A news desert is any segment of society so invisible to mainstream media that it’s hard for the desert-dwellers to keep track of what’s going on in their own community.
I picked up this term from Tom Stites of the Banyan Project. It apparently arose like this: Laura Washington described the media’s failure to cover poor urban communities as a communications desert, which the blog Chicago Is the World shortened to news desert.
Supposedly we’re awash in media these days, but if you think the downpour of attention is soaking everybody, you’re in for a metaphor shear. A community in a news desert is in danger of losing its identity, as people lack regular exposure to their common interests. It’s the difference between thinking to yourself that a particular corner seems dangerous, and reading an article about the fatal accidents that have happened there — knowing that everyone else has read it too.
Tom’s Banyan Project is a co-operative attempt to serve the news desert that was created in the 1980s when newspapers stopped covering the working class. Its pilot site will be Haverhill, Mass., a town of 61,000 with no daily local newspaper and no community radio station larger than the 100-milliwatt WHAV.