Sustainable Media in the News Desert

In a field report, I explore how Axios Local aims to address the issue of news deserts in the United States by providing sustainable local journalism, comparing their theory of change to a purely nonprofit strategy.

MIT D-Lab Class

Entrepreneurship for the Idealist




  • Tara Burchmore, Master in Public Policy 2023, Harvard Kennedy School


News deserts in the United States have emerged due to a financial problem – a traditional media ecosystem is no longer self sustaining in the wake of online advertising. As advertisers realized that directly targeting customers online was more lucrative than print ads in local media outlets, newsrooms have struggled to adapt to new revenue streams. Due to dwindling profits, local news outlets have shuttered, leading to large swaths of the country that do not have access to a newspaper dedicated to issues in their own community. In the absence of local news, media consumers turn to national publications, leading to the nationalization of local politics and greater political polarization in the United States.

Solution in progress

Axios, a venture-backed, Washington DC-based media startup launched Axios Local in an attempt to mitigate this issue at the source. Their goal is to “bring smart, modern, trustworthy local news to every community in America.” Axios believes that the opportunity of a post-pandemic “work-from-anywhere” explosion, combined with technological advancement, presents a moment where high-quality local journalism can be reintroduced to communities. Axios is currently testing the Axios Local model in 20 cities, and intends to expand into smaller cities and towns when revenue is stabilized and their model is perfected. They aim to address the media gaps, and serve as an oasis to the news deserts, while turning a profit.

Planned contribution

My planned contribution is a field report on Axios Local, written to the specifications for publication in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. I will investigate Axios Local’s progress since their launch and their dedication to their theory of change. I will compare Axios Local’s business model to purely nonprofit news sources, like Report for America, in an attempt to determine which model is more sustainable and prepared to withstand a user environment where consumers are uninterested in paying for news. Finally, I’ll weigh if Axios Local’s theory of change, and product, will actually solve the primary issue – reliance on national media sources leading to greater politicization in American society.


Manish Bhardwaj, Entrepreneurship for the Idealist Instructor