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August 25, 2014

Local Fix: Newsroom insights from Ferguson, Ann Arbor, Detroit and Tulsa

Subscribe to have the Local Fix delivered to you on Fridays. 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 ideaRethink memberships. In a speech at the Weapons of Mass Creation conference Melody Kramer of NPR offers a useful framework for thinking about how to build community and investment in local journalism. While the focus is on public radio, the ideas are applicable to any local newsroom.

You’ll notice a slightly different format this week. Instead of focusing on four big ideas, this week’s newsletter focuses on four important places. Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and tips.

Ferguson – community engagement, citizen media, press suppression

The events in Ferguson have put an spotlight on issues of race and justice in America, but have also highlighted key issues in the media from press freedom to newsroom diversity. While journalists from across the country descend on Ferguson, local newsrooms face unique challenges and opportunities.

The Columbia Journalism Review says that local news has provided some of the best coverage of Ferguson. “For us, this is not just an important story. This is home,” wrote Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio. The radio station is trying to use community voices to steer their Ferguson coverage. Jessica Lussenhop, managing editor of St. Louis’s Riverfront Times argued that “alt-weeklies are all about telling the stories of American cities. And this is an important moment in an American city.” Both editors discussed difficult choices they had to make around newsroom resources and journalist safety. On that note, theWashington Post described how many journalists are learning as they go when it comes to covering protests like those in Ferguson. Both Mallary Jean Tenore andJeff Jarvis wrote useful posts exploring how journalism could help the community, not just report on the events unfolding there.

>>> On the Local News Lab I look at citizen journalism in Ferguson and how local newsrooms can be partners to their community.

Ann Arbor – a popular and profitable local news site closes its doors

2424595836_b374a94afc_zLast week the six year old Ann Arbor Chronicle announced that it would cease publishing next month. Like many local online start-ups the Chronicle was run by a small team of two, husband and wife Dave Askins and Mary Morgan. The site was popular, growing and financially stable. “The Chronicle paid its bills with enough left over for us to earn a livelihood. And financially speaking, I think our approach could have been sustained into the indefinite future,” wrote Askin. But the work of running the site consumed every waking minute and the couple felt as through they needed a change: “I’d like to stop before I am dead, because there’s more I’d like to do in life than add to The Chronicle’s archive.”

NiemanLab has a good overview of how their model worked, as well as an earlier post on the Chronicle’s growth. And my colleague Molly de Aguiar discusses howsustainability has to go beyond paying the bills, and what the role of philanthropy might be.

>>> In 2012 Poynter hosted a web-chat on how to know when it is time to get out of journalism and from that offered 10 strategies for avoiding newsroom burnout.

Detroit – rebuilding journalism in a city that is rebuilding

In December, on the heels of Detroit filing for bankruptcy, the Ford and Knight Foundations announced they were funding a new journalism project to “focus on the city’s financial straits and engage citizens in the search for innovative solutions.” The Detroit Journalism Cooperative emphasizes a grassroots approach to reporting and collaboration across five local nonprofits. For an example of how one partner thinks about these issues, see this post on WDET’s work to move beyond “transactional journalism” But they aren’t alone in their effort to foster journalism that helps rebuild the city. The tag line for Motor City Muckraker, a one-person local digital news start-up, is “Independent News Dedicated to Improving Detroit.” This spring the Columbia Journalism Review profiled Muckraker editor Steve Neavling and his attempts to make hard hitting city reporting sustainable.

Last year, New America Media also profiled the work of ethnic media around Detroit, highlighting the important role these outlets are playing in the city. Detroit’s alt-weekly Metro-Times has been undertaking an aggressive effort to expand its service to the city. CJR reports that there have been some growing pains but also a lot of important successes.

>>> See also: How the Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer for commentary

Tulsa – students and start-ups invest in experiments and collaboration

Oklahoma is not often looked to as a hub of media innovation, but one of the local sites I am most excited about is based there in Tulsa. This Land Press hasn’t made many waves in the future of journalism discussions but they are doing great work while also pushing the envelope and experimenting with lots of exciting new ideas. The Columbia Journalism Review profiled This Land Press in 2012 pointing out its slow news approach, its community funding model, and its multimedia strategy. In fact, in an earlier piece on This Land Press, CJR didn’t call it a news site, but rather “a new media company.”

Before This Land Press there was, and still is, Oklahoma Watch. Sandy Rowe, in an early profile of Oklahoma Watch, points out the organization’s unique founding as a partnership between “two newspapers, the Oklahoma Press Association, a commercial TV station, a public radio station and the University of Oklahoma journalism department.” The University of Oklahoma just received an ONA “Hack the Curriculum” grant for a new project focused on using video journalism and public data to stimulate conversation and foster policy change on local issues. And PBS MediaShift has a great profile of how journalism students in Oklahoma led the way in coverage of the Moore tornadoes.

>>> Looking at coverage of the Moore tornadoes, Jane McManus argues against “forced positivity” and “silver-linings reporting” in the face of mounting tragedies.

Photo by Flickr user David Harris, used via creative commons.