Jones, Camden and Tyrrell counties did not have access to any newspapers. There were 17 counties that had access to just one newspaper.

We begin our analysis with newspapers because newspapers are more likely to be local news originators than some other news outlet types, such as television. This means they are more likely to produce original journalism that will be amplified by other media types, such as television or commercial radio. It is notable, then, that access to newspapers was found to be concentrated in three of the largest metro areas in the state: the Research Triangle (Wake and Durham counties), the Triad (Guilford and Forsyth counties), and Charlotte (Mecklenburg county).

Access to commercial television

All North Carolina counties have access to a commercial television station providing critical information needs content. The median North Carolina county had access to 11 stations. Richmond (20), Anson (18), Madison (18), Haywood (18), Avery (17), Buncombe (17), Lincoln (17) and Union (17) had access to the most commercial television stations. Beaufort, Carteret, Martin, Pitt, Hyde and Pamlico had access to the minimum of four stations.

Local TV news plays a critical role in Americans’ news habits. More U.S. adults get news from local TV news than from newspapers or cable and network news. Local TV is also the most trusted news platform among U.S. adults.

Access to commercial radio

There were 95 North Carolina counties that had access to commercial radio stations producing content that meets critical information needs. The median North Carolina county had access to four commercial radio stations. Caldwell (12), Burke (9), Chatham (9), Alamance (8), Alexander (8), Wilkes (8), and Lee (8) counties had access to the most commercial radio stations.

Pamlico, New Hanover, Martin, Carteret and Beaufort counties did not have access to any commercial radio station producing content meeting critical information needs.

Access to public radio

All 100 North Carolina counties had access to a public radio station. The median North Carolina county had access to three public radio stations. Bertie, Madison, Burke, Swain, Catawba, Craven, Northampton, Wayne, Pasquotank and Camden all had access to the maximum of five public radio stations.

Vance, Person, New Hanover, Granville, Durham, Avery and Orange counties had access to a minimum of one public radio station.

Access to digital and magazines

Fewer than 40 counties had access to digital news outlets. The counties that had access to the most digital outlets were Mecklenburg (5), Wake (4), Buncombe (3), Craven (3) and Durham (3).

Only Ashe, Avery, Watauga, and Mecklenburg counties had access to a magazine producing content that meets a critical information need.

Since there was only one public television outlet that provides local coverage, public television does not have further analysis. WUNC-TV, the state’s PBS hub, is considered a statewide outlet as its content is broadcast throughout the state on 11 repeater stations.

Next chapter

"NC News & Information Census" table of contents

  1. NC News & Information Census
  2. Outlet numbers
  3. Access to news outlets
  4. Reporting areas by news outlets
  5. Reporting and access gaps
  6. Conclusion
  7. Appendix: Methods
  8. Assessing factors that contribute to local news coverage at the county level