A project of Democracy Fund

January 16, 2015

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.

Codes of Conduct and Comment Sections

“No comment” is taking on a whole new meaning as more and more big national publications close their comment sections. While it seems that every day brings news of another site turning off comments, at the local level I’m seeing far fewer sites abandoning comments. Creating meaningful debate and respectful discourse takes a lot of work, but for many local sites that work is worth it. VTDigger recently published a message to readers on why they have implemented a zero tolerance policy on personal attacks. Ken Freedman of WFMU believes “troll whispering” is the key to disarm combative commentators. New research from the Engaging News Project seems to back that up. At the American Press Institute Talia Stroud outlines some useful lessons from that research.

At Nieman Reports, Helen Lewis explores “what GamerGate can teach journalists about handling twitter storms.” Earlier, Erin Kissane wrote about the importance ofCodes of Conduct for tech and journalism conferences, but the post has useful lessons for thinking about intentionally building community on or offline. For more on that, check out Christina Wodtke’s post on Codes of Conduct at A List Apart.

Testing New Models of Native Ads

Native advertising, sponsored content, brand voices, embedded ads – this still emerging category of paid content goes by many names and takes many forms. Most local newsrooms I talk to have complicated feelings about native ads and are still exploring how to approach the form ethically and effectively. Last month, the American Press Institute broke down four distinct business models for sponsored content. The breakdown is useful as small newsrooms align their goals and ethics with the potential revenue these products present. But it is worth noting that the Federal Trade Commission may be releasing guidelines on native ads next year.

Digiday offers their take on the state of native advertising in five charts and profiles how the UK-based niche publisher Dennis Publishing has expanded the reach of their native ads. Mathew Ingram thinks that sites should pay close attention to how Medium is doing native ads. If you haven’t seen John Oliver’s take on native ads, do watch it now.

Send Better Newsletters

This fall an ad for an email newsletter went viral. That seems like a fitting metaphor for the meteoric rise in popularity of email newsletters this year. This week The Skimm, a newsletter that promises to give you concise summaries of “everything you need to start your day,” announced it had raised $6.25 million from investors. Here are some recent tips for how to make the most of your newsletter:

How to get a 50% email open rate from new subscribers – Emma
Speaking to Subscribers in Their Own Language – MailChimp on Auto-Translating Newsletters
Why Publishers Struggle with Email Marketing Basics – eMarketer
Email Newsletter Success Metrics – Ryan Thornburg

(Just as I was getting ready to hit send on this email, NYU professor Jay Rosen published a new blog post entitled “When to Quit Your Journalism Job,” about how critical it is for everyone who works in news to understand business models, revenue strategies and organizational sustainability. I recommend it.)