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September 4, 2014

Local Fix: Partnerships, Homepages, Challenging Conversations

Subscribe to get the Local Fix delivered to your inbox 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 idea: Be a Facilitator and a Creator. The Gazette Company in Iowa has launched a fascinating local project called “We Create Here” which describes its mission as: “Empowering the citizens of Iowa’s Creative Corridor to connect and engage with the issues that affect them.” I was particularly interested in how they think about “Intent, Collaboration and Context” as central values.

How Should Local Newsrooms Use Their Homepages?

It was just a few months ago that everyone was declaring the homepage dead. The Atlantic argued that when “publishers lost the homepage firehose, and gained a social media flood,” it made the news “more about readers, and less about news.” But the financial website Quartz brought the homepage back to life with their redesigned site this month. The new Quartz homepage is modeled after a memo of the top news of the moment tailored for their specific audience. If local newsrooms reimagined their homepages this way, what would they look like? If you could write a memo to your community about the big issues of the day, what would you include? AnnArbor.com tried to redesign their homepage as a stream, but gave up not long after. But maybe the homepage shouldn’t be just a portal to information. Ann Friedman has argued that perhaps the homepage should be more like a magazine cover, defining the look and feel of the site, rather than a doorway into specific stories.

>>> Here is Search Engine Land’s tips for what to include and leave off your homepage

Can Journalism Help Short-Circuit the Spiral of Silence?

New research out this week from the Pew Center for Internet and Society looks at how social media enables or inhibits challenging conversations about pressing civic and political issues. The researchers found that people were less likely to voice dissenting opinions on controversial issues online than offline. “Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us,” wrote Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times. This report highlights the need, and the opportunity, for local newsrooms to help facilitate these important conversation and create safe spaces on and offline for challenging conversations to occur. Jonathan Stray has explored this idea of reporter as moderator, in which journalists are “responsible for the process of public discussion by which problems are defined and turned into plans for the future.” In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review profiled journalists they called “discourse leaders.”

>>> Be sure to check out St. Louis Public Radio’s community conversation on the events in Ferguson.

Why National News is Partnering With Local Journalists

More and more national news organizations are partnering with local newsrooms and the results are pretty exciting. This week ProPublica and The Lens, in New Orleans, released an impressive joint report on the swiftly eroding Louisiana shoreline. The Columbia Journalism Review also reported this week that The Guardian is investing in more of these kinds of local partnerships including reporting projects on immigration issues with the Texas Observer and racial profiling with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Huffington Post is also partnering with Beacon Reader and a local citizen journalists to extend their Ferguson coverage. In public broadcasting, the Argo Project and the Local Journalism Center initiative both added useful infrastructure to these partnerships. Done right, these partnerships can shine a huge national spotlight on local reporters and local issues. They also present unique advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

>>> Columbia University’s Tow Center has the story behind the ProPublica/Lens partnership and the tech they used (which is all available for others to use)

Facebook Takes On Click Bait and Starts Labeling Satire

Two recent changes in Facebook’s news feed have implications for newsrooms. Facebook just announced they were adjusting their algorithm to take on “click bait” articles. A big part of how Facebook defines “click bait” is how much time people spend on a site once they click on a link in their feed. “If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable,” Facebook said in a company blog post. “If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted.” That definition had some people worried about how the changes would affect publishers who specialize in shorter form content, but others suggested it won’t have much impact. This month, Facebook also began labeling content from some sites – like the Onion – as satire. At Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech asked if Facebook thinks its users are dumb, but New York Magazine’s Melissa Dahl argued that the tag is a good thing. At the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey wondered if the tag could help tamp down on the spread of hoax news stories.

>>> After Twitter and YouTube took down images and video of journalist James Foley’s beheading it raised new questions about who controls what we see online and whose choice that should be.