U.S. News Deserts

Knight Chair Emerita Penny Abernathy led The News Desert Project, which produced three reports assessing the U.S. local news landscape, as well as two books — The Strategic Digital Media Entrepreneur and Saving Community Journalism — aimed at helping media organizations survive and thrive in the digital world.

U.S. News Deserts

The U.S. has lost nearly one-quarter of the local newspapers in existence in 2004. Many of the remaining newspapers are “ghosts” of their former selves, owned and or operating by hedge funds and private equity funds that employ aggressive cost-cutting that erodes the quality and quantity of local news.

In this project, we define a news desert 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. Explore more about this project's definition.

The News Desert Project documents areas of the country at risk of becoming “news deserts” while also working with dozens of news organizations to create sustainable business strategies. The Center defines a “news desert” as “a community, either rural or urban, where residents have limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

 The News Desert project has produced four comprehensive reports highlighting industry changes and ways to thwart the rise of news deserts:

By tracking the shifting news landscape and evaluating communities at risk of becoming news deserts, these reports sees to raise awareness of the role all of us can play in addressing the challenges confronting local news and democracy. Concerned citizens, community activists, philanthropists, policymakers, educators and journalists can use the accompanying website — usnewsdeserts.com — and its 260 interactive maps to drill down to the county level to understand how the news landscape in each of the 50 states is changing and explore the implications this has for their communities.

In addition to documenting the loss of news, Knight Chair Abernathy has spent the past decade researching innovative and sustainable business models for local newspapers and broadcast stations, as well as digital start-ups.  She has published two books detailing her findings:

During the past year, the applied research and data on news deserts and sustainable business models has been used or cited by more than 500 nonprofits, policy groups, government agencies, academic institutions and media outlets to advance the public’s understanding of news deserts and explore the implications the loss of local news has on democracy, accountability, the economy and sense of community.

 For more on The News Desert Project, visit https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/

Background and datasets

More on how and why this project was created, an FAQ and available datasets.