News Deserts – Finding an Oasis in the Desert
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May 20, 2019

Every now and then, we hear about new terms coined in different contexts. The latest one we’ve come across has been “news deserts” – but what does it mean exactly?

The News Desert

Lack of local coverage exposes communities to become ‘News Deserts’, where once local and international news flourished and provided insight into local and national issues.As reader attention has switched from print to digital, so has journalism. This led to news deserts mainly because:

  • During the 2008 recession, and with the rise of the digital challenge, newspaper ad revenue dropped by 63%, whereas Google & Facebook got almost 40% of the big bulk of online ads revenue (an estimated $83 billion in 2017).
  • Diminishing revenues led to drastic cuts in staff, which meant that newspapers did not have the means to cover a community adequately.
  • Larger publishers acquiring smaller ones meant that editorial decisions were made without taking local communities into consideration.
  • As circulation decreased and advertisers moved away from newspapers to broadcast and digital outlets, independent and family-run enterprises made the decision to cut their losses. 

The disappearance of local news ultimately affects the entire news ecosystem. There are a couple of things that need changing. Going to the old system of journalism is not a choice. Hence, new business models should be formulated to accommodate the current scenario.

Digital Impact

The wake of the internet made distributing news faster, with instant access to the information within seconds.We are now raided everywhere with live streams and other user-generated material. The speed at which it is delivered has hit an all-time high. Unfortunately, when rushing, news tends to be inaccurate due to the aspect of competition. This has led to the rise of fake news which has put the public on alert.

Local media has suffered the most as now information is widely spread freely across social media and websites around the world. Shockingly, 1300 communities across the US have entirely lost all local news coverage. This loss has also led to many journalists losing employment, which in turn has a devastating effect on local communities.

Finding an Oasis

So what is the solution? We would suggest the below:

  • Digital media newsroom should benefit from or share the expertise of teams that once worked on newspapers.
  • Publishers should focus on enhancing reader loyalty to move away from ad revenue and shift to a subscription model.
  • Finding ways to turn newspaper subscribers into digital ones, such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s initiative in giving out iPads with the printed edition.
  • Focusing on local businesses to generate premium advertising.
  • Changing their hiring strategies from full-timers to freelancers & working with contributing writers to diversify content, gain credibility and build a community.
  • Using data & statistics to provide relevant content to their readers & boost readership.
  • Provide local coverage deals for schools, businesses etc.to improve premium advertising revenues.