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February 11, 2015

Local Fix: News Events, Empathic Design, Finding Solutions and Fellowships

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: Hang out on your front porch. The Front Porch Forum is a community news and information outlet in Burlington, Vermont, which focuses on fostering local conversation and engagement. TechPresident profiles how the husband and wife team turned an email list into a vibrant online civic hub. For local news organizations there is value in thinking about how we create spaces for our communities to gather and connect online beyond Facebook and other third party social sites.

Problems Scream, Solutions Whisper

In early January, David Bornstein of the Fixes column at the New York Times wrote a terrific piece on “The News We Need to Hear,” arguing that “while journalism has a robust framework for describing problems and their urgency, it needs to strengthen its muscles for exploring questions like: Who is doing better and how?” Bornstein is also the founder of the Solutions Journalism Network which this weeklaunched a useful new toolkit for doing solutions oriented stories. Mallory Jean Tenore has a good summary of the toolkit and an overview of other similar tools and resources for newsrooms. I’ve written before about research that suggestscommunities are hungry for reporting that helps them solve local issues.

Engagement + Revenue = News Events

Events big and small hold great potential as tools to engage your audiences, extend your reporting and diversify your revenue. But don’t let anyone tell you that events are easy – they are a lot of work. Thankfully there are more and more resources to help you design an event strategy for your news organization. In addition to my reporting and the American Press Institute’s guide, here are a few other links: Over at INMA the Dallas Morning News shares “5 ways to build a profitable event business.” And at the end of last year Nieman Lab looked at the San Francisco Chronicle’s use of events as part of their new membership program. But events aren’t just for big metro daily papers. I know of a number of small one and two person local community news operations who are hosting film festivals, food events and more. If you are experimenting with events and community gatherings I’d love to know (just reply to this email).

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Pursue Your Next Big Idea – Three Fellowship Opportunities

There are a number of great fellowship opportunities with deadlines approaching. These fellowships can give you space to pursue a great idea or develop a new project for your newsroom. Even if you don’t apply, the fellows at each of these places are often great resources and willing collaborators.
  • The Reynolds Fellowship is looking for “innovative ideas and projects to improve the practice or understanding of journalism.” Deadline: February 1.
  • The ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is tuition free and open to 25 women with a focus on diversity and digital experience. Deadline: February 20.
  • The Nieman Foundation awards paid fellowships to up to 24 journalists each year to study and collaborate with faculty and staff at Harvard. Deadline (for US fellows): January 31.

Audiences and Empathy at the New York Times

I rarely focus on one organization, and usually try to highlight lessons from smaller newsrooms, but a series of articles about the New York Times this week caught my attention. The four articles cover different topics, but what connects them is a focus on the people behind the page views. This Jacob Harris piece on empathic designis a must read for those interested in data journalism and visualizations, but the lessons extend to other parts of the newsroom too. NiemanLab had a good Q&A with Amy O’Leary who just left the New York Times to work at Upworthy and a profile of how the Times uses reader surveys for business strategy, and is beginning to use them to inform their reporting. Finally, Digiday takes a look at Alexandra MacCallum’s work as NYT’s new editor for Audience Development and particularly her focus on fostering loyalty and being of use to readers.