Brazilian news census identifies a reduction of news deserts and a greater importance of online journalism

By Sérgio Lüdtke

Atlas da Notícia identified a 9.5% reduction in the number of municipalities considered news deserts in Brazil. News deserts are municipalities that do not have local journalistic information and today these are 5 out of 10 Brazilian municipalities. According to the census, 2,968 cities share this condition and 29.3 million people live in them, which corresponds to 13.8% of the Brazilian population. If the remaining deserts formed a state in Brazil, it would be the second most populous, behind only São Paulo.

Consult the Atlas da Notícia data on the project website 

News deserts deserved special attention in the fifth edition of the census that maps local journalism in Brazil. The teams that participated in the research explored these territories in search of news outlets that had not yet been mapped. Regional researchers and 174 volunteer collaborators pored over a spreadsheet with 3,280 municipalities using the most diverse means, from advanced searches in applications such as CrowdTangle to calls to city halls, to find out how the inhabitants get their information about what happens in the place they live.

The census found journalistic activity in 312 municipalities on this list. They stopped being news deserts and migrated to the list of almost-deserts, places that have only one or two local news outlets. In this range, there are another 1,460 municipalities where over 31.8 million Brazilians live. This middle-range deserves special attention. Last year, 36 municipalities moved out of this list because they now have more than two news outlets, but three went back to being news deserts.

In total, Atlas da Notícia mapped 13,734 active news outlets in 2021. The survey incorporated 642 new ventures into the database. Some 449 of these are online initiatives, which is now the segment with the greatest representation in the universe of local journalism in Brazil.

Mapping the presence of local journalism in Brazil is not an easy task. This complex ecosystem goes far beyond counting TVs, radios, newspapers, and news sites. This census allows the detection of trends and identifies risks and opportunities.

Trends, risks and opportunities

The reduction in the number of print newspapers, the growth in the number of radio stations and the accelerated growth of online news outlets were already noticed in the previous editions of the Atlas. The difficulties to sustain traditional local news outlets, aggravated by the pandemic, and the few barriers to entry for the creation of digital native media help explain the online growth. Online journalism diversifies as it manages to explore new formats, experiment with alternative funding models, obtain remuneration through social platforms and also use them as a means of distributing their content.

Atlas da Notícia also plays close attention to the growth of community radio and the presence of local news in these ventures. In future editions, it will be necessary to follow more closely the evolution of this medium and the relevance it offers to the coverage of local news.

The greatest challenge for local journalism has been sustainability. Although there are deserts around large urban centers, these are more frequent in smaller communities, with less economic activity. News deserts are towns that have an average of 9,800 inhabitants, with a median of 6,600 people. The almost-news deserts have an average of 21,700 and a median of 14,800 inhabitants. With less audience to support a news outlet, the menu of models to explore is smaller and a dependence on government resources tends to increase, putting at risk editorial independence.

But government power is not just a threat to independence. City hall websites, in general, have been improving and now offer services and information that could be confused with journalistic material. During the pandemic, these sites gained relevance and audience, and competed for the attention of the population against journalistic initiatives that should be watching over public authorities.

Atlas da Notícia has mapped 15,946 news outlets. Of these, 2,212 are disregarded in the census results because they are considered non-journalistic outlets, many of which are linked to city halls.

The trends, risks and opportunities for the development of local journalism in Brazil will be analyzed in greater depth based on qualitative research to be carried out by the Atlas team following the publication of this edition and released in the coming months.

This fifth edition of Atlas da Notícia was carried out locally in the five Brazilian regions, by the following regional researchers: Angela Werdemberg (Midwest), Dubes Sônego (Southeast), Jéssica Botelho (North), Marcelo Fontoura (South) and Mariama Correia (Northeast). The census collected data between September 2021 and February 2022. Each of them produced a report specific to their region.

Consult the Atlas da Notícia data on the project website 


Sérgio Lüdtke coordinates the research team of Atlas da Notícia. He is also editor-in-chief of Projeto Comprova and coordinator of courses at Abraji, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism.

Original article and artwork were published on the Atlas da Notícia website.

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