3 Ways Local News Initiatives Are Serving Crucial COVID-19 Information to People in News Deserts
Engagement collaborations, texting platforms, community media are trying to reach people in underserved communities where journalists are scarce.
Living in San Francisco, I have a lot of news sources to find out how the coronavirus is affecting my community. There’s the main San Francisco Chronicle website and app, which has provided COVID-19 case maps down to the ZIP code, and recently has been tracking which counties can reopen businesses. There’s also a full complement of local TV news, local public radio, and even neighborhood news sites, parent email lists and of course Nextdoor. Basically, I live in a news ocean.
By comparison, a colleague of mine lives in Scotland County, North Carolina, one of the poorest in the state, which is just six miles from the border with South Carolina. Scotland County lacks good newspapers and all the local TV stations are located in South Carolina. Her only reliable source of news on COVID-19 is the national map that runs in the New York Times that includes her county, and The Pilot newspaper in the next-door county. Ironically, she is Penny Abernathy, who has popularized the concept of “news deserts” with her research as a professor at the University of North Carolina, including her ubiquitous news desert map.
In her newest iteration of the map and data, Abernathy counted 500 counties in the U.S. without a daily newspaper, and 1,540 counties (half of all counties) with just one newspaper, usually a weekly. She found that since 2004 the U.S. has lost fully one-fourth of its newspapers, with a net loss of 2,155 of them. According to Abernathy’s report: “Many of the country’s 6,700 surviving papers have become ‘ghost newspapers’ — mere shells of their former selves, with greatly diminished newsrooms and readership.”
The situation for people in news deserts is dire, and even worse during a pandemic, when timely information is a matter of life and death. That’s compounded by “COVID-19 test deserts,” as a new report from Castlight found that 56% of U.S. counties have zero coronavirus test…