The Rise of Hands-On Journalism

Digital journalism has made possible some incredible storytelling in recent years. Visually stunning reports on issues as diverse as gun violence, environmental disasters, and surveillance have brought stories to life on the screen. Increasingly, however, journalists are experimenting with innovations that move journalism off the screen and into people’s hands.

This spring RadioLab did a story about an ancient skull and the questions it helped answer about the origins of human history. It is a fascinating story, but it revolved around minute details scientists discovered in the skull, details a radio audience couldn’t see. So the RadioLab team took a scan of the skull, printed it out with a 3D printer, and made the scan available online for others to print out. So, now you could hypothetically feel the groves and markings on the skull as the scientists discuss them, discovering new facets of the skull alongside the narrators.

I am fascinated by the potential for these sorts of journalism-objects to help engage communities around stories and foster empathy with audiences. So I began collecting examples of what I call, “hands on journalism.” Continue reading

Local Fix: Start-up Struggles, Mobile Moves and Membership

Subscribe to have the Local Fix delivered to you on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea… 

One good ideaMine Your Archives. On Thursday, Sept. 18, Debbie Galant and I will be hosting a free online discussion about leveraging digital archives to add context to today’s top stories, drive a bit of nostalgic traffic, and develop new revenue streams. I hope you can join us.

From Subscribers to Members

One of the big stories this week was the launch of the Guardian’s new membership program. Alan Rusbridger wants to create a “community of journalists, readers and friends” through online engagement and in-person events. How they bridge the diffuse, distributed digital community and local readers will be fascinating to watch.

4579243797_183432f005_zOver at INMA Pit Gottschalk profiles Fany Péchiodat who has built a newsletter and website with 1.5 million subscribers by publishing one story a day. She then refused to take any advertising that didn’t speak directly to her audience. Now she is building new services to serve her members. Earlier this year, Nieman Lab covered the launch of Slate’s new membership program and examined how the nonprofitsVoice of San Diego and MinnPost are building their membership models. Even theWall Street Journal, which has long had a strong base of subscribers, is developing a membership program. (Also be sure to read Joe Pompeo and Mathew Ingram on the trend.)

>>> KISSMetrics has a useful post on content distribution and specifically the value of building your “subscriber” list. Continue reading

Local Fix: Wrestling Algorithms, Spinning Beats and Digging Data

Subscribe to get the Local Fix delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea…

One good idea: Throw Your Site a Birthday Party. Jersey Bites, a New Jersey based food blog used the site’s seventh anniversary as a great marketing and outreach opportunity that creatively brought together local businesses and local readers on Facebook. Find out how.

Spinning Off Beats as Single Issue Sites – How and Why?

Across the country, local newsrooms are going deep on single topics and at times even spinning off separate sites to attract a national audience to a story with deep local roots. The Boston Globe this week launched Crux, a site devoted to deep coverage of “all things Catholic.” The site is outside the Globe’s paywall and, for now, will rely on online ads. But local media scholar Dan Kennedy argues it is well positioned to spin off as a separate print product too. In Denver, the Post has just launched The Cannabist, a stand-alone site for their coverage of the emerging marijuana culture and industry in Colorado. With a focus on everything from legal analysis to “pot-rooted recipes” the site aims to pull in a global audience. Finally, The Cleveland Plain Dealer made news this week when it announced the staff of what has been called the “LeBron James Beat” covering the Cavaliers. As more and more daily papers develop single-issue sites like this it presents a challenge and an opportunity for local online start-ups, some of whom have built their sites around deep niche reporting. These new sites could be competitors, or could be a unique opportunity for collaboration.

>>> For more on the growth and development of single issue news sites be sure to follow this research coming out of Columbia University’s Tow Center, led by Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan. Continue reading

Four Tips for Cultivating Universities as Advertisers

Recently there have been a lot of debates about the role of universities in the future of news. Journalism schools have been compared to laboratories, incubators and teaching hospitals but for many local newsrooms campuses are also potential supporters and advertisers.

However, navigating campus offices and tapping into college budgets is much different than pitching a local business to buy an ad. There are often many different pots of money, managed by different staff with different titles across different departments.

Prior to my work in journalism I spent almost a decade working in higher education, connecting campuses and community groups around civic engagement and service-learning. I spent a lot of time helping local communities develop partnerships with college faculty and staff, and getting access to the resources those campuses had.

If you are interested in working with a local university around advertising or underwriting on a local site here are a few things to consider. Continue reading

Local Fix: Partnerships, Homepages, Challenging Conversations

Subscribe to get the Local Fix delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea…

One good idea: Be a Facilitator and a Creator. The Gazette Company in Iowa has launched a fascinating local project called “We Create Here” which describes its mission as: “Empowering the citizens of Iowa’s Creative Corridor to connect and engage with the issues that affect them.” I was particularly interested in how they think about “Intent, Collaboration and Context” as central values.

How Should Local Newsrooms Use Their Homepages?

It was just a few months ago that everyone was declaring the homepage dead. The Atlantic argued that when “publishers lost the homepage firehose, and gained a social media flood,” it made the news “more about readers, and less about news.” But the financial website Quartz brought the homepage back to life with their redesigned site this month. The new Quartz homepage is modeled after a memo of the top news of the moment tailored for their specific audience. If local newsrooms reimagined their homepages this way, what would they look like? If you could write a memo to your community about the big issues of the day, what would you include? tried to redesign their homepage as a stream, but gave up not long after. But maybe the homepage shouldn’t be just a portal to information. Ann Friedman has argued that perhaps the homepage should be more like a magazine cover, defining the look and feel of the site, rather than a doorway into specific stories.

>>> Here is Search Engine Land’s tips for what to include and leave off your homepageContinue reading

Two Tools to Help You Plan Your Next News Event

The American Press Institute just published a terrific report with lessons from nearly 20 news organizations who are building their event strategy. If your newsroom is interested in face-to-face community engagement and exploring events as a new revenue stream, the report is a must read.

The report is organized around 6 key lessons:

  1. Use assets you already have
  2. Leverage existing audiences and grow new ones.
  3. Identify and hold off competition.
  4. Take creative approaches.
  5. Weigh the value of different pricing strategies.
  6. Go all-in with promotions.

But, if the report could be summed up in one line, it might be: “Plan early and plan often.” To that end, the American Press Institute also created a two page worksheet designed to guide newsrooms through a set of key strategic planning decisions and considerations. It is a useful resource, and you can download a copy of it here. Continue reading

Local Fix: Newsroom insights from Ferguson, Ann Arbor, Detroit and Tulsa

Subscribe to have the Local Fix delivered to you on Fridays. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea…

One good ideaRethink memberships. In a speech at the Weapons of Mass Creation conference Melody Kramer of NPR offers a useful framework for thinking about how to build community and investment in local journalism. While the focus is on public radio, the ideas are applicable to any local newsroom.

You’ll notice a slightly different format this week. Instead of focusing on four big ideas, this week’s newsletter focuses on four important places. Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and tips.

Ferguson – community engagement, citizen media, press suppression

The events in Ferguson have put an spotlight on issues of race and justice in America, but have also highlighted key issues in the media from press freedom to newsroom diversity. While journalists from across the country descend on Ferguson, local newsrooms face unique challenges and opportunities.

The Columbia Journalism Review says that local news has provided some of the best coverage of Ferguson. “For us, this is not just an important story. This is home,” wrote Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio. The radio station is trying to use community voices to steer their Ferguson coverage. Jessica Lussenhop, managing editor of St. Louis’s Riverfront Times argued that “alt-weeklies are all about telling the stories of American cities. And this is an important moment in an American city.” Both editors discussed difficult choices they had to make around newsroom resources and journalist safety. On that note, theWashington Post described how many journalists are learning as they go when it comes to covering protests like those in Ferguson. Both Mallary Jean Tenore andJeff Jarvis wrote useful posts exploring how journalism could help the community, not just report on the events unfolding there.

>>> On the Local News Lab I look at citizen journalism in Ferguson and how local newsrooms can be partners to their community. Continue reading