By Sérgio Spagnuolo | Volta Data Lab | 15.02.2021

A surge in digital news initiatives in Brazil over the past few years has helped the country to reduce the population currently with no access to local journalism, the news deserts. At the same time, the number of print media organizations has been shrinking considerably, according to the most recent study by Atlas da Notícia (News Atlas). 

All five Brazilian regions (South, Southeast, Mid-West, North and Northeast) have seen a combined drop of 5.9% in the number of towns that do not have any news organisation identified by the  Atlas’s research. This happened because the research noticed a surge of some 1,170 new digital organisations, most of them blogs and small initiatives of up to five employees. 

In red, cities without local news outlets. In yellow, at least 2 news outlets. In blue, more than 3 news outlets

In previous studies, the Northeast was the region with the highest percentage of news deserts — taking into account its number of towns. In 2019, 75,3% of the cities in this region, one of the poorest in the country, did not have any local media outlet, according to the research.

But as new digital initiatives emerged,  helped by the increase in internet access penetration in the region, this percentage now dropped to 66.3%. The North region, which is less densely populated, has 69.8% of its local towns without local news outlets. 


Distribution of local media outlets by region and state. In red, cities without media outlets. In orange, cities with up to two media outlets. In blue, cities with more than 3 media outlets. South (Sul) and Southeast (Sudeste) are the wealthier Brazilian regions The North and Northeast regions are the ones with a greater proportion of news deserts, while the almost deserts are more evenly distributed in the territory.

The News Atlas is the largest national open data initiative to map and catalog news organizations in Brazil. In the latest edition, published in February, 2021, the project, which has five researchers and over 300 volunteers, increased its database in over 10%, reaching 13.092 mapped news initiatives in all states.

It is worth noticing that the Atlas functions much like a census for the news media in the country, and any new changes in the landscape take some time to be reflected on research.

Gráfico aponta a porcentagem de desertos, quase desertos e não desertos de notícias no país
Percentage of population living in cities classified as “deserts of news”, “almost desert of news” and “not a news desert”.

Beyond adding 10% more news initiatives to the list, Atlas also found the closing of 602 media outlets in Brazil over the past two decades, with 61 having shut  down in 2020 alone. Since 2010, over 350 news initiatives were closed, with an average of 32 per year.

The number can be even higher, since there is poor documentation of what happens outside the biggest urban centers. Print media (newspapers and magazines) lost the bulk of initiatives (395), followed by online (173), rádio (25) and TV (9). With few exceptions, most of Atlas’ records of closed organisations started in the early 2000s. 



Gráfico mostra o número de veículos divididos por mídia no Brasil
Types of media identified, showing that Radio still dominates the Brazilian media landscape, a long-standing tradition in the country. And despite of low telecommunications infrastructure, online media overcame printed media in Brazil









Broadcasting (radio and TV) represent 45% of all journalistic initiatives in Brazil. While in many cities where radio and small newspaper are often the only options available. In the state capitals the barrier to creating an online vehicle is lower, which has triggered new digital initiatives in recent years. The print segment (newspapers and magazines) remains relevant, which means that the legacy of the traditional business model, based on advertising, remains alive outside the big cities, while innovation provided by digital still lacks in these markets .

While the number of news deserts dropped 5.9% when compared to the last Atlas’ results, there are still 33.7 million people living in 3.280 cities without local journalism coverage (9.6% less than in the previous Atlas report). This compares with Brazil’s 210 million total population and 5,570 municipalities. 



With those numbers, it is possible to observe that the news deserts are made of very small cities, with a average population of 6,900 inhabitants — among other things, places that offer few economic opportunities for news organisations. 

Sérgio Spagnuolo is the founder of the data journalism agency Volt Data Lab, and Knight Fellow of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). He is a contributor to the fact-checking website Aos Fatos.
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