News deserts on the rise: a first comparative study indicates the fragile situation for local media across the EU

The study “Uncovering news deserts in Europe. Risks and opportunities for local and community media in the EU by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) was published today. This research detects challenges and opportunities for local and community media in the 27 EU Member States, analsysing the news deserts phenomenon from a holistic perspective. 

A network of researchers spanning all the 27 EU Member States ran the investigation, using the methodology developed by CMPF. They assessed risks based on 55 variables that relate to the local media market conditions; local journalists’ safety and working conditions, local outlets’ editorial independence and social inclusiveness. The study also highlights examples of best practices in the local and community media sector that could greatly benefit a vibrant and open local public sphere. 

The data gathered on the locations of local and community media was used to create interactive maps covering roughly half of the EU-27. This underscores a considerable lack of data on not only the geographical distribution of local media, but also their financial information, revenues and locally-focused audience measurements throughout the EU. 

The economic situation for media outlets and local journalists

The most pressing issues concern the intertwining of decreasing revenues and biased distribution of state advertising and subsidies to local media. Another urgent concern is the political control exerted via direct and/or indirect ownership of local media, a matter particularly prevalent in Central and Southern European member states. 

The decline in the number of local journalists – which is widespread across the EU – largely stems from the growing tendency of centralising newsrooms in the main cities and the prevalence of desk journalism. Unsatisfactory working conditions for local journalists are reported, especially for freelancers and self-employed journalists, and online attacks against them are on the rise. 

No prominent media outlets catering to minorities and marginalised groups

Researchers from several countries have pointed out that there are no prominent media outlets catering to marginalised groups; there is an underrepresentation of minority groups and a  lack of programmes in minority languages, especially within private local media outlets. In this regard, the role of public service media (PSM) and their local branches and correspondents proved to be key in guaranteeing access to local information.

The research also delved into the role of social media in news desert areas, new strategies of audience engagement through newsletters, podcasts and slow journalism as well as on the role of local and community media-networks for social change.

LM4D Media Funding Scheme

This study complements the LM4D project’s ongoing financial support to independent local and community media which is serving communities and areas relegated in the margins of news coverage. The preliminary findings of this research have informed the allocation of 42 grants to these media located or covering news desert areas. 

The project draws attention to the importance of a healthy and vibrant local and community media landscape; with this study, the project provides a robust assessment relevant to many stakeholders in the field.

Report recommendations and remarks

The report recommends public institutions to provide more financial support to local and community newsrooms and journalists, and to put in place a regulatory framework which enables a thriving local media landscape. For example, clear definitions of local and community media should be in place in order to guarantee institutional support. 

Moreover, decent working conditions for local journalists should be guaranteed. The study recommends to the journalistic organisations to support the journalistic professionals working in the most remote areas of the EU member states, in guaranteeing better working conditions and support in case of vexatious lawsuits. The study also recommends that local media companies are more transparent about their ownership and revenue, and should enforce self-regulatory standards to prevent political and economic pressures over editorial content. They are encouraged to engage more with their audience in order to satisfy the critical information needs of the communities they cover.

We are pleased to have contributed to this study, which underscores the urgent need for European policymakers to prioritise the support and sustainability of regional, local and community outlets. The findings are clear: without adequate financial backing, a supportive regulatory environment, and safeguards for journalists in remote areas, the very foundation of democracy is at risk” said Pier Luigi Parcu, CMPF Director. “However, this study is just the beginning. It highlights the pressing need for further research in this area, as the topic of ‘news deserts’ and the challenges facing local media are not yet well understood in Europe. More research is essential to inform policy decisions and develop effective strategies to address these issues,” he added.

“Independent local media is the backbone of professional and independent journalism. This study, the first of its kind in Europe, detailing the state of news deserts, shows that we can no longer ignore this alarming situation facing local media and democracy at large. No country is immune from ‘news desertification’ unless urgent and innovative actions are taken to support local journalists and media” said Renate Schroeder, EFJ Director.

Interactive map and country fact sheets

Click here for the interactive map! Or browse the individual country pages:

  1. Austria
  2. Belgium
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Croatia
  5. Cyprus
  6. Czech Republic
  7. Denmark
  8. Estonia
  9. Finland
  10. France
  11. Germany
  12. Greece
  13. Hungary
  14. Ireland
  15. Italy
  16. Latvia
  17. Lithuania
  18. Luxembourg
  19. Malta
  20. Poland
  21. Portugal
  22. Romania
  23. Slovakia
  24. Slovenia
  25. Spain
  26. Sweden
  27. The Netherlands

The research is part of the Local Media for Democracy (LM4D) project (co-funded by the European Union), run in collaboration with the European Federation of Journalists, Journalismfund and International Media Support

Views and opinions expressed on this website are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.