Appendix: Methods

Identifying News Outlets

News outlets were identified using a variety of sources and searches, usually tied to the specific type of media. Outlets included in this study are newspapers, digital publications, public TV and radio stations, commercial TV and radio stations, magazines, and college media.

Newspapers, Digital Outlets and Public Media

Newspapers, digital, and public TV and radio data were taken from the U.S. News Deserts database. Outlets that had closed since 2020 were removed, and digital and public media were assessed for critical information needs content (described below). Additional digital outlets were identified through the Project Oasis database and the INN Member Directory.

College Media

College media were identified through a list shared by the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association. Student media outlets which had closed were removed from the data, and remaining outlets were vetted for critical information needs content.

Commercial Television

Television stations were identified through a series of steps depending on their original market and location. Relevant stations in North Carolina were identified through the FCC TV Query Broadcast Station Search to find licensed digital and low-power stations. Relevant stations outside North Carolina were identified using Designated Market Areas (DMA) bordering the state and FCC queries. Out-of-state DMAs identified were:

  1. Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson (SC/NC)*
  2. 2. Myrtle Beach-Florence (SC)*
  3. 3. Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News (VA)*
  4. 4. Chattanooga (TN)*
  5. 5. Atlanta (GA)*
  6. 6. Tri-Cities (TN/VA)
  7. 7. Knoxville (TN)
  8. 8. Roanoke-Lynchburg (VA)
  9. 9. Richmond-Petersburg (VA)
  10. 10. Columbia (SC)

*DMAs whose markets contain counties within North Carolina

All television stations had to produce a local newscast or a minimum of four pieces that met a critical information need on their homepage to be included. After the list of television stations was refined, coverage areas for each station were determined using FCC service contour maps.

For television stations that originate in a DMA within North Carolina, the coverage area begins in the relevant DMA. It is expanded to other counties via verification with FCC service contour maps.

For television stations that originate in a DMA outside of the state of North Carolina, the coverage area was identified by FCC service contour maps, a similar strategy used by the Center for Cooperative Media.

Commercial Radio

Commercial radio stations in North Carolina were identified through FCC AM and FM queries. Results of the queries were limited to licensed records only, and for AM queries, results were limited to stations licensed to operate in daytime hours in order to reduce the number of duplicate records produced by the query.

Graduate and undergraduate research assistants searched station websites, social media, and the Radio Locator database to determine whether or not a station was a news or news/talk format, broadcast a local newscast, or published content that fulfilled critical information needs.

Compiling data from the FCC, the Radio Locator contour map tool was used to identify the access area of licensed stations. The contour maps identify three distinct service areas — local coverage, distant coverage, and fringe coverage. Distant coverage includes any geographic area where the AM or FM signal is strong enough that consumers could reasonably access the signal unless they were using weak or outdated listening equipment. Any counties in which at least half the county was located within the boundary of distant coverage were included as access counties.

Magazine

Research staff were not able to identify a readily accessible and searchable database of magazines. Magazines were therefore identified by manual searches for magazines in North Carolina and supplemented with data shared by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University as part of the News Measures Research Project’s analysis of state-level media infrastructure. 

 

Critical Information Needs

To be included in the final dataset, outlets needed to have a minimum amount of content meeting at least one critical information need (CIN). 

The critical information needs are as follows:

  • Emergencies and Risk
  • Health
  • Education
  • Transportation Systems
  • Environment and Planning
  • Economic Development
  • Civic Information
  • Political Life

The amount of content meeting a critical information need was dependent on publication frequency. Newspapers were vetted for critical information needs content during their initial collection. For outlets that distribute content at least daily, the outlet needed to produce at least four pieces of content meeting a critical need within the previous week. For outlets that distribute content weekly, the outlet needed to produce at least four pieces of content meeting a critical information need within the previous month, and for outlets that distribute content monthly, the outlet needed to produce at least four pieces of content meeting a critical information need in the four most recent editions published. 

Determining Outlet Access

The access area for newspapers, digital publications, and college outlets were all identified through their general information or “About” page on their website and through data shared by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University.

Determining Outlets' Reporting Area

Outlets’ reporting areas were determined by searching the previous month of content published using Google News. Content from July 16, 2022, through September 9, 2022, was included in this analysis. Each outlet’s coverage area was found by searching the outlet’s name along with a county name in quotation marks (e.g. “outlet”, “county”). If the search failed to yield any results, we searched for the county seat or other communities in the county. A county was determined to be part of the outlet’s reporting if the outlet produced at least two stories about the county or a community within the county during the previous month. 

Calculating Access-Reporting Gaps

The reporting gap for each county was determined by subtracting the total amount of reporting area across various mediums from the total amount of access across mediums. 

Reporting Gap = Total Number of Outlets a County had Access to – Total Number of Outlets Reporting on the County

Reporting Gap Percentage = Total Number of Outlets Reporting on a County ➗Total Number of Outlets a County had Access to

Access Data Sets

For researchers: You may access the underlying data sets here. This database is published under a Creative Commons license that allows for non-commercial use, with attribution. Note on limitations: Because our methods relied heavily on existing databases and datasets of local media, we know that our list of news media in the state is likely incomplete. We hope to continually improve the accuracy and completeness of the datasets in future phases.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the following for their support in data collection, number checking, and design:

Sarah Vassello, CISLM project manager
Katelyn Chedraoui, CISLM intern
Jordan Davis, CISLM graduate student researcher
Andrea Lorenz, CISLM graduate student researcher
Lucas Thomae, former CISLM intern
Uma Bhat, former CISLM intern
Kayleigh Carpenter, former CISLM intern

"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