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Local media

Dublin suburbs at risk of becoming 'news deserts', heightening misinformation risk - study

A ‘news desert’ is an area that lacks a reliable news service.

THE RAPIDLY GROWING suburbs of Dublin city are at risk of becoming ‘news deserts’, a new study of Ireland’s local media landscape has found. 

The report author has said local journalism is struggling across Ireland, limiting coverage of local courts and councils and leaving communities underinformed about what’s happening in their area.

A ‘news desert’ is an area that lacks a reliable news service. The term originated in the US to describe areas with no news outlets and no professional journalists covering local issues and developments.

The issue has been highlighted ahead of local and EU elections in just over four weeks’ time, with concerns about the potential for widespread disinformation to go unchecked. 

The report focuses on detecting challenges and opportunities for local and community media, and identifying news deserts in the 27 EU Member States.

Dr Eileen Culloty, Deputy Director at the DCU Institute for Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) wrote the Ireland section of the report.

The report outlined that currently, there is little evidence of news deserts in Ireland. However, it found that the suburbs of Dublin, most notably north county Dublin, are at an immediate risk of becoming news deserts.

The report said these suburbs lack a media presence commensurate with their size. 

This follows the closure of the North County Leader and Fingal Independent at a time when the population of the region has increased significantly.

Although a new innovative outlet, the Dublin Inquirer, has emerged to fill this gap, there is no indication that similar outlets will emerge in other parts of the country, the report said. 

The report found the erosion of independent, locally-owned media is considered to be a “threat to community life”. 

Speaking to The Journal, Dr Culloty said she doesn’t know if there are any areas of the country where local journalism is “thriving”. 

“In Ireland, we’re very wedded to our county-based identity. In every single county you can name a local media outlet, whether it’s a newspaper or a radio station that covers it,” she said. 

“If you look at what they do, a lot of them are really struggling to field journalists to go and attend courts and attend council meetings or they’re relying heavily on press releases,” Dr Culloty said. 

The risk for local and community media was assessed through several indicators, related to the number of media outlets, economic and political conditions, as well as the degree of safety of local journalists and the social inclusiveness of local and community media towards minorities, marginalised communities and the capability of engaging with the audience.

Two of the six indicators used in the report are presented as a “medium risk” in Ireland, one of which being ‘Market and Reach’.

The report notes that 26 of the 61 local titles (print and online) represented by the Press Council are owned by just two companies: the UK-based Iconic Newspapers and the Dutch-based Mediahuis.

The ‘Uncovering news deserts in Europe: Risks and opportunities for local and community media in the EU’ is available here

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