Thing 13

Thing 13. Today’s Media Landscape

Purpose – Where do you find news?

At a little over halfway through, it seems like time to turn the spotlight on the current media landscape. We will look at where media is generated, who creates it and who owns it. We will take a look at media coverage and news deserts and the impact on information literacy. 


Recently, the Media Landscape campaign featured “Uncovering Truth in a News Desert” by Penny Abernathy. Click this link to view the presentation. 

Ms. Abernathy’s presentation focused on local news media and how it is dying out in today’s landscape. She points out how media conglomerates are creating media monopolies and the individual, smaller news outlets are either fading away or being absorbed into these media giants. The problem, according to her, is that the lack of local news sources is a threat to democracy itself. Our additional concern is the existing threat to information literacy. 

In addition to looking at where we find news, and who owns the news, we will also look at how news is born, or, the information cycle. The information cycle explains the metamorphosis of a news story. Generally, this happens through five stages. 

  • Stage 1 – Social media. In the seconds or minutes following an event you will likely find someone talking about it on social media. After the first wave of reporting, you will find reputable news sources reporting the information also on social media. This is the fastest, and also generally the most unreliable source of information, due to the fact that much of social media is created by amateurs, rather than journalists with ethics and standards. 
  • Stage 2 – News Media. In the hours following the event, you will find this information on the news. News outlets will post to their online versions or go live with a report about the event. This is still a quick version of the information, but considered much more reliable. 
  • Stage 3 – Magazine. In the days or weeks following the event, magazines will begin to publish articles that contain more detailed information and utilize additional resources. While this takes more time, this resource is considered very reliable. 
  • Stage 4 – Journals. Considered to be one of the most reliable sources for information, journals take advantage of time and gather information from a vast amount of reputable sources to put together their article. The downside is that this takes months or even more than a year to publish. 
  • Stage 5 – Books. A terrific and authoritative source for information, books, both print and electronic, are one of the strongest sources for information, but do carry a couple downsides. They take a long time to publish, perhaps two or more years after the initial event, and they run the risk of being out of date after publication. 

The five stages illustrate how information is created and spreads through society. Social media carries the advantage of being able to touch anyone, anywhere, regardless of whether a news outlet produces in that area. The information cycle looked very different before the Internet; the concern of many is that its immediacy is replacing local news, such as a local daily newspaper. This also gives rise to concerns over false information, fake news, or non-reliable sources for media consumption. The decline of local newspapers also causes the concern of media monopolies. As newspapers face funding troubles they become easier for groups to buy up and fewer and fewer entities are controlling larger segments of the news we consume. This can be a direct threat to information literacy as well as democracy. 

Continue to find out more about the information cycle, news deserts and the impact on our future. Share your thoughts in the comments. 


Information Cycle | Winona State (3 min)

The Loss of Local News, News Deserts | Pew Research (19 min)

Do Newspapers Matter in a Digital Age? | TedX, Lisa DeSisto (15 min)


Local News Deserts are Expanding: Here’s what we’ll lose | The Washington Post Magazine

Newspapers Have Been Struggling and Then Came the Pandemic | Forbes

Addressing the Decline of Local News, Rise of Platforms, and the spread of mis- and disinformation online | Center for Information, Technology and Public Life

People Increasingly Turn to Social Media for News | Forbes

The Troubling New Void In Local Journalism — And The Nonprofits Trying To Fill It | Washington Post 


Visit The Expanding News Desert, select your state and look to see what newspapers serve your county. Then find out who owns that newspaper. Are you surprised by this? Add a comment to this site with your results. 

Choose a major event from the news, at least two years old, and see if you can track it through its information cycle. Find a source that represents each stage and see if you can create a timeline like this one for 9/11

Conversation Starters

How do you feel about news deserts? Do you think they are threatening the future of democracy or information literacy? Do you think that new technologies will rise to replace local news sources? 

How much impact do you think it has on you and your personal news consumption who owns your news? Does it matter to you? Do you feel you are being biased? Do you trust in journalism standards to protect you from any bias? Do you only get your news from social media? Do you think a bias exists there? 


Additional Resources

News Deserts are Democracy Deserts, too | Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy (44 min)

News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers | News in Context (30 min)

50 Ways the News Industry has Changed in the Last 50 Years | Stacker

How the Collapse of Local News is Causing a National Crisis | New York Times

Social Media Outpaces Print Newspapers in the US as a News Sources | Pew Research Center

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