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

Local Fix: News in My Ear, Mixed Message on Mobile and Algorithmic Ads

Subscribe to the LocalFix. 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 IdeaEngage diverse communities through creative partnerships. WNYC, The Daily News, and local NBC and Telemundo stations are relaunching the NYC educational data and reporting project called with articles appearing across platforms, a weekly email and research tools for parents in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Put The News in My Ear

4808475862_6129039fa8_oA flurry of articles this week take a fresh and optimistic look at the state of podcasting in America. In the Washington Post, Cecilia Kang highlights how podcasts are leveraging multiple revenue streams including donations, subscriptions and sponsors. Not only are more podcasts finding profitability, she notes, “the connection that people can feel toward their favorite podcasts is exactly the sort of relationship that many media companies are trying to build with their users.” In another article, Fast Company explored how podcasters and longtime public radio players are creating new networks to sell sponsorships across a range of podcasts. And NiemanLab asks why the popular public radio program This American Life is creating a podcast spinoff, serializing investigative reporting. But it isn’t just NPR personalities who are making podcasts pay, everyone from Slate to Snooki are getting in on the podcasting push.

This trend if worth watching for local newsrooms because of the intimacy and deep fan base podcasts have cultivated, the networked approach they are taking, and the multifaceted revenue streams they have developed. If you want to try adding audio to your site there is no better resource than It’s worth noting that SoundCloud just began rolling out ads and revenue sharing for creators too.

>>> A few months back there was a good debate about why audio never goes viral. Ethan Zuckerman thinks that might be a good thing, and NPR highlighted some viral audio experiments.
Continue reading

Journalism Must Meet People Where They Are

Last weekend Larenellen McCann gave a terrific talk about community, technology and how we can and should build for “inclusive community participation.” As I watched the video, she kept talking about “civic tech” and “civic hacking” but I kept hearing “journalism” and “reporting.” The failures she is describing and the challenges she sets forth are as relevant for journalists and newsrooms as they are for technologists working in the public interest.

I have written before about the need to reorient journalism around community by building more reciprocal relationships between newsrooms and communities, relationships rooted in listening, empathy and creativity. McCann’s talk hits on similar themes but gets even more concrete about the steps we need to take to transform our work in collaboration with our communities. Be sure to read her longer, follow up blog post.

In the spirit of civic hacking, I asked McCann if I could “fork” her talk and replace her references to civic technology with journalism as an experiment in context. My goal was to change as little as possible to make the piece speak specifically to journalism. Below is the result. I think it captures a lot of what we are working on with community news sites here at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Continue reading

Local Fix: Transparency, Time Travel and New Multimedia Tools

Subscribe 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 IdeaShare What You Are Reading. The New York Times is putting curation on the homepage. With itsnew “Watching” feature it “will keep an eye on developing and breaking news from The Times and other sources.” From Billy Penn to the BK Bridge, more newsrooms are becoming trusted curators, helping their communities find the most relevant and important information and stories from beyond their own pages.  Continue reading

How Newsrooms Can Make the Most of Their Archives

(This post builds on slides and research by Debbie Galant, Joe Amditis of the NJ News Commons, where the post originally appeared)

In 1950 William Faulkner wrote “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past,” in his novel Requium for a Nun. However, the quote gained renewed attention in 2008 when then-candidate Obama gave a major speech on race in America. Obama was tapping into the archives of American culture to add context to the news of the day and connect that moment to the long and troubled history of race in America.

The Internet has made this idea of the past living alongside – and interwoven with – the present more true now than ever. Today, even relatively new newsrooms have vast and quickly growing archives of work to tap into and build upon. These archives hold huge potential to add context to current events, fuel community engagement and even serve as a new revenue stream. In fact, the New York Times innovation report said that taking advantage of archived content was one of the big missed opportunities for the Times.

On September 18, Debbie Galant, Joe Amditis and I did a training at the NJ News Commons on how to tap into news archives for “fun and profit.” You can see our slide deck here and check out the guide for turning archives into e-books here. Below are our notes and presentations from the training, with links to additional tools and readings. Continue reading

Local Fix: Trust, Disasters, Diversity and Twitter Investigations

Subscribe to have the Local Fix delivered every 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 IdeaBe OptimisticThe Washington Post has a new weekly newsletter, “The Optimist,” that features “part feel-good, part success-against-all-odds” stories. The topic aside, what stood out for me is how many different newsletters the Post has developed around various themes. Each of themes emphasizes meeting the specific needs of their readers.

When A Twitter Investigation Goes Right

After watching social media investigations around breaking news events go terribly wrong, I was more than a little curious this week when one seemed to go right. Within a few hours after Philly police released video of suspects of a recent hate crime Twitter users had tracked down the suspects’ identities. However, rather than turning into a witch-hunt the search was handled respectfully and carefully. Melody Kramer traced how the evidence was collected. It is a useful overview for local newsrooms thinking about mining social media for information and collaborating with communities online. TLDR, the blog and podcast from the team at WNYC’s On The Media, followed up with a good interview with the Twitter user at the center of the effort.

For a counterpoint, it is worth looking back at the Atlantic’s “Anatomy of a Misinformation Disaster” from the Boston Marathon bombing and Slate’s chronicle of mistakes made in the days after the bombing. I collected much of the writing about breaking news, social media and verification in the wake of the marathon bombing here. Finally, Mike Ananny’s meditation on social media, breaking news and the value of silence is a must read.

>>> Facebook announced “Facebook Media” this week pulling together all of its advice and resources for journalists into one place.    Continue reading

Striking a Balance Between No-Strings vs. Strings Attached Journalism Funding

balancing act

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently made a $1 million grant to WNYC to support comprehensive coverage of health issues. Specifically, the grant is to “create a health unit at the station to cover three core areas—healthy living and wellness, health care economics and policy, and medical science and discovery—through a blend of high-impact investigative reporting, powerful first-person narrative, data news tools, and deep audience engagement.”

In response to that grant and other examples of funders supporting coverage of specific issues, an article by Inside Philanthropy discusses whether journalism funding is trending more and more toward coverage of specific issues and away from no-strings-attached funding. “Get used to it,” the article declares, as well as to the thorny issues that emerge when philanthropy funds journalism to advance its own agenda.

Making the Best of Limited Philanthropic Dollars

The article raises valid concerns about journalism funding, and I would add another to consider: When making issue or beat-specific journalism grants, are funders planning for how that coverage gets sustained over time? What happens when the grants run out? Do they expect public media and nonprofit news organizations to find other donors to sustain the coverage, or does the beat / issue coverage simply go away?

“What happens when the grants run out?”

As a funder, I wrestle with these questions a lot. And, to be clear, I do not know the details of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to WNYC, and I am not criticizing this grant; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are our New Jersey colleagues, and WNYC is a grantee of the Dodge Foundation as well.

I wrestle with these questions not just because I get inundated with requests to fund content but because compared to other causes or program areas such as arts, health, and education, there are relatively few journalism funders across the US. So I want to make the best use of limited philanthropic dollars using smart, long term strategies to strengthen the journalism field. It’s a “yes, and” proposition. How can we fund coverage of issues that we care about and strengthen the field?

Talking To Each Other, Rather Than Talking At Each Other

More often than not funders and news organizations may be seated at the same table, but they’re speaking a different language. Foundations want to know, “If I make a grant, will it have meaningful impact on the issues I care about? How will you demonstrate to me that you are making a difference?” Meanwhile news organizations are making a case for trust and editorial independence, and often skirting the issue of measuring impact. (Incidentally, this dynamic is true of all nonprofits, not just news organizations – nonprofits want to be trusted to do the work they do, and foundations want to know how their investments will pay off.)

What this means for nonprofit news – and what the Inside Philanthropy article explains – is more funding of beat or issue-specific coverage and less “no strings attached” coverage. As a funder, it is far clearer to measure the outcomes of a journalism project or beat than it is to measure the impact of providing general operating support. Yet both kinds of support are needed, because they work in tandem. In order to have coverage of the arts, education, health and many other issues we care about, we also need the journalism field to be healthy, which requires at least some allowance for general operating support for public and non-profit news organizations.

Meanwhile, the journalism community, desperate to stem its losses, is willing to chase grant dollars for beat coverage, knowing it is not a long term, sustainable strategy. Rather than hasten their own demise with short term strategies, news organizations can help educate funders on the importance of general operating support while also accepting that it’s legitimate for foundations to want to know how news organizations are measuring their impact.

Taking Risks On Behalf of the Field

This question of sustainability and strengthening the field goes beyond non-profit and public media, and I don’t mean to limit this discussion only to the dynamic between philanthropy and non-profits. As funders we are in a position to help journalism take risks – to explore and experiment with diversifying revenue streams and deepening relationships in the community – and we are in a position to do this for the whole field, which means we can have a positive impact on the entire spectrum of for-profit and non-profit journalism. In a nutshell, this is what the Local News Lab is all about – experimenting with sustainability models in service to the field. Our six partner sites are for-profit sites because we want to demonstrate how journalism can be a sustainable business without (or at least minimizing) philanthropic support. This doesn’t mean that all journalism can or should be for-profit (Dodge funds several public media and nonprofit news outlets), but non-profit journalism needs to diversify its revenue streams too.

Philanthropy alone cannot rescue or sustain journalism. Nor should it be philanthropy’s responsibility. Understanding, then, that there are limited dollars to support journalism, how do funders and the journalism community (for-profit and non-profit) work together to satisfy both partners’ needs? How should funders balance their support for issues it cares about while also addressing the long term sustainability of the field? How can journalism better define and measure its impact in order to attract more funding to the field? We’d love to hear your thoughts.