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Desert Survival

It’s never been easier to find a source for news and information in this region.

There are easily more than 230 newspapers, online news outlets, TV stations, radio stations and magazines that provide news and information for reader/viewers/listeners. Something for everyone, right?

If you live near the coast – then yes. You have a wide variety of choices, particularly to get local news and information about your respective community. But farther inland, and particularly in working-class communities, not so much.

This phenomenon has become so widespread media academics gave it a name – News Deserts. The people who live in Southern California news deserts still have access to TV and radio stations and all those online publications – provided of course they enjoy high-speed Internet access. But when it comes to local news, they might as well rely on neighborhood gossip to find out what’s happening in their own community.

You don’t have to be a media academic to figure out where these news deserts are in this region. Just look for predominantly Latino or African-American communities, or where working-class families live or in the case of the Inland Empire, just draw a big circle around that whole region because the IE is quickly becoming a huge news desert.

The regional and community newspapers that people in these areas used to rely on have all disappeared or they were gobbled up by large media corporations. The Riverside Press-Enterprise, for example, was once a thriving newspaper frequently breaking major stories and winning awards. It was “the” source of news in the IE. But with all due respect to its current staff, after it was bought by a big media outfit it became a shadow of what it was. The first thing these big conglomerates do is lay people off so newsrooms shrink immediately. In fact, this big conglomerate announced yet another round of lay-off just two weeks ago.

And just last week, Eastern Group, which published several newspapers for decades in mostly Latino communities, shut its doors. The family-owned company, like so many other community publications, did not evolve fast enough digitally to survive.

Where do these communities turn now for local news they can trust? The large media companies have already demonstrated how they feel about quality journalism. Ask the readers and former staff of the LA or OC Weeklies. Ask any of the veteran reporters who left the LA Times in the last few years. Two companies now own the most influential news organizations in this region. Two companies shape and define news for all of us.

I’m not writing this to blame anybody or lament about the “good old days.” That’s a waste of time. Instead, this creates an opportunity.

We need to tell our own stories. We need to train and prepare a new generation of “media makers” to create news and information outlets that support local communities. We need to create opportunities for local media makers to succeed in these news deserts. We know there’s a need and where there’s a need there’s an opportunity.

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