A project of Democracy Fund

December 20, 2014

Local Fix: Creating amazing things online without starving, learning everyday and managing for change

Welcome to the Local Fix, you can subscribe here. 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: Easter Eggs and Online Ads. Local publisher Howard Owens recently introduced a new ad format on his site and used the opportunity to create a contest that could engage readers and advertisers. He hid “easter eggs” in ads around the site with opportunities for people to win gift certificates and cash.

Never Stop Learning

Part of what we hope to achieve with our Local News Lab project – along with our partners at CUNY and Montclair State University – is to research best practices, experiment with new ideas on the ground in newsrooms and develop awesome new trainings on revenue and engagement. A new report from the Poynter Institute and the Knight Foundation suggests that we need to be investing in much more training opportunities to help journalists and news organizations meet the new challenges of a changing media landscape. Luis Gomez at Journo.biz offers seven key takeaways from the report. If you missed the recent Online News Association workshop on the business of journalism, ONA has a great write-up full of links to presentations and lessons learned. There are really useful tips on how community engagement, events, membership and social media can help boost the bottom line. ONA and Poynter are also teaming up to offer a leadership academy for women in digital media – applications open next month.

The Economics of Creating Online

It can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of the seemingly perpetual changes in online ads – how they are valued, sold and viewed. Forbes recently had a useful round-up of five big developments in advertising. It’s a good cheat sheet for those who want to stay abreast of the big industry changes. For another big overview check out this video on “News in a Post Advertising World.” Next week the NJ News Commons is hosting a live edition of their podcasts on the future of local online advertising – it promises to be a very good conversation. RSVP or tune in here. On his podcast this week, Benjamen Walker takes a long look at the history of online ads and the challenges the advertising model presents for independent creators. At Salon, Cory Doctorow argues that “the creative class is not screwed” and inventories ways the Internet helps creators make a living. In a detailed post-mortem on their recent tour, Jack Conte of the band Pomplamoose reveals their budget and argues that independent creators “have not ‘made it.’ We’re making it.” There is a lot in this post that local journalists will relate to – and can learn from. (Note: the post has come under some amount of criticism which is also worth reviewing.) Conte is also the founder of Patreon, a crowdfunding platform focused on developing long-term community support, not funding one-time projects. His talk on the new economics of creating on the web from the XOXO festival is worth watching.

Collaboration is Not Easy

Pew has a new report out today which includes a useful set of case studies of local news collaborations. “What these collaborations mean for the public—at least in theory—is broader and deeper news coverage, more easily accessed or discovered,” write the authors. “What they mean for news organizations is—depending on one’s place at the table—a more diverse mix of content to offer, broader reach and more scalable reporting.” The report focuses primarily on content collaborations – which are the most common. But there are lessons here for other kinds of collaboration between newsrooms too.Last month the Investigative News Network discussed some of the keys to a successful collaboration. And, we are increasingly seeing newsrooms partnering with non-news organizations to find creative ways to extend the reach and impact of their reporting. For example, the Guardian recently reported that it was partnering with the Royal Court theatre “on an unprecedented series of ‘microplays’ which bring together journalism and the theatre.” Similarly, we are seeing more and more coding workshops and hackathons, like the recent Fusion partnership with Chicas Poderosas and Hacks/Hackers, bringing stakeholders together around news and information.

Managing For Change

Whether you are a small newsroom with a few staff or a larger local news organization with a big team, a key challenge you face is managing for change. At CJR, Erin Polgreen details lessons from start-ups Storyful and Unworthy and applies them to newsroom management. Also at CJR editor Liz Spayd interviews management consultant Jill Geisler on how to run a successful newsroom. I really appreciated this post from Amy Schmitz Weiss on learning from failure. The framework she presents – constructive versus defensive strategies – is a useful guide to thinking about shaping newsroom culture.In a very different vein, Ben Balter of GitHub has a great post on effective internal staff communications. It is written about the team at GitHub but suggests lessons for any organization. And, finally, if you are not following Brian Boyer’s blog (and newsletter) on “Management hacks for web makers” – go there now.

(By the way… Each year I publish a round-up of amazing journalism that use the web in new ways to tell powerful stories. I’m looking for tips, especially from local newsrooms, for stories I should include for 2014. Here are my lists from 2013 and 2012.)