Communication rituals, alternative media regimes and enactments of participatory journalism in rural ‘news deserts’ in Georgia
Accepted for presentation at AEJMC’s 2021 Midwinter Conference (Community Journalism Interest Group) to be held online on March 5 – 6:
Abstract: “News deserts’ are defined as communities with inadequate access to news sources (Abernathy, 2018; Stites, 2011). In an environment increasingly polarized, with social media platforms that support the spread of dis- und misinformation, these gaps in coverage put a strain on democratic processes (Lloyd & Friedland, 2016; McChesney, 2015; Nielsen & Levy, 2010; Pickard, 2019; Waldman, 2011). Partnerships with community stakeholders and the research surrounding this work, often examines metropolitan centers with existing media outlets (e.g., Knight Foundation, 2012; Napoli, Stonbely, McCollough, & Renningen, 2015; Nisbet, Wihbey, Kristiansen & Bajak, 2018; Rafsky, 2020). This research often overlooks rural communities and assumes that they perceive their information needs as unmet. This qualitative study challenges these assumptions. Using James Carey’s theory of ritual communication (Carey, 2009), we examine ‘news deserts’ information needs. Through observation and in-depth interviews with influencers, stakeholders and citizens in five rural Georgia counties we outline the topography of community information systems and ask: How do members of rural communities, with no or insufficient news coverage and reach, define their information needs? Are they being met? What communications networks exist in ‘news deserts?’ How do these differ from traditional news outlets in the level and quality of participatory enactments of information gathering and distribution?