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How news deserts impact communities across America

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Posted at 12:15 PM, Oct 06, 2022

Monica Pirela knows how it feels to be on the outside. Pirela runs Notivision Georgia. Each week, she broadcasts a 12-minute Spanish-language newscast aimed at her area. Pirela reports and her husband, Jay Cruz, runs the camera. That’s all that keeps the Spanish-speaking community in Warner Robins, Georgia, from being on the outside in a way far too common in America.

Penny Muse Abernathy leads Northwestern University’s Local News Initiative. She found nearly every state in America has at least one “news desert,” a county without a newspaper or regular access to local news.

“When we talk about the press, we often talk about mainstream media,” Abernathy said.

When asked what happens without the press, Abernathy responded, “Misinformation, disinformation, and polarization in this country.”

Abernathy’s team found, in news deserts, voter participation goes down and corruption goes up. Sometimes taxes go up because citizens aren’t informed. But even in places with plenty of news, not every community is served by it. That’s the case in Warner Robins.

Pirela reports from her garage, her driveway, and in the community. Pirela produces reports, develops events and collects goods and gifts for festivals and drives. Now, she’s caught the eye of the Pivot Fund.

Tracie Powell has made her mission supporting minority media outlets across Georgia. Her group raised two million dollars in grants for seven news organizations.

“I drove across the state to see what existed that wasn’t on the radar,” Powell said.

As a result of the grant, Pirela can hire three new employees for three years of work.

A hundred Pivot Funds can’t fill every news desert in America or the pockets of deserts in specific communities. Even for Pirela, hurdles persist, but the grant is a start.