A pipeline runs through Southern news deserts

Read the full story in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The proposed path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline snakes 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Construction of the 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline was halted in December 2018; later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over a key permit that it would need to start up again. 

If the pipeline is built, then one of its three planned compressor stations—massive facilities that help compress and transport natural gas—will be located in Northampton County, North Carolina, a swampy, rural region where the vast majority of residents are black. The county is already home to industrial hog farms, a wood-pellet plant, and large landfills—other industrial projects that have enormous effects on the surrounding land and its residents. 

Northampton is also one of six counties in North Carolina without a newspaper, according to a University of North Carolina report on expanding news deserts. The number of newspapers in the state has declined by 22 percent since 2004. Pipeline updates—concerning permits, protests, hearings, lawsuits, and risks—are not consistently  covered in state newspapers or newspapers in neighboring counties, if they’re covered at all. 

All three states crossed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have a dearth of local newspapers, according to the UNC report. West Virginia has three counties without a newspaper; Virginia has seven. In about half of the 25 counties along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, print news comprises a single weekly paper; several weekly or daily papers cover more than one county. 

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