Abstract: News deserts have gained prominence both in academic literature and policy discussions about local news in recent years. Although there is no agreed definition of the term, it usually refers to the lack of or diminishing availability, access, or use of local news or media in a community. It is seen as a significant phenomenon that highlights inequalities in local news provisions, challenges of local media operations in the digital environment, and issues around the quality of local journalism and the critical information needs of communities. This thematic issue aims to contribute to the field by bringing together different approaches to the topic, considering varied empirical studies and methodological designs, and providing perspectives from countries around the world with different media systems and cultures. The articles in the thematic issue address three broad issues: approaches to studying news deserts, local news production and news deserts, and the impact of news deserts on communities. Overall, the contributions reveal that the presence of a news desert is not a simple question of a locality having or not having a local media outlet. The concept is better understood as processes affecting access and quality of local news involving places, news media outlets and production, communities, and audiences. We end the editorial highlighting areas for further research, including the need for more holistic, conceptual, and comparative work on the topic.
Keywords: local communities; local journalism; local media; local news; media gaps; news deserts; news inequalities; subnational media.