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July 14, 2014

The Local Fix: Covering Storms, Data Stories and Syndication

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we 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: Survey your users. Yeah, I know, surveys are nothing new. But Quartz recently took surveys to a whole new level. In a post on Medium, Quartz’s Mia Mabantadetails how they got 940 of the world’s business leaders to tell them how they consume news and respond to advertising. There’s many good lessons here for local publishers to think about how they can creatively use surveys to listen to their stakeholders.

1) Stormy Weather: Journalism in the wake of disaster

In moments of crisis, local journalists often do incredible work to support their communities. We can learn a lot about how to prepare for these events by looking back at how other newsrooms have responded. A piece in Grist this week looked at the role of local news start-ups in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Greg Hanscome wrote, “during the storm and its immediate aftermath that the power of community journalism — and the community ties it can strengthen — was really on display.” And in a podcast produced by the NJ News Commons, Debbie Galant talks with Justin Auciello of Jersey Shore Hurricane News and Benjamen Walker about their new interactive app that captures the sounds and the stories of the storm. Earlier this month Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh) held a summit with journalists and artists focused on the need for “restorative narratives.” Mallary Tenore, the director of ivoh asks “What if newsrooms were to put as much emphasis on recovery and restoration as they did on tragedy and devastation?” Both the Dart Center and the Journalists’ Toolbox have collected good resources on covering disasters.

>>> Where there is weather, there are maps, and this week CartoDB launched a stunning new open-source tool for narrative map making. “Odyssey.js enables users without coding skills to build interactive stories using text, images, videos and maps.”  

2) Legal Eagle: Tools and resources for local newsrooms

6273219944_df29718123_zAfter seven years helping serve the legal needs of local newsrooms and independent journalists Harvard’s Digital Media Law Project is shutting down. We need strong legal support for journalism entrepreneurs now more than ever, with new legal threats facing digital journalists and a wave of new hyperlocals emerging. The DMLP has been a critical resource for many local news start-ups and thankfully they are spinning off key pieces of their work and their in-depth resources will live on. Here is a link to some of their resources as well as other great legal trainings from Poynter and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

>>> The Investigative News Network also has a legal help section for journalism non-profits that has useful information, including some contract-related and employment-related material.

3) Stories in Numbers: Data journalism debates and trainings

Data journalism holds huge potential for newsrooms, but also huge potential for mistakes and misrepresentation. The data visualization expert Alberto Cairo argued this week that “There’s a need for a journalism which is more rigorous and scientific. Data skills shouldn’t be the turf of a small guild of savants — they should permeate journalism in general.” In a post with good tips on “interviewing data,” Derek Willis of the New York Times argues that “Journalists who wouldn’t consider themselves ‘data journalists’ already have the necessary foundation for asking good questions of data.” Over on EducationShift there is a good Q&A with Alex Howard on learning data journalism and doing it with integrity, ethics and care. And each week the Global Investigative Journalism Network collects the ten best data journalism linkswith a lot of useful tips for newsrooms of all sizes. I’m excited to see how local newsrooms increasingly tap into local data about their towns and cities to serve communities and surface new stories. Over on the News-Biz blog, Jake Batsell reminds us that data can also be a revenue stream. In just four months, ProPublica has made roughly $30,000 by selling data sets they created as part of their reporting.

>>> You don’t need to know how to code to do data journalism, but if you want to know how to code here are 9 free platforms for journalists to learn.

4) Content Syndication: Making sharing pay

This month, popular content syndication tool Repost.us announced it was shutting down. But we are still seeing creative experiments in content sharing. Back in march the Washington Post piloted a program that offered free digital access to Post content to subscribers of other metro newspapers around the country. Subscribers get another benefit for subscribing to their local paper, and the Post gets more traffic. Michele McLellan reports that syndication is “a small but fast-growing revenue stream” for local start-ups. More established nonprofits like the Center for Investigative Reporting, which has syndication arrangements with 13 partners, are bringing in steady revenue from those partnerships. However, most agree that syndication isn’t a slam dunk. Nieman Lab and the Investigative Reporting Workshop both have a number of case studies with good analysis of what’s working (and what’s not).

>>> On a related note, Google’s Matt Cutts says 25-30% of the web’s content is duplicate content. Here is why he thinks that’s okay.

Photo by John Ramspott on Flickr, used via creative commons