Walsh launches Nebraska News Map project

Monday, February 26, 2024 - 11:45am

Jessica Walsh, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, received funding to support her research project, “Nebraska News Map: Understanding local news access and community news needs.”

The first support for the project came in November 2023 when Marty Liggett, executive director of the American Society of Hematology and a 1972 graduate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, donated $30,000.

Although her professional background is in healthcare, Liggett is concerned about the emergence of news deserts in Nebraska and hopes the project can help support a future for rural journalism.

“It can help promote trust in news by giving everyone the experience of assessing the validity of the reporting against their lived experience,” said Liggett. “This is really important to a democracy, where we need to critically assess the information we are receiving.”

Liggett’s donation will fund faculty support, data analysis and mapping work.

The project aims to better understand the local news crisis in Nebraska. Walsh will conduct interviews with journalists, media owners and community members around the state to understand how Nebraskans access local news. That information will be compiled for an open-access journal article. In addition, the project includes data mapping and analysis to create a public report on local news in Nebraska, an interactive website with a map including newspapers, digital media and broadcast outlets.

Studies show that a loss of local news can negatively impact civic engagement and increase polarization. The comprehensive information provided by the Nebraska News Map project will allow researchers to identify gaps in local news coverage in this state, media entrepreneurs to identify new news markets and media organizations to support their pursuit of funding for expanded Nebraska news coverage. The project also has the potential to raise awareness of the need for local news and foster community discussions on the importance of journalism.

“Local news organizations play so many important roles in society. They provide social cohesion, inform citizens during times of elections, document many aspects of life such as sports games and government meetings. We should all be concerned when people lose access to local news. This project will help us better understand who has access to local news in Nebraska and who doesn’t,” Walsh said.

On Dec. 14, the UNL Research Council awarded Walsh a $10,000 Faculty Seed Grant to support the project. The Research Council grant will help fund parts of the web design and mapping, a student worker, travel and an open-access journal fee. The UNL Research Council is comprised of 12 UNL faculty members who advise the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development and review and award internal grants for research, scholarship and creative activity.

In February, Walsh received two additional donations to support the project. The Nebraska Press Association Foundation contributed $2,500, and the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Foundation contributed $2,240. Their funds will support student interns who will gather information and interview people who work at local news organizations.

“Jessica Walsh's research project, 'Nebraska News Map,' exemplifies the core values of our university's land grant mission. It not only confronts the urgent challenge of the local news crisis in Nebraska but also underscores the vital role journalism plays in our society,” said Cory Armstrong, CoJMC associate dean for research and faculty affairs. “We are proud to support initiatives like these at the CoJMC, where research and community engagement go hand in hand."

Work on the project will begin this month with a planned completion date of Sept. 1, 2024. Once complete, the Nebraska News Map will be a publicly available resource for citizens and news organizations throughout the state.

Jessica Walsh, assistant professor of journalism
Jessica Walsh, assistant professor of journalism