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July 7, 2014

Local Fix: Design for Engagement, Delivering via Email, and Crowdfunding Beats

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we’ll look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. Sign up to get the Local Fix delivered each week.

One Good Idea: Unbolt Your Newsroom. Steve Buttry has posted “a manual for unbolting your newsroom from print culture and processes,” which is full of ideas and concrete examples of innovative local news experiments from around the country. It is a great resource, even if you are a digital-only newsroom without any print history.

1) Making the Most of Email Newsletters – expanding readers, revenue and results

Ok, this is going to get a bit meta for a minute – I’m going to talk about email newsletters in an email newsletter. This week, David Carr took a long look at why email newsletters are so popular right now (Carr wasn’t the first to document this trend). Outside of newsrooms, email newsletters and listservs are still popular places for local discussion and information sharing. Parenting lists, neighborhood groups, small business networks and more are using email to communicate about local issues. Increasingly news organizations are tapping into that trend.

But it is one thing to know that email newsletters are popular, and another to know how to make your newsletter succeed (and generate revenue). Here are five articles with concrete advice for creating better email newsletters:

2) From Communities to Crowdfunders – opportunities for local newsrooms to tap the crowd

This week a small local publisher in San Francisco ended a Kickstarter campaign with more than 1,000 people providing over $20,000 (last year a Bay Area podcast raised$170,000 on Kickstarter). On his blog former News & Record editor John Robinson asks if this kind of crowdsourced effort could be targeted to help fund local beats. Robinson suggests that crowdfunding has two benefits: 1) it permits the community of readers to weigh in on what it wants 2) it spreads the funding responsibility among the entire community of readers. This comes just a month after Kickstarter launched a dedicated category for journalists.

ProPublica has a good overview of Kickstarter lessons for journalists. But Kickstarter is just one of many new platforms, from Beacon to Patreon, that can help journalists crowdfund their work. One group of journalists is even creating a co-op model rooted in crowdfunding. Last year, Poynter offered 13 ways to get your journalism crowdfunded. There is a lot of room for experimentation here and creative opportunities to engage both readers and advertisers in your crowdfunding campaign.

Beyond crowdfunding, the Local News Lab recently looked at how can we can create local networks that make it easy for people to fund and support multiple newsrooms and journalists at once.

3) Designing for Community Engagement – what casinos have to do with news sites

From comment sections to donate buttons, the design choices you make on your site can send a strong message to readers. In a post on the Local News Lab, my colleague Molly De Aguiar looks at how three news sites invite engagement through clever site designs that spark participation. The three sites “invite genuine audience participation, welcoming readers as partners right from the start, and then follow up with a variety of creative and simple ways to get involved.” Once you have readers engaged, how can you keep them engaged? Build your site like a Casino. Al Shaw of ProPublica writes that “Casino-Driven Design cuts away all distraction and drives the user’s attention toward staying focused on a single task.” And over on Source, Zoe Fraade-Blanar, writes about why and how good interaction design thinks about users first.

We are collecting other examples of local news sites that are designing for engagement. Tell us what your newsroom is doing or send tips to @GRDodgeMedia or @jcstearns on Twitter or just reply to this email.

4) When News Feeds Aren’t Neutral – using social media to drive traffic versus engagement

Much has been written about how Facebook’s algorithms shape who sees your news, but this week we also learned that Facebook has been experimenting with people’s news feeds to manipulate emotional responses. News Whip found that people are sharing news on Facebook more than ever, and “interaction with content on Facebook rose by 23% between January and April.” How best to take advantage of that sharing?

Fast Company has put together 10 things you should know about social media strategy including useful tips for engaging fans, timing tweets and posts and more. Another report released recently suggests that there are different times of day that are best for driving traffic to your site, versus driving engagement with your audience. But social media isn’t just about distribution, and Sarah Marshall of the Wall Street Journal sums up some of the ways journalist can mine Facebook for stories.

Also check out how local journalists and communities can use Facebook in the wake of natural disasters from the Joplin tornados to the Jersey Shore.

Have you tried the “Can You Tell What Makes a Good Tweet?” quiz, created by the New York Times?