A project of Democracy Fund

February 11, 2015

Local Fix: Building Better News Products, #PubRadioVoice and Spreading the (Journalism) Plague


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: Be The Calm in the Storm. The storm this week on the east coast looked pretty bad, and in Boston and Rhode Island it lived up to many of the worst case scenarios. In the face of storms like this people turn to the media, and newsrooms have to strike a delicate balance in their coverage. This service tracker is a nice example of how you can provide real useful real time info as the storm unfolds. It is simple, not flashy, just useful.

From Snapchat to the Plague

We are awash in new mobile and social channels to distribute our work and engage our communities. This is both exciting and overwhelming. As such, I try not to cover every shiny new thing unless it really has some potential for local newsrooms. This week Snapchat introduced a new “Discover” feature and partnerships with a handful of big publishers. At Neiman Lab Josh Benton argues that “By putting mobile-native news adjacent to messages from friends, Snapchat could be helping create part of the low-friction news experience many want and need.” Early reviews are positive but we’ve yet to see how the program will expand to smaller local newsrooms. I recently got tipped off to a much more geographically based social sharing tool called Plague. With Plague you can only share a link with four people who are close by. David Cohn has a nice write up of the app and some thoughts about its usefulness to journalists and communities. When it comes to using content from social apps, the New York Times raised some interesting questions this week when it put Instagram photos on its front page. (See also this update with more details, and more questions.)

Testing New Networks for News and Ads

In Chile, a growing hyperlocal network of sites is hoping to succeed where Patch failed. They have a multi-pronged business strategy and are making a profit, all while embracing a participatory journalism approach. A different approach is bringing together digital startups and legacy media in North Carolina. A group of small online news sites is partnering with the local print papers to offer ads across their properties. The deal also includes the option to explore content sharing. Last fall papers in the UK experimented with an extreme example of this kind of partnership. Six of the biggest UK newspapers ran the same ad package on web and in print. They called it a “national day of influence” for advertiser Expedia (yes, that makes it sound, well, icky). You can read a case study of the effort here. On a very local scale, check out how one small advertising network is helping local newsroom push the envelope on display ads with really innovative models.

Building Better Newsroom Products With Community

Newsrooms are increasingly building new products, from apps to membership programs and interactives to events. Over at StoryBench, Laura Norton offers an in-depth look at her process of user testing, team building and developing empathy at the Boston Globe. A series of other  recent posts explored lessons from tech about how to design great products, some of which have resonance with newsrooms. Rian van der Merwe counsels that “When it comes to building products, the starting point is — always—needs.” He outlines an array of concrete ways to assess user and business needs as well as how to think big about revenue streams. It’s a useful post. Brendan Baker offers a round-up of ten articles about building things that matter. Not every piece resonated with me, but there are some gems. Matt Haughey extends recent discussions about empathy in design to consider how we “design for altruism.” The post is about software, but the question of whether we can design products that help people work together to make communities better is relevant to journalism. “It starts with building apps that meet the needs of more users,” he writes, “but that can also empower networks of volunteers willing to help their fellow humans.” Finally, pulling together a lot of these threads, I wrote this week about the need to build journalism with our communities, not just for them. I’m looking for examples of people who are experimenting with these ideas (just hit reply and send tips).

Race and Voice is Not Just a Public Media Issue

“We really have to think about who is the public in ‘public media’. The demographics of race and ethnicity are changing in the United States. The sound of public media must reflect that diversity. So get on it. It’s time to make moves.” So ends an essay by Clemson University professor Chenjerai Kumanyika which spread quickly across the web this week (I recommend reading his first, longer version at Transom). By the end of the week, NPR had posted the audio of his remarks and hosted a Twitter chat with the hashtag #PubRadioVoice (CodeSwitch is going to have a write-up of the Twitter conversation soon). This is a huge issue for public media, but it is not just a conversation for public media. All our newsrooms need to have this conversation too. On a related note, in Washington, DC earlier this week there was a panel on Race and the Media hosted at the National Press Club with a terrific line up of journalists from national and local media. CSPAN has the video here.