A project of Democracy Fund

November 21, 2014

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.

Hope For Local News

The newsrooms I work with on a daily basis are bullish about the future of local news and they approach their work with hope, passion and a fiery commitment to their communities. In a piece titled, “Is There Hope for Local News” Alana Semuels of the Atlantic profiles Tim Redmond, the former editor of the recently shuttered San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent. The long piece really captures the passion communities have for local news, but also how hard it is to quantify that passion. At the Reynolds Journalism Institute Nikki Usher argues that lack of hard numbers has led to a lack of investment in the sector. “And yet it’s local news that is suffering most and in need of the attention of VCs and others who can rethink how to recharge the profit and product of local news. VCs need to start taking risks on local news, for the sake of all of us, but with the potential for high return.”

In the Columbia Journalism Review Tamar Wilner writes, “Knoxville’s alt-weekly wasn’t losing money. It got shut down anyway.” The Scripps company is replacing the alt-weekly with an entertainment insert in the local paper. When the news got out, local people rallied in downtown Knoxville. Street Fight Magazine profiles a very different local news organization that is expanding from a news site to a platform for others to build upon and Street Fight offered 5 tips for the aspiring hyperlocal publisher.

Feedback Loops and Habits

Don’t miss this great interview with Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” at the American Press Institute about how to keep readers coming back for more. Sarah Marshall, social media editor for WSJ, builds on a talk by Eyal to outline why social media is especially key to creating habit-forming news sites.

Over at The Media Briefing Chris Sutcliffe also talks with Sarah Marshall about how analytics tools can create positive feedback loops. I appreciated that Marhsall talks about the need to think about providing value to your community on social media, not just getting as many clicks as possible back to your content.  Marketing Land dives into a new study on how individual identity influences the way audiences share (the study is by marketing firm Fractl).

Empathy Over Technology

What is the role of empathy in developing stronger connections between newsrooms and communities, in improving our reporting and in building great products at news organizations? Yuri Victor of Vox.com gave a speech at TEDxPoynter exploring how empathy can improve how we work together in newsrooms, especially when we are trying to push forward transformative ideas. Similarly, Brian Solis looks at disruption and sees a challenge of empathy, not technology. In an interview on his site this week he says, “At the heart, digital transformation is the story of how people are changing… Innovation doesn’t always correlate to technology. Most of the time, it starts with perspective: seeing things differently.”

Starting with a people-first approach demands new kids of listening. At the Local News Lab this week I wrote about five kinds of listening for newsrooms and communities and why we need to expand the role of listening across the journalism process