Columbia Journalism Review is asking for help from the public. CJR wants to create a complete and accurate map of America's news deserts – places with no daily local news outlet.
Shop Talk panelist Jasmine Crighton said she is not surprised to learn news deserts exist. She said she has witnessed some local news outlets disappear in Macomb just in the six years since she arrived in town.
Crighton said that in places such as Macomb, it can be difficult for the remaining news organizations to keep tabs on everything that should be covered. She would like to see more journalists – not fewer – to keep communities informed.
Panelist Will Buss said he saw small town newspapers disappear while he worked in southwestern Illinois. He said residents could subscribe to newspapers from larger communities in the area but those papers were unlikely to carry much news from the smaller towns – and certainly not announcements of births, deaths, and the like that you might expect from a small town paper.
Buss said he’s glad the CJR is creating the map. He said it might encourage someone to figure out ways to provide news to underserved areas.
Panelist Rich Egger said that while some communities might not be news deserts, they suffer when news organizations let go of senior staff and their institutional memory in favor of younger reporters who can be paid less but don’t know as much about the community and the history of local issues and personalities.
Egger also pointed out some communities in this region are served by weekly newspapers rather than daily papers so at least they are getting some local news. Buss said he understands the economic reasons for publishing weekly rather than daily but he feels there is a need for more journalism and more daily news.
Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.