A project of Democracy Fund

November 21, 2014

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.

Beyond Banners

The banner ad turns 20 this week and while local publishers are looking well beyond banners for the future of revenue, most sites still rely on those big boxes. Ad Age has a “look back at the polarizing ad unit’s biggest moments” and the NY Times dubs banners “the monster that swallowed the web.” As we imagine new ways of connecting readers and advertisers there are lessons in the history of banner ads. Then again, “Local advertising as we know it will disappear by 2024, re-emerging in the form of promotions,” argues Gordan Borrrell at Net NewsCheck.There are some great tools out there to help small newsrooms design, build and sell compelling ads for local business. TripleLift and PaperG use elements from a website’s current design to build ads and native content that matches the look and feel of a brand. Google Web Designer and BannerSnack make it easy to quickly mock up banner ads. For more links like this check out CUNY professor Jeremy Caplan’s round-up from his Beyond Banners panel at the Innovating Local conference earlier this year.

Art for Journalism’s Sake

Over at the Knight Digital Media Center Sally Duros reports on how WBEZ  is using art to engage the Chicago community in “a cycle of journalism feeding art feeding conversation.” The Investigative News Network just awarded Wisconsin Watch withan innovation grant for “Art + Journalism forums.” Interestingly, both these projects focus on water issues. At her blog Amanda Hirsch argued this week that where daily news fails, art steps in. She looks at how art can extend debates which began in the news, and why, at times, they can feel so much more engaging.In case you missed it, last week Al Jazeera America released a terrific illustrated journalism project focused on “Understanding our role in the world of Big Data.” But that’s not all, they also released the tools they created to make their comics-journalism feature so others could experiment with the form too. On the other side of this equation, the Baltimore Sun profiled a number of arts organizations that arehiring journalists to expand arts coverage in their communities.

A List of Lists

I always try to pack these newsletters full of useful resources you can actually put to work in your newsrooms. This week I’ve stumbled on so many good lists, it has necessitated the unthinkable: a list of lists…

A note to readers: If you teach in a journalism department I’d love to hear your feedback about how this newsletter could be useful to you in your classes or how I could adapt it to suite the classroom setting. Just hit reply to send me your thoughts.

Have a good weekend.
Josh