Reporting and access gaps
While the median number of outlets a county has access to was 22, the median number of outlets that reported on a county was 11. This means that while counties might have more access to local news, their coverage in local news stories is less.
In this study, we focused on reporting gaps present in each county. The reporting gap is the difference between the number of outlets a county had access to and the number of outlets that covered that county. Gaps are intended to denote the extent to which communities are receiving news that is relevant to them from the outlets they have access to. Gaps were calculated by subtracting the total number of outlets a county had access to minus the total number of outlets reporting on a county.
The vast majority of counties in North Carolina (96) were reported on by fewer outlets than residents had access to. The median county has access to 11 more outlets than those that reported on the county.
The county with the largest gap between access and reporting was Madison county, which had access to 32 news outlets but was only reported on by seven, a difference of 25. It was followed by Richmond (24), Mitchell (21), Burke (20) and Swain (20). With the exception of Mitchell, all of these counties were Tier Four Counties (meaning they had access to more than 28 outlets), but none of them were categorized as Tier Four for Reporting Area (14 or more outlets). Madison, Richmond and Mitchell were Tier One (reported on by fewer than eight outlets), Swain Tier Two (8-10 outlets), and Burke Tier Three (11-14 outlets).
Four counties are reported on by more outlets than residents have access to. New Hanover County was reported on by three more outlets than residents have access to. Wake County was covered by two more outlets than reach the county, and Durham and Forsyth were each reported on by one more outlet than those that are accessible to residents. New Hanover was a Tier Two county for Access, which means it had access to 8-15 outlets, but it was a Tier Four county for Reporting Area, which means it was reported on by 14 or more outlets. Forsyth was a Tier Three county for Access (16-22 outlets) but a Tier Four county for Reporting Area (14 or more outlets). Both Wake and Durham counties were Tier Four counties for both Access and Reporting Area.
A county’s gap should not necessarily be viewed as particularly positive or negative due to the limited nature of this analysis and because of the specifics of the news ecosystems in each county that might explain why some counties were covered by more outlets than residents have access to. For example, it is reasonable to assume that news outlets from other regions of the state might report on Wake County because it is home to Raleigh, the state capital.
In the map below, counties with access to more outlets than cover them have a positive number associated with their gap, while counties that are covered by more outlets than reach them have a negative number associated with their gap. This is a reflection of how the gap is calculated (Number of outlets accessible – Number of outlets reporting), not an intrinsic measure of that coverage or access.
Gap percentages were measured as the number of outlets that reported on a county divided by the number of outlets a county had access to. The median county was reported on by 53% of the number of outlets that it had access to.
There were 45 counties that were reported on by 50% or less of the number of outlets that they had access to. Of those counties, 34% were in Eastern North Carolina, 49% were in Western North Carolina and 17% were in Central North Carolina.