Media Mecca or News Desert? Covering local news in New York City

Rafsky, Sara G.

Recent research on the phenomenon of news deserts has largely focused on communities where the primary news outlets, often newspapers, have either closed or barely still exist. New York City, in contrast, has 90 online news publications, according to a study by News Revenue Hub, and at least 270 ethnic and community media organizations, per CUNYs Center for Community and Ethnic Media , in addition to (comparatively) still robust legacy broadcast and print media. As the national crisis for local news has gained more visibility in the past year, some of the more mainstream NYC outlets have renewed their focus on local coverage. The New York Times spotlighted its metro desk in advertising campaigns, and WNYC acquired and relaunched the shuttered Gothamist site. The City, an online nonprofit news outlet, also launched in the spring of 2019 with 10 million dollars in funding from the Leon Levy Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the Charles H. Revson Foundation, among other individual contributors. Addressing what it classified as a “life-or-death moment for local news in New York City,” the organization focused on filling the increasing void in citywide beat coverage.

But none of these efforts have resolved a key issue—that hyperlocal and community-level local outlets in New York City are still struggling, and that, subsequently, residents are being deprived of critical information.

Taking this complexity into account, this study seeks to understand the New York City media ecosystem—print, digital, broadcast, mainstream, community, and ethnic—by examining how news organizations prioritize beats and where they see gaps in coverage, rather than counting or mapping publications. To do this, we interviewed journalism professionals at a wide range of news organizations in New York City about how they allocate resources when choosing editorial priorities, the challenges they face, where they see the gaps in coverage, and what they wish they could be doing better. These interviews also touched on questions related to the relationships between news outlets and their audiences, as well as with one another.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Media Mecca or News Desert_.pdf Media Mecca or News Desert_.pdf application/pdf 349 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
Published Here
January 27, 2020