A project of Democracy Fund

October 31, 2014

Local Fix: News Design as Plumbing, Building for Trust and Working With Freelancers


Welcome to the Local Fix. 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: Know Your Rights. Jeff Hermes of the Media Law Resource Center and a longtime advocate of for independent journalists, believes that “The biggest threat to press rights may be a failure to understand them.” Thisinterview in CJR offers some concrete advice for longtime local publishers and new start-ups.

Design as Plumbing: Thinking About How Journalism Works on the Web

The Texas Tribune launched their crowd funded series on the oil and gas industry this week with a terrific website and a creative navigation strategy. ProPublica and NPR also released a well designed investigation on the Red Cross’s failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both pieces illustrate how design can be a powerful tool to help make your journalism more accessible and impactful. In an interview last week Mike Monteiro made just this case: “Design is core. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s plumbing. It’s foundation… A website without design isn’t a house without art, it’s a house without a bathroom. Design is how things work. And good design is how things work well.”

Here are a few good recent links on news design. The folks at Immersive, a tool for creating well designed stories,covered a recent design event where newsrooms experimented with the design of their mobile sites – there are some great ideas there. Nieman Lab has a report back on a “hackathon” hosted by the Society for News Design. And late last month the New School announced a new undergraduate degree in “Journalism + Design” which applies design thinking to the entire journalism process.

>>> A few good links: Last year Journalism.co.uk created a list of “9 tools for journalists to produce immersive stories,” and last week Buffer reviewed 23 really simple but powerful tools to make compelling graphics.

Building for Trust: Opportunities for Local Newsrooms and Communities

Last week Richard Gingras & Sally Lehrman sparked a good conversation about journalism and trust. “Our new world of news and information, while richer in expression, is also rife with hidden motives and uneven trustworthiness. Quality journalism deserves a better fate than to be drowned in the maelstrom.” Right now, according to new numbers from the Pew Research Center, only 19% of people say they get news from a trusted source. Jeff Jarvis argues that we shouldn’t just point out dwindling trust, we should see it as an opportunity as Craig Silverman did when he launchedEmergent.Info and as Mark Little did when he launched the media verification company Storyfull. This led to a useful debate about the role of journalists, communities and tech companies in building trust, and whether trust is rooted in institutions or individuals.

A few thoughts for local newsrooms: Many local newsrooms benefit from strong interpersonal relationships between individual journalists and the community and have established trust in their brands. But, increasingly trust is not an automatic outcome of producing good content. It takes work to develop and maintain trust and it is far harder to build trust than to lose it. Is trust an active part of conversation in your newsroom? Is it shaping strategy? Are you taking concrete, intentional steps to build trust locally? I’d love to hear about how you are tackling trust locally.

>>> See also: The American Press Institute’s Fact Checking project looks at the journalist as referee. “How audiences react when reporters evaluate competing claims.”

Stronger Together: New Networks for Sharing What We Learn

Rafat Ali, founder of the travel industry news site Skift, wrote this week about the need to create stronger connections between vertical media companies focused on serving small passionate niches. There are “lots of lessons to be learned by sharing knowledge about building these vertical media companies,” he wrote. “For now, neither the success of the vertical companies nor these lessons get shared by the larger media covering the media or tech industry.” Ali proposes the creation of a collective to share how people are “building multi-platform, multi-faceted, multiple-revenue stream businesses.”

Some local sites might be interested in joining the new Vertical Collective. The same issues Ali was writing about happen within local news. There are a range of common struggles and unique experiments around the country, but too often those lessons don’t bubble up to the national level. Membership organizations like LION, AAN and INN provide important connective tissue for our sector. At the Local News Lab, and through this newsletter, we try to share best practices and connect people working to strengthen local news.

>>> These networks of support and learning are not always so formal. In the case of new trends towards “showing your work,” and the idea of “horizontal loyalty,”  we see a fundamental shift in the way newsrooms operate with an emphasis on sharing, learning and supporting.

From the Local News Lab: Freelance Resources for Small Newsrooms and Real Talk on Journalism Philanthropy.

What are the best practices for small hyperlocal news start-ups to ethically cultivate a network of freelancers and community contributors? Over at the Local News Lab this week I published an initial list of resources for freelancers and small local newsrooms, including tips on insurance, contracts, security and more. Most of what I found was designed for freelancers to avoid being taken advantage of by newsrooms or for big newsroom managers to avoid breaking laws around freelancer labor. But, there was little or nothing designed for small newsrooms and freelancers who want to create a positive collaborative relationship. I hope this is a useful start.

In another post on the site, Molly de Aguiar tries to demystify foundation  grants for nonprofit journalists. Her post calls on foundations to be more transparent, but also outlines some important tips for those applying for grants: Show us the possibilities, Have a clear mission and vision,  Be smart about revenue, Collaborate enthusiastically with others, Be honest with us about the challenges in your work, but embrace those challenges as opportunities. Read the whole post here.

>>> Have you seen our list of tools and resources for community engagement and sustainability? Check it outand send us feedback about other things we should include.