News deserts in Portugal affect more than half of the municipalities, whether in a total desert, semi-desert or threatened with just one vehicle. This is the most worrying data from the “News Deserts Europe 2022: Report from Portugal”, recently published by Labcom from the University of Beira Interior.
The report was made within the project MediaTrust.Lab by three people: Portuguese researcher Pedro Jerónimo, PhD student in Brazilian Communication Luísa Torre and the author of this blog. The mapping was done using a methodology that classified deserts into three types. Total desert, when there are no means of communication, threatened, when there is only one, and semi-desert, when there is one means, but frequent news.
The document highlights something that the first two maps of news deserts in Portugal had already pointed out: the problem is concentrated far from the coast. The desert also spreads where there is less population concentration and economic activities, such as Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes.
According to Pedro Jerónimo, the study is essential for public policies and new research to be carried out on the topic, especially in the fight against disinformation:
Because the spaces left empty by journalism are quickly occupied by other realities, less or even not at all committed to the search for truth, ethics and deontology. Perhaps that is why the European Commission is so concerned about the possible growth of these gaps and with them misinformation, says Jerónimo.
News Deserts in Portugal began to be studied in 2020
The mapping of Desertos de Notícias in Portugal emerged in 2020 on the initiative of this author, as a necessity to have data on the journalism crisis in regional media. Initially, the idea was to collect the data and publish it as an article, to validate the data to be used in the doctoral thesis on networked proximity journalism.
However, the topic caught the attention of other researchers in Portugal and media authorities in the country. So, the Re/media.Lab project (also from Labcom) presented the study in 2021 at the National Meeting of Regional Media Journalists, organized by the project. The Portuguese Press Association was also interested and promoted events with the topic on the agenda.
Finally, it was understood that the study would need to be in-depth and carried out frequently. So, the MediaTrust project incorporated the initiative that resulted in the publication of this report.
- Based on the report, it is necessary to investigate in more detail regions where the problem is more serious, such as Trás-os-Montes and Alentejo. Instead of quantitative research like the report, a qualitative study is needed.
- The discussion about business models for proximity journalism is obvious. Community and non-profit models need to be included for regions with low economic activity.
- It is clear that, in some regions, the problem will not be resolved solely from the perspective of communication. These regions need to be developed. More than that, it is necessary to study the role of the media in regional development.