Legal Tips for Local News Publishers

This guest post by Amy Gahran originally appeared on the Knight Digital Media Center website. It is reposted here with permission.

Like any publisher, people who provide community news or information have legal concerns. Especially, how can you minimize the risk of lawsuits that could threaten your scarce resources and time — without compromising your ethics, mission, or community?  In a Jan. 8 call-in podcast, Rutgers University law professor Ellen Goodman  answered general questions about local publishers and the law.

Goodman, who authored the nonprofit media section of the landmark 2011 Knight/FCC report on theInformation Needs of Communities, shared her legal expertise related to local news gathering and publishing. Currently she’s working on a project in which journalism and law students are collaboratively developing a legal FAQ for local news reporters and publishers, focusing on digital media and relatively new entrants to the field (such as bloggers and citizen journalists)

In this podcast (presented by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, N.J.), Goodman took a call about the difficulty that local news publishers often have in acquiring libel insurance. She offered the context that U.S. courts generally tend to support publishers in libel and defamation cases; it’s very hard for plaintiffs to win. Still, the time and cost of responding to such lawsuits can be overwhelming. Liability insurance usually is used to cover the cost of fighting claims (or getting them dismissed), rather than to pay damages. Continue reading

Support Watchdog Reporting in New Brunswick

Local, hard-hitting watchdog journalism is alive and kicking in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The team behind New Brunswick Today is taking on some of the area’s most important stories, covering city corruption, making government more transparent, and giving diverse communities across the city a voice.

Since 2011, this independent, bilingual community news organization has been providing fearless, independent coverage on a shoestring budget. This week they launched a crowd-funding campaign, asking the city they love to help them grow, bring on more reporters and expand the impact of their reporting.


At the Dodge Foundation we chose New Brunswick Today as one of six partner newsrooms for our journalism sustainability project because we were excited about their mission and passion for serving the people of New Brunswick. They are digital first but print a monthly newspaper to reach parts of their community who don’t have easy access to the web. They seek out sources in the community and publish in English and Spanish. They are creative, passionate, and generous, testing new ideas and offering lessons and advice to other community news organizations across the state.

Most of all, they are risk takers, willing to tackle tough topics and stand up for the public’s right to know. But they can’t do it alone. That’s why the Dodge Foundation is matching the first $5,000 in community donations to New Brunswick Today. Continue reading

Building Journalism With Community, Not For It

build with not for

At the end of last year Kristin Hare of the Poynter Institute was collecting tech resolutions for 2015 and asked for mine. Here is what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to help more journalists build with their communities, not just for their communities.

At so many publications, journalists are rebuilding their newsrooms around new technologies from smartphones to social networks. But for the most part, the community is left on the other side of the screen. In 2015 there is a huge opportunity to engage communities in the work of helping build powerful journalism.

I want to help newsrooms design reporting projects, engagement strategies, web apps and more, through deeper collaboration, listening and empathy with our communities. Building for the community puts people at the end of the process. Building with community puts them at the start.

In the new year, let’s start the debate about journalism and technology with our communities.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation we believe that journalism sustainability is rooted in building stronger relationships between communities and newsrooms. The distinction between “building with” instead of “building for” feels at first like semantics. However, when we begin to use it as a lens to examine journalism as both a process and a product, we see numerous small and large ways it challenges the status quo.  Continue reading

Local Fix: On Profits and Podcasts, Startups and Sustainability, and Third Party Platforms

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: Write better headlines. Maria Konnikova reports on new research that shows headlines have a huge effect on readers’ perception and retention of articles. “It’s not always easy to be both interesting and accurate,” she concludes, “but, as Ecker’s study shows, it’s better than being exciting and wrong.”

From Startup to Sustainability

This fall I got hooked on Alex Blumberg’s podcast Startup, which he describes as “A series about what happens when someone who knows nothing about business starts one.” That could describe a lot of great journalists who are launching or leading news startups. Blumberg gives a fairly ubvarnished look at his process and there is a lot of lessons for anyone working to build sustainable media organizations. On her blog Sarah Marshall offers 10 very concrete and useful lessons in what she calls “lean journalism” from her time as tech editor at

I wrote earlier about Philly Gun Crisis ending daily publication. NiemanLab has a deep dive into “Why Philadelphia’s Gun Crisis Reporting Project couldn’t make it” with some frank reflections on priorities and sustainability from founder Jim MacMillan. At the end of last year John Battelle gave his prescription for “What Media Must Do To Survive” – which for him comes down to “convening power.” Does a publication bring together a community of people who depend on it?

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Local Fix: Tackling Comments, Rethinking Native Ads, and Better Email Newsletters

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: Turn National Data Into Local Stories. There are lots of opportunities for local newsrooms to build on data sets complied by national publications like ProPublica and the New York Times. PBS MediaShift has a good post on how one journalist localized NYT data on police racial disparity.

Why I Started The Local Fix

I started this newsletter because I saw a gap in the national discussion about the future of journalism. Endless attention was (and is) being paid to the big national start-ups and the experiments happening in the largest newsrooms. But I wanted to write about, and support, the amazing working happening with small teams in local newsrooms. I wanted to sift through the national debates and pull out lessons that are actually useful for local reporters and publishers. Thanks for reading and sending tips, ideas and questions my way.

In the Guardian this week Felix Salmon argues that the rise of digital media giants like BuzzFeed, Gawker and others poses a range challenges for small digital publishers who aren’t interested in scale. However, Mathew Ingram of Giga Ommakes the case that, in fact, there has never been a better time to run a niche media business. Margaret Quilter at NetNewsCheck seems to echo this sentiment, in a piece where she looks at the growth of hyperlocal sites heading into 2015. The folks at IVOH also rounded up five stories of promising changes in local journalism.
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Local Fix: Envisioning a Local Social Newsroom, Money Talk, Stunning Visual Journalism

Welcome to the Local Fix, you can subscribe here. 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: Explore Restorative Narratives. The Columbia Journalism Review recently profiled IVOH, which has launched a fellowship program to foster more journalism focused on stories of recovery and resilience in local communities. Read more here.

New Tips and Guides for Online Journalism

Every few weeks I pull together a round-up of useful guides on social media and online journalism tools. Platforms and practices change regularly, so I try to find the most current and useful tips. (A number of you have asked for an RSS feed of these links – and that is coming soon). It is one thing to know how these tools work, it is another to think deeply about how to make them work for you and your newsroom. Before you dive into the list below, I recommend readingthis interview with Jay Rosen of NYU and Melody Kramer of NPR.

Reddit Guide for Journalists – Storybench
How News Orgs Should Use Twitter – Parsely
Beginners Guide to Google Analytics – 99 Robots
15 Social Media Tools for Journalists – PBS MediaShift
5 Tools for Social Media Monitoring and Verification –
17 Tools for Content Distribution – Buffer

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Local Fix: Creating amazing things online without starving, learning everyday and managing for change

Welcome to the Local Fix, you can subscribe here. 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: Easter Eggs and Online Ads. Local publisher Howard Owens recently introduced a new ad format on his site and used the opportunity to create a contest that could engage readers and advertisers. He hid “easter eggs” in ads around the site with opportunities for people to win gift certificates and cash.

Never Stop Learning

Part of what we hope to achieve with our Local News Lab project – along with our partners at CUNY and Montclair State University – is to research best practices, experiment with new ideas on the ground in newsrooms and develop awesome new trainings on revenue and engagement. A new report from the Poynter Institute and the Knight Foundation suggests that we need to be investing in much more training opportunities to help journalists and news organizations meet the new challenges of a changing media landscape. Luis Gomez at offers seven key takeaways from the report.If you missed the recent Online News Association workshop on the business of journalism, ONA has a great write-up full of links to presentations and lessons learned. There are really useful tips on how community engagement, events, membership and social media can help boost the bottom line. ONA and Poynter are also teaming up to offer a leadership academy for women in digital media – applications open next month.

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