Media Deserts National Map of Daily Newspaper Counts by ZIP Code

This national map represents the loss and gains in the number of daily newspaper entities serving communities in the United States from 2007 to 2011. Orange to red cells show areas that have experienced declines. Since 2007, more than 120 U.S. newspapers have gone out of business. Tens of thousands of journalists have been laid off from media organizations. This visualization shows the effects of the losses down to the ZIP code level.

This national map shows a numbered count of daily newspapers serving each state at the Zip code level. This map is created using 2011 data.
This national map shows a numbered count of daily newspapers serving each state at the ZIP code level. This map is created using 2011 data.

The Media Deserts Project addresses a critical need in understanding the impact of the changing media system on underserved and underrepresented communities. The Media Deserts Project uses geographic information system technologies to map the changing reach and penetration of media. We map layers of daily newspaper circulation, hyperlocal online news sites and other emerging media to identify underserved and underrepresented communities. Using community-based participatory research, we seek to help community stakeholders re-imagine a vibrant communication ecosystem through leveraging of existing assets, development of media innovations and creation of local, customized media entrepreneurship ventures.

While we have indicators such as the decline in advertising and circulation, no such measure exists on how this changing media ecosystem is affecting access of residents to fresh local news and information. Our map visualizes how geography determines access and how communication flows affect engagement. Daily newspapers represent only part of the media mix that may serve communities with news and information. Community weeklies, television, social media and online news hubs also deliver news to some communities. Thus this map represents a fraction of the media industry, but an important “keystone species” of the local media system.

We plan to bring actionable data to urban planners, local politicians and legacy media to re-imagine ways to deliver local news and information by offering targeted, regional mapping services and community engagement services to create a vibrant, local communication ecosystem.

No one methodology can tell the complete picture of what is occurring in a community. We use content analysis and qualitative data such as digital ethnographies and surveys to draw a more complete analysis. We have worked with communities in Seattle, North Carolina, and Detroit among others to build healthy and sustainable media ecosystems.

This project has garnered international interest because of its focus on making the impact of media changes visible and actionable. Our goal is to help communities engage in conversations and create structures to bring fresh local news and information to its residents. We track best practices and share those with other communities.

In addition, we hope to open up interdisciplinary dialogues between geography, public policy, media entrepreneurship and communication that will open new skill sets to our students and offer avenues for student employment in data visualization, social media analysis, mapping, storytelling and community engagement.

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