Addressing the Alabama Gulf coast “news desert”


Alabama Public Radio used an innovative journalism strategy to resolve a “news desert” along the State’s Gulf coast. APR is a five-station statewide network with its news operation headquartered in Tuscaloosa. The demise of the Mobile Press Register newspaper left the region with only commercial TV news and little access to in-depth or investigative journalism.

APR’s effort to better address this issue started in April of 2019 with a dialog with fellow Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award winner J.D. Crowe, a Mobile area political cartoonist. We networked with him to find print journalists along the coast who would be interested in being trained and equipped by APR to produce radio stories for statewide broadcast. News director Pat Duggins commuted to Mobile with recording equipment for each reporter.

These veteran storytellers were trained on how to gather audio interviews and ambient background sound, and how to translate their years of print journalism experience into creating content “for the ear.” This unique reporting team produced over twenty radio features during the first six months of the coronavirus outbreak in Alabama. That was when Mobile County led the state in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Their stories included people left homeless for the first time ever due to the pandemic and first-time visitors seeking assistance from charity food pantries. Another feature focused on how public health officials fought the coronavirus in Mobile in the same building used during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak.

APR’s Gulf coast team addressed the rise in mental health issues and alcoholism in Mobile County due to the coronavirus a month before the issue gained traction nationally.