A project of Democracy Fund

July 18, 2014

How to Innovate Locally: 20 Starting Points


This past weekend, I went to the Association of Alternative Newsmedia‘s annual conference in Nashville, where I caught a presentation by Alexa Schirtzinger on Innovating Locally. Alexa is a former editor-in-chief for the Santa Fe Reporter and has recently wrapped up her Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford working on innovation in journalism, atomization of the article, and business strategies for local news.

In her presentation, Alexa offered a sage list of 20 ways in which local media can take steps toward innovation, reminding the audience  that it must embrace continuous change.

Here is Alexa’s list, with some notes for clarification:

  1. Know your community
  2. Know thyself – know what you are good at
  3. Know your purpose – what are you trying to do?
  4. Listen
  5. Get personal – talk to people as people, drop the institutional voice
  6. Engage – reach beyond social media, engage in person
  7. Enlist allies…
  8. …and put them to work  as ambassadors
  9. Consider your user…
  10. … the use case…
  11. … and the whole journey. Understand your readers’ experience with you and your work.
  12.  Just try it
  13.  Rough beats ready – prototype, experiment, get feedback before investing too much
  14.  Take time to reflect
  15.  Be transparent
  16.  Innovate continuously
  17.  Get the data
  18.  Challenge all assumptions, even the ones you know to be true
  19.  Tear down your firewall – sales reps and editorial should understand each other’s jobs better
  20.  Have fun

What do you think of the list? Where do you see the biggest challenges?

It’s worth noting from the philanthropic perspective that every one of these 20 points applies to nonprofits in our communities too; they are not unique to the issues local journalism faces.

See the full AAN presentation here (including two amazing pie charts of the Texas Tribune’s revenue in Year 1 and Year 4). And for more from Alexa, see “Building a New Pipe” and her Tumblr.