Oof. So many mistakes on the Medill Local News map.

"Wildly inaccurate." That's what one reader says about the map's data.

Oof. So many mistakes on the Medill Local News map.
(Photo by Alice Dreger)

By Alice Dreger

Oh boy. This morning, we let you know that Medill’s Local News Initiative Map is now showing its source data – meaning that you can now see who they’re counting in your area. We asked you to let us know if you see mistakes. 

Well, in just the last few hours, we’ve identified mistakes in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, New Hampshire, California, and Michigan. And the mail keeps coming.

Here’s a sample.

Penda Howell, CEO/Publisher of NJUrbanNews.com, looked at the map for Essex County, New Jersey, and sent us a note letting us know that his outlet is listed as digital but not categorized as serving the Black community. 

That’s strange, since the mission statement of the organization makes plain their core service: “We are dedicated to covering New Jersey’s vibrant African American community through informative stories and thorough coverage. Founded in 2018, The motto of NJ Urban News is ‘A Voice for the Voiceless.’ We cover stories often overlooked by mainstream media impacting the 1.3 million people that makeup New Jersey’s Black community.”

Sean Nestor checked the map for Lucas County, Ohio, where he lives and discovered that the Toledo Journal is counted twice, once as “Toledo Journal” and once as “The Toledo Journal.” In one case it’s counted as an ethnic outlet. In the other case, it isn’t.

Screenshot of the Medill map's data for Lucas, Ohio.

Writes Sean, “The Toledo Journal is one of two Black-owned print publications; the other, The Sojourner's Truth, is not listed, nor is La Prensa, a local Latino newspaper. The list also omits the Mirror, a print paper covering the Toledo suburb of Maumee as well as the Sylvania Advantage, which covers another suburb (Sylvania).”

Ken Martin of the Austin Bulldog examined the data for his county, Texas’s Travis County. “It lists 5 digital outlets but states only two are nonprofits when in fact 4 are nonprofits: The Austin Bulldog, Austin Vida, Austin Monitor, and Texas Tribune.”

And Tony Schinella, Senior Field Editor for Patch Media in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, sent in a doozy of a message to Medill’s team in response to having had a look at the data.

“I mean no disrespect by this email,” Schinella wrote, “but your ‘Local News Landscape’ map of New Hampshire is wildly inaccurate as far as news outlets are concerned.”

In a follow-up, Schinella had this to say:

“I was really surprised by the exclusion of New Hampshire’s very active Patch.com sites from the study’s Local News Landscape map. As the founding editor of the Concord NH Patch site, the flagship for the state, in May 2011, it was dismaying to see my 12-plus years of hard work delivering news to the city ignored.” 

I know the feeling, having discovered yesterday that the news site I founded and ran for ten years isn’t on the map, in spite of being a member of both INN and LION, two membership organizations from which the map’s data is supposedly drawn. 

And it’s not like there are no meaningful audiences for the outlets missing. 

“Our Concord [Patch] site is the 6th busiest site in the company, which has 1,260 local news and community websites,” Schinellla notes “About half the city of Concord reads the Patch site every day. It has more Facebook followers than all the other local news listed for Merrimack County in the study, one of which is not a ‘local’ news site at all. The Concord Patch site receives at least a half dozen news posts, stories, or pieces of information daily.

“Our Nashua NH Patch site also has news, too. It is a Top 30 site in the company, with thousands of people reading it each day… The NH sites regularly deliver 1.2 to 1.5 million page views per month for the company. Tens of thousands of readers each day rely on me for information. How is my work not valid?”

According to Schinella, the map’s data on radio news in his area is also messed up:

“First, WCNH, the ‘public broadcasting’ radio station listed for Merrimack County, is a classical music station and broadcasts no news. Why is it listed in a news study? WKXL 1450 AM, which has been on the air in Concord with news and talk radio since 1945, is not listed at all.”

The map is also missing other news radio in the area. “They list a classical music station with no news,” Schinella observes, “but fail to list two stations with news and information. Very strange.”

But wait, there’s more: 

“Missing from Belknap County was the Weirs Times, a weekly newspaper with circ in the 25,000 range which has been publishing news and information since the 1880s. The study lists the arts and entertainment weekly The Hippo, in Hillsborough County, as a local news source. Certainly, the Weirs Times should be listed, too,” Schinella writes.

“Lastly, the study map lists the Nutfield News in Rockingham County but the newspaper stopped publication in 2022, according to its online archives.”

All this speaks to what I said in my original post about the map: If the researchers just picked up the phone and called us, we would tell them what’s going on in our local news ecosystems. Instead, what we’ve got are errors that are baffling in quantity and type. 

I’ve contacted Medill’s team to ask for comment. When I reach someone and get responses, I’ll share them with you.

In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you’re finding in the comments section of Local News Blues or by email. To search your area, go to this page, then scroll down just below the map and choose your state. Then click on the county you’re interested in.

Note: The comments from Tony Schinella were updated on May 7 per his request after a communication error meant we drew from an earlier draft of his comments. (The factual content of his remarks have not changed in these versions.)

Alice Dreger is a journalist, historian, and the publisher of Local News Blues. She founded East Lansing Info, a nonprofit digital investigative news service, and ran the operation for about ten years. Read more at the Local News Blues contributors page.