News deserts can be geographic but might also be along racial lines

Breaking news happens in the smallest communities and the biggest cities. Journalists who are there cover the events and report on people’s lives.

However, some places don’t have journalists, reporters or newspapers that cover what happens in the community. These are called news deserts.

By Hannah Lester, SizingUpTheSouth.com reporter

Geographic

When a specific area of the country does not have reporters to cover what is going on, this is a geographical news desert.

In a 2011 Federal Communications Commission report, it found that local newspapers are the best medium “to provide the sort of public service journalism that shines a light on major issues confronting communities and gives residents the information they need to solve their problems.” Yet with the decline of both print and digital revenue to pay for local news, the communities who in the past depended on their local news source have been disconnected.

One example was seen in Vero Beach, Florida, where until recently there was no one to cover what was happening in the community. There were no local news sources, no reporters, no journalists. So one retired resident took it upon himself to change the landscape and situation.

“There’s no local journalism. I read the local paper this morning and commented to somebody about the only regional article was about a motorcyclist was killed and then the other one was an op-ed piece submitted by somebody from Vero beach. So that’s the extent of it.”

Thomas Hardy, founder of Vero Communique

Hardy has no journalism background, nor is he a reporter, but he started his own news site, Vero Communique. Seeing the ongoing need for news coverage, he also began teaching the community of Vero Beach, starting with the children.

The Glendale Young Authors’ Club is a group of students that Hardy teaches in an after-school program about journalism, writing, reading and history. The group of six children meets with Hardy on Tuesdays and Thursdays to learn how to write, research, ask questions and stay informed.


Thomas Hardy will bring information about a notable journalist to fourth and fifth graders like Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (photo above). His style was to write without claims of objectivity and in the first-person narrative. Photo credit: Flickr

In his two hours a week with the fourth and fifth graders, Hardy will bring in profiles of notable journalists, such as E.B. White or Hunter S. Thompson, that he hopes will influence the children. He lets them write about whatever subjects they choose, whether that be academic or personal, and then he teaches them how to research their topic and write about it.

When Hardy is not running The Glendale Young Author’s Club, he keeps informed on what is happening in his town and helping others stay abreast, as well, in Vero Communique, where the website page states “In-depth insight for important issues.”

Hardy said he noticed the lack of news coverage in his area five years ago, jumped into action and just started writing. Vero Communique now has close to 600 followers and Hardy sends the posts out to 587 people.

Each post that he makes goes onto the blog as well as some social media, like Facebook. Hardy will occasionally boost the posts to make them more visible.

“I think what that’s done for me is help me build a reputation. People know what the site is.”

Thomas Hardy

While Hardy might be fixing the geographical problem of not having an area covered in the news scene, sometimes the problem is not geographical.

Sometimes news deserts may develop when a particular group of people are discriminated against in news coverage.

Racial

Michael Koretzky, SPJ Region 3 director, said that news deserts are not a new problem and have been happening for decades.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as a reporter in Florida, he was not frequently interviewing African-American residents, he said. Their prevalent issues were not addressed or covered.

“My beef with the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over news deserts is that we don’t always look at what we’re comparing it to.”

Michael Koretzky, SPJ Region 3 Director and SPJ national board member

For instance, the small town of Linden, Alabama is home to The Democrat-Reporter. This small paper has made headlines recently for its editor-in-chief and owner, Goodloe Sutton’s column on why he believes the KKK should ‘rise again’. Amidst the controversy, there has been not only one, but two, exchanges of ownership within the paper.

Goodloe Sutton’s, former editor of the Democrat-Reporter Op-Ed caused a nationwide controversy within the journalism community when he wrote that the KKK needs to go to Washington, D.C. Supplied photo

Do the people of Linden, Alabama, feel represented in their community? Located in the heart of the black belt of Alabama, do these African-American residents feel represented or safe?

An entire community of historically black residents has a news source that continually discriminates against their race.

Koretzky said that this problem occurs continually in different cities around the country.

“I live in a city of 80,000 people where no one covers the city commission and that’s a travesty and crime, but I can also tell you when there was a reporter, it wasn’t like they were doing a bang-up job,” he said.” And the reason, it’s still true today, is city commissions are covered by the newest reporters.”

The issues that community members want to read about, want to learn about, are often not being covered, he said. News that affects the average, everyday citizen may be left out of the weekly spread or online site.

Hannah Lester is the 2019 SPJ Region 3 spring intern and reporter for SizingUpTheSouth.com. She will be graduating from Auburn University this May with a major in journalism. hannah.lester.spj@gmail.com

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