Local Fix: Feedback Loops, Community Driven Revenue and Hope for Local News

Subscribe to the Local Fix to have it delivered via email each Friday. 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: Practice Public-Powered Multimedia. Check out this super usefulGoogle doc from the creators of Curious City which lists tools and tips for using multimedia strategies that bring your community into the reporting process.

Community Engagement is Good Business

ONA hosted an event focused on the business side of journalism last week in Phoenix. There are a lot of great resources coming out of the conversation there, but one that caught my eye was Steve Buttry’s blog post and slides on why community engagement is good business. The post is full of good links and ideas.

Over at Nieman Lab Caroline O’Donovan looks at Berkeleyside’s efforts to turn an engaged community into a profitable revenue stream through their new membership program. And Mathew Ingram describes how Ben Thompson hasmade a living from a thousand passionate fans. This week also marks the end of the Radviotopia Kickstarter campaign in which they raised more than $600,000 from nearly 22,000 people. I wrote about ten crowdfunding lessons from the campaign, with a focus on how building community can make or break a Kickstarter campaign.

Continue reading

Local Fix: The Ups and Downs of Local News, Art, Banners, and a List of Lists

Subscribe to get the Local Fix delivered each Friday. 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: OK, sometimes one idea isn’t enough. NPR’s Melody Kramer pulled together the best newsroom experiments and innovations from election night this week. Take a look at the great examples she collected and let them inspire your next project.

Ups and Downs

Just weeks after the new Philly news org Billy Penn went live there is another new local journalism start-up in the city: Philly Voice. Word of Philly Voice came the same week that the Philly-based Gun Crisis Reporting Project announced it was “curtailing operations.” “After publishing every day for more than two and a half years — illuminating the epidemic of gun violence in Philadelphia and seeking solutions — the Gun Crisis Reporting Project will cease daily reporting this Friday, November 7th,” an announcement on the site read. We also learned this week that the pioneering Homicide Watch DC would be closing its doors as of January 1 unless a local organization steps up to take the reins of the project. And yet, in New Jersey a cohort of new local start-ups are coming online including theVillageGreenNJ, Highland Park Planet and MercerME.All of these sites embody different reporting and revenue models. What do we make of the tumultuous and uneven landscape of local news right now? How can we work together across business models and geographies to support great people who are testing out new ideas? All these ups and downs are a reminder of how hard this work is. There is no silver bullet for sustainability, but we are much more likely to hit the target if we take aim together.

Continue reading

10 Crowdfunding Lessons From The Radiotopia Kickstarter Campaign

The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign comes to a close today after raising more than $600,000 from nearly 22,000 fans.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.18.50 AM

The success of a campaign like this is a complex alchemy of passion, mission, timing and tenacity. There are a million things you can’t control, good and bad surprises abound. And yet, over the last month the Radiotopia team has run a superb and engaging campaign. Anyone thinking about crowdfunding for their project – regardless of what platform you choose — should study what the team at PRX and Radiotopia did.

Here are ten lessons from Radiotopia’s Kickstarter Campaign:

1) Sell the values, not the thing.

The Radiotopia campaign was never about just supporting some podcasts, it was about “remaking public media.” The Radiotopia team always led with the values and vision they were bringing to the table. This is especially important for mission-driven crowdfunding efforts like journalism and documentary projects, but even with gadgets or other products, crowdfunding tends to be about selling a story not a thing. “It’s not just an amazing group of podcasts, it’s an amazing group of people” writes Roman Mars on the campaign’s homepage. “Radiotopia is bringing a listener-first, creator-driven ethos to public radio.” The team was explicit about tapping into their audience’s values – a love of storytelling and public media – and made it clear how a donation wouldn’t just fund a podcast, it would help you feed your passion.

2) This isn’t just a fundraiser, it is a friend-raiser.

Kickstarter campaigns are about raising money. But that’s not all they accomplish. The best campaigns become a locus of attention and activity for a passionate group of people to come together and support a shared vision. The Radiotopia crew understood this, and they made their campaign as much about making friends as it was about making money. Early on in the campaign Roman Mars introduced one of the campaign’s key goals: To reach 20,000 donors. Yes, that goal carried with it a financial challenge from a corporate sponsor, but what was more important for the longterm sustainability of the collective, is that it presented an opportunity to introduce Radiotopia to legions of new people (and to turn current fans into donors, even if only at $1 each). One of the campaign rewards was even a chance to be connected with other fans as pen pals. The best Kickstarter campaigns are not just financial investments, but also investments in relationships between creators and their community. Continue reading

Five Kinds of Listening for Newsrooms and Communities

13072167803_3eb7fa2b72_k

In 2002 NPR’s vice president for diversity, then a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, described an idea he called “The Listening Post.” “Journalists interested in telling more of a community’s ‘truth’ need to establish listening posts in the places that fall outside the routine of journalism,” he wrote. “They have to leave the office, the neighborhood, maybe even the comfort of personal likes and dislikes in order to make this happen.”

More than ten years later Internews and local New Orleans public radio station WWNO launched a project with the same name and built on some of the shared values. The New Orleans Listening Post combines digital recording stations across the community with text messages and online engagement to “establish a two-way conversation with the citizens of New Orleans” where they can both contribute ideas and commentary to the newsroom and also receive news and information about their community. Internews and WWNO partners with Groundsource for the project which is building a mobile first, text message based platform for listening.

Almost 1,000 miles to the north, Jenn Brandel is pioneering a different kind of listening project called Curious City at Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ. Curious City is part journalism project, part listening platform, and in the words of Brandel, is “powered by open questions.” The Curious City team has collected thousands of questions from Chicago residents in the field, via a toll-free number and online via their custom-built platform. The public gets to vote on what questions journalists pursue, and the Curious City team brings the public into the reporting project along the way.

From Transactional to Transformational Listening

Last November I wrote about the need for listening and empathy in journalism, arguing that “better reflecting and responding to our communities has to start with better listening.” A year later, I’m encouraged by the growth of projects like The Listening Post and Curious City as well as the many newsrooms who are hosting events dedicated to listening to the diverse voices of their communities.

While these promising experiments and new start-ups a proving the value of deeper forms of listening, as an industry we still have a lot to learn. Listening is after all not a passive act, but rather an active skill that we can learn and employ strategically. As the examples above make clear there are many different kinds of listening with different goals and outcomes. Below I’ve tried to map out five models for listening at the intersection of newsrooms and communities. Continue reading

Local Fix: News Design as Plumbing, Building for Trust and Working With Freelancers

Welcome to the Local Fix. 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: Know Your Rights. Jeff Hermes of the Media Law Resource Center and a longtime advocate of for independent journalists, believes that “The biggest threat to press rights may be a failure to understand them.” Thisinterview in CJR offers some concrete advice for longtime local publishers and new start-ups.

Design as Plumbing: Thinking About How Journalism Works on the Web

The Texas Tribune launched their crowd funded series on the oil and gas industry this week with a terrific website and a creative navigation strategy. ProPublica and NPR also released a well designed investigation on the Red Cross’s failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both pieces illustrate how design can be a powerful tool to help make your journalism more accessible and impactful. In an interview last week Mike Monteiro made just this case: “Design is core. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s plumbing. It’s foundation… A website without design isn’t a house without art, it’s a house without a bathroom. Design is how things work. And good design is how things work well.”

Here are a few good recent links on news design. The folks at Immersive, a tool for creating well designed stories,covered a recent design event where newsrooms experimented with the design of their mobile sites – there are some great ideas there. Nieman Lab has a report back on a “hackathon” hosted by the Society for News Design. And late last month the New School announced a new undergraduate degree in “Journalism + Design” which applies design thinking to the entire journalism process.

>>> A few good links: Last year Journalism.co.uk created a list of “9 tools for journalists to produce immersive stories,” and last week Buffer reviewed 23 really simple but powerful tools to make compelling graphics.

Continue reading

Unlocking the Secrets to Foundation Funding

keys

For media and journalism organizations, understanding how to get and keep funding from philanthropic foundations is often a mystery.

Part of the problem is that foundations on the whole need to be more transparent. Period. This post – in fact this whole website - is one of the ways we’re trying to be more transparent.  But also understand that to be open and communicative as institutions with deep pockets is to expose ourselves to overwhelming demands on our time and resources. Many program officers and directors care deeply about transparency and building strong relationships, but we also have limits to how much we can accommodate inquiries and requests for meetings.

Another problem is that there simply aren’t enough funders focused on supporting media and journalism. So there are huge demands on the ones who do, and not nearly enough money to fund all the good projects and organizations out there.

Having just visited with several New Jersey nonprofits (news organizations as well as arts, education and environment organizations) in our current grants cycle, I want to share some thoughts and hopefully shed light on some of the things you should be doing if you are seeking funding, what you shouldn’t be doing, and frankly, what you have no control over.

What you should be doing:

  • Show us the possibilities! Make us excited to support your work – make us believe we’d be MISSING OUT if we didn’t support your work.
  • Have a clear mission and vision. Map out the route to achieving your goals, and convince us that you are going to get there.
  • Be smart about revenue – show us how you’re thinking about diverse revenue streams, especially earned income. Show us that you understand we can’t fund you indefinitely.
  • Convince us that you collaborate enthusiastically with others (bonus: if you collaborate with other organizations we already fund.)
  • Be honest with us about the challenges in your work, but embrace those challenges as opportunities. No one wants to fund an Eeyore.

The no-no’s:

  • Do not skimp on doing your research. Really try to understand what we currently fund, what we care about, and what would resonate with us. We know this is not an easy task. We know you are not mind readers.
  • Do not submit a cookie cutter proposal. We can tell when you do.
  • If our answer is no, let it ride for awhile. We may not be shutting the door for good, so don’t be so persistent that we start to avoid you.
  • Even if you don’t understand why the answer is no (shame on us) do not jeopardize future opportunities to be funded. Foundations should be held accountable for our work and for communicating better with you, and we welcome ongoing conversation, but it should be framed as an opportunity to understand each other better, not as angry complaints or criticism.  I say this, because you’d be surprised how many complaints we get directly from applicants and current grantees, and how much criticism we hear through the grapevine.
  • Do not avoid measuring the impact of your work or talking about the impact of your work. We know this is hard. We know it’s even scary, because it forces you to explore whether your work matters — which is all the more reason to evaluate and understand if what you’re doing is making a difference. You have to be clear in your mission, and you have to be honest about measuring your impact against that mission. It’s not unreasonable for foundations to ask whether supporting your work is having any meaningful impact on communities or on people’s lives.

What you have no control over:

One of the hardest things for applicants to understand is this: even if you are a perfect match for our guidelines, we may not fund you – we may not even request a proposal. There’s a funny notion people seem to have that if you meet the guidelines, you should get funded. But grantmaking is complicated and it’s not always as logical as you would want it to be. It also may be that:

  • There’s no money left in the budget for this cycle or this year. Sorry – it happens all the time.
  • Another organization is already being funded by us doing the same or similar work. This is a very common issue.
  • It’s just not the right timing. There could be a thousand different reasons why now is not the right time, but six months or a year from now might be the perfect time.

A couple of final points:

Ask yourself what unique value or idea or way of doing your work that you have to offer. Or what gap you are proposing to fill. Also, how is your work impacting the ecosystem within which you operate? That is, how well connected are you to other organizations, businesses and individuals, such that a grant to you would have a powerful impact on them as well? If you are operating as an island, don’t expect to get funding.

Feedback? Questions?

I welcome your questions and feedback, and also comments from other foundation program directors and officers who can add their own perspective.

 

Photo by Flickr user Teresa Stanton, used via Creative Commons.

Freelance Journalism and Small Newsrooms: Best Practices, Links and Resources

What are the best practices for small hyperlocal news start-ups to ethically cultivate a network of freelancers and community contributors?

This question has been gnawing at me for awhile and I haven’t yet found a good answer, so I want to share with you what I have found in hopes that you will help add to this list of resources.

Here at the Local News Lab we are working closely with six partner news sites who are at various stages from start-up to sustainability. Some are just getting off the ground, others have almost a decade of experience behind them. But across the board all of them are working with freelancers and contributors of various kinds to help cover their communities. And without fail they all want to do so in a way that is ethical, safe, and supports the people they rely on.

So I began collecting tools, resources and best practices for small one and two person newsrooms working with freelancers on issues like contracts, training, intellectual property, safety and security. Continue reading