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May 25, 2014

The Local Fix: Rethinking Mobile, Revisiting Paywalls and more

Welcome to the Local Fix newsletter, where we look back at the week’s journalism debates through the lens of local news. Once a week we will be curating some of the best writing on journalism sustainability and pairing it with concrete advice, tools and resources for local journalists. Have tips? Send them to jstearns@grdodge.org or on Twitter to @jcstearns. 

1) Rethinking Mobile – it is not a distribution channel, it is a situation. 

There is a lot of attention being paid to mobile right now, and for good reason. But over on his blog, Steve Gray argues that most of the debate over the future of mobile news has been too limited  “To someone who only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the newspaper industry, the hammer we have is news. And right now, the new nail is mobile.” Mobile is a huge opportunity for local media, Gray says, because we use our mobile phones to respond to real-life needs, not just to read the news, and much of that activity deals with accessing local information. When we think mobile, Gray says, we need to be thinking about the services we can provide to help people tackle the needs they have.

WHYY has launched a mobile news trivia game.
How small screens impact photojournalism — and tips for adapting.

10147209386_12ffb52854_b2) A Crash Course in Sales – learning from the best.

Good advice rarely gets old. Below are a number of terrific sales trainings and presentations from the past few years by Eleanor Cippel (formerly of E.W. Scripps, now at Digital First). If you have never seen these before, they are terrifically practical and profoundly useful. Cippel outlines a very concrete and manageable step-by-step process for structuring your ad sales, whether you do it yourself or work with staff. “Unless someone is walking by with a tray floating you money,” Cippel says, “you have to ask people for money, and to do that you have to understand what your value is.”

How independent news organizations can build sales.
Eleanor Cippel on how to close the deal.
Eleanor Cippel’s tough love on sales for community news publishers at BxB12.
Videos and slides of a few of her talks.

3) Money, Money, Money – paywall, patrons, and micro payments. 

Everywhere I turned last week there were interesting debates about membership models, micopayments, subscriptions and more. Don’t miss Debbie Galant’s interview with Brian Carroll, of Tinypass, and Bill Bowman, of the Franklin Reporter and Advocate on the NJ News Commons podcast. And check out NPR’s interview with Linus Olsson, co-founder and CEO of FLATTR a platform for “social micro donations.” I’ve also been following the growth of Patreon which is like a mix between subscriptions and Kickstarter, so your community can support you over time, not just on one project. None of these tools are going to be right for everyone. In thinking about employing these and other tools, you should talk to your community and strategize about how best to leverage and deepen their support.

4) Innovation is Hard – and why networks matter. 

Two reports have been creating a buzz in the last week. One is a leaked internal report from the New York Times about their struggles to transform the news organization for the digital age. The other is a report out of Duke University, which looks at similar questions in the local media context, and is titled “The Goat Must Be Fed.”  Both reports are mostly about the tension between print and digital, something most local digital start-ups don’t have to navigate. But the reports are still full of important lessons about workflows, challenges of balancing the work of daily news reporting with pushing innovation and experiments for the future of our organizations. Emily Bell of Columbia University sums up the key findings well in a post at CJR: “Doing journalism and keeping up with what is happening within journalism and the wider digital ecosystem at the same time is impossible.” See also this summary by longtime digital journalist and hyperlocal publisher Mark Potts.

The tensions described in these reports, also highlight why new networks are so important to help expand the capacity of journalists to take risks and invest in innovation. Hubs of journalism collaboration and resources like the NJ News Commons are critical in supporting journalists with new tools and training to push their work forward. And, just as important these networks provide support structures for people to connect with each other, learn from each other, and build more sustainable strategies together.

Image by Flickr user Anton Muhajir, used under creative commons.