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.

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