Ohio University project visualizes growing voids in US news media access

By Adam Wojciechowski and Samantha Shotzbarger

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The Media Deserts Project is mapping, zip code by zip code, how gaps in news coverage are growing. The project, produced in collaboration between Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication and Department of Geography, has released two maps; the first examines the change in the number of daily newspapers serving a zip code, and the second examines the number of daily newspapers serving a zip code.

Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation, research/creative activity and graduate studies at the Scripps College of Communication, said the Media Deserts Project was conceived as a tool to help city planners serve the needs of their communities but can be helpful to journalists as well.

“Hopefully if journalists see the maps of these media deserts, they will realize these are the areas where they need to make connections and collaborate to serve the needs of these communities,” Ferrier said.

Journalists aren’t the only ones who can make a difference; according to Ferrier, the biggest changes will come from communities themselves.

“When people see they live in a media desert, soon they will begin to ask why—not just to themselves, but to their communities.  That’s when things change,” she said.

With the national map, the project will not only be able to identify these media deserts, but also be able to measure the progress made in under-served areas as journalists and communities become more awarimagee of media deserts close to them. Ferrier said the team would like to produce new maps every week.

Gaurav Sinah, associate professor in Ohio University’s geography department and Ferrier’s partner on the project, said the team also wants to build in more interactivity moving forward.

“We want it so you can pull up the map, and enter your zip code to see if you live in a media desert, allowing you to compare where you live to other regions, and look at these trends over time,” he said. “This requires us to build multiple layers of information constantly, so we’ve got years of work ahead of us.”

While some newspapers around the country are going out of business, Ferrier said she is curious to find out if other forms of media will fill the void.

“That’s certainly what we are hoping to answer,” she said. “We all have different levels of needs when it comes to media.  Maybe some communities are fine with only having a weekly paper because they get the news online—maybe they want more. That’s what we are hoping to find out.”

Do you live in a media desert? How satisfied are you with the local news coverage in your area? Share your thoughts here.

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