A project of Democracy Fund

October 17, 2014

LocalFix: What we can learn from cutting edge journalism projects

I’ve got a slightly different format for the Local Fix this week, but we will still start with one good idea:

One Good Idea: Be State Smart. The nonpartisan National Priorities Project released a new tool this week to help journalists (and anybody else) track federal spending down to the state level, including how federal dollars are used in your state from salaries to public assistance programs. There is also data on what businesses in your state are paying in federal taxes. This will be a great tool research on budget issues and contextualizing federal spending for local communities.

Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, but this week we are trying something a little different. Over the last week the Investigative News Network, the Nieman Foundation and the Knight Foundation announced a raft of new experiments and projects. Below I’ll highlight a few that are worth keeping an eye on for local news.

Investigative News Network – INNovation Fund

With support from the Knight Foundation INN just announced $226,020 in grants to eight nonprofit news organizations for experiments in revenue and sustainability. Three of the projects stuck out to me because of their community-first approach. The Carolina Public Press is hosting 18 community listening sessionswith “potential readers, subscribers and policymakers” in the Blue Ridge mountains. The Lens in New Orleans is expanding its “Speakers Bureau” to give communities direct access to their journalists. And the Citizens Campaign is launching a “community day” which explores the role of news in Paterson, New Jersey, and will build on their citizen journalism training and storytelling boot camp.

Other projects emphasized creative distribution strategies. For example, High Country News is “partnering with colleges and universities nationwide to integrate HCN’s content into science, economics and environment courses.” And inewsource is developing a “syndication and distribution program among up to 90 community news outlets in the San Diego area.” The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is collaborating with artists to connect journalism and sculpture, and bring news into art events.

The Knight Foundation – The Prototype Fund

The Knight Prototype Fund focuses on early stage products and ideas that need a runway to support “rapid iteration and testing of ideas” This week the Knight Foundation announced investments in 18 new projects which will each receive $35,000. There are a number of great digital security related projects but I want to focus on a few others that help develop new tools for citizen participation in journalism. Creative Commons is creating a mobile app that “allows users to capture and share” creative commons photos through a public repository, and Andrew Chavez is creating a small battery-powered device to allow photojournalists (or others) “to stream photos to the newsroom in near real time.” MuckRock is building a mobile app that allows users to contribute to news stories with quick crowdsourcing assignments and SciStarter is connecting data journalists with citizen scientists.

Public Radio International wants to help people respond to and take action on issues within news stories and theParticipatory Politics Foundation is “building tools that will allow media organizations to enable their readers to ask questions and get answers from public figures.” Rhizome will create “a tool that will allow the archiving and preservation of social media conversations in context (the likes, the threaded responses, the aesthetics)” and Nicholas Diakopoulos is going to be working on making it easier for newsrooms “to quickly identify high-quality comments that they can then highlight on their sites.”


The Nieman Foundation – Visiting Fellows

Each year the Nieman Foundation invites a few people with promising ideas to advance journalism to spend a few weeks or months at Harvard researching and developing their projects. This year three of the six projects focus on community engagement and new ways of accessing the news. Melody Kramer of NPR “will develop a new model for public media membership to include non-financial forms of contributions and use of local stations’ physical space for community building.” Dean Haddock of StoryCorps is transforming the StoryCorps model to a more distributed, broadly participatory approach rooted in mobile devices. Jack Riley, who leads audience development for The Huffington Post UK, will research the “future impact of smartwatches and wearable devices” on how people access and consume news.


Creating Space, Sparks, and Support for Local News Innovation

What connects each of these fellowships and funding opportunities is their focus on testing concrete ideas for the future of news. They are worth watching because these projects emphasize actionable innovation that addresses real needs and opportunities.

In the day-to-day work of local newsrooms it can be hard to carve out the time to invest in developing a new idea, a new revenue stream, a new strategy. That’s why grants and fellowships like the ones above exist, and why we started our project at LocalNewsLab.org. We want to help create the space, the sparks, and the support for you to follow your big idea for local news.

As a disclosure, I should say that I know many of the people mentioned above, and consider some of them to be good friends. I know that they are looking for allies and collaborators and that they are willing and eager to share what they learn. So if anything above sparked your interest reach out, or let me know and I’m happy to make an introduction.

Next week we’ll be back to our normal format with a slew of new links and resources. Until then, drop me a line and say hello or send tips to @jcstearns on Twitter.