I’d argue that “square miles” and “square kilometers” really have no place in popular journalism, because we have little connection to what they mean.
I am not really getting this one, mentioning popular journalism in a post about the use of hyphens and correct word order. Moreover, while it is true that most people don’t instinctively judge area size in square miles or kilometers, how else would you express the same concept? There is no way I am aware of to provide a rough indication of how large a very large area is other than using an international system that most people should have a grasp of. Using any other parallelism such as “1/6th the size of Rome” may work for a few but not the majority. One far from perfect solution, would be to use Los Angeles as a comparison metric, since the article refers to the LA Times. But this article appears online, not just on a local paper. Oh, I know. We should say 1/2.000.000.000 the area of the Internet. That may work; everyone knows how big the Internet is.