A project of Democracy Fund

February 2, 2018

Local Fix: Who Owns Your Newsroom? Focused Listening and Revenue.


Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news.  But first, we always begin with one good idea…

One Good Idea: Try ‘Focused Listening’ (Here are four ideas!) The American Press Institute released a set of four short case studies this week that explore great models of deep listening that connect communities and newsrooms and rebuild trust. The models come from local newsrooms of different shapes and sizes in Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and Massachusetts. Each author also included contact info and has offered to listen and discuss how your newsroom might adapt these ideas.  (Scroll down to the bottom for two important deadlines for newsrooms who want rethink revenue and listen to their audience. And if the Local Fix is useful to you, please consider spreading the word. Here is the subscribe link: https://tinyletter.com/localfix)

Media Owners in the Spotlight

Media ownership matters. That’s the lesson from a new study produced by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina. Their research compared election coverage at different kinds of outlets and found more in-depth coverage at locally owned newsrooms. Recently we’ve seen the impact of media ownership in newsrooms around the country from major cities like Los Angeles to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. None of this suggests that there isn’t amazing journalism happening at big chains, in fact, part of this story is how journalists and newsrooms have tried to stand up for their readers and their colleagues in the face of decisions made by owners and executives. It is clear that as we talk about the future of journalism we also need to talk about the structural issues that shape media company resources, decisions and priorities.

Research Roundup: Solutions and Second Screens

In our latest research roundup, Jessica Mahone shares research on engaging marginalized communities, and how TV newsrooms approach engagement through interactive digital content. In one report, researchers found that focus groups of African American and LatinX community members from South Los Angeles were positive about reporting on their community that used a solutions journalism focus. The report offered a few recommendations about using solutions journalism, including: 

  • Focus not only on strengthening relationships between the newsroom and the community but also relationships among stakeholders in the community.
  • Avoid choosing “characters” in stories because while this practice may attract attention to a story, it often reproduces negative stereotypes about the community.
  • Newsrooms should strengthen relationships among community members.
  • Is there something that you want to learn more about from local news related-research? Email us at localnewslab@democracyfund.org

Reader Revenue Beyond Memberships

Although memberships are getting a lot of attention reader revenue takes many forms. Reader revenue was key to the turn around at the Guardian, which Digiday covered last week. The American Press Institute published some great work in this area last year and in 2018 they are making it a central focus on. Other efforts like the Membership Puzzle ProjectNews Revenue Hub, and Harvard’s work with Single Issue News Sites are helping build a critical base of new knowledge about the critical role of community in supporting the future of news. To that end, the Center for Cooperative Media in New Jersey is offering a fantastic looking summit on “building a business with your audience.” 

Two Deadlines!

  • While reader revenue is expanding, local ads still play a big role at small local newsrooms. That’s why LION created the RAMP program: Revenue from Advertising Mentorship Program (apply by 5 p.m. ET!) – LION Publishers
  • Applications for the Community Listening and Engagement Fund which subsidizes newsrooms who want to use engagement practice from Hearken or Groundsource are due February 16. – Lenfest Institute 

Have a good weekend,

Josh and Teresa @jcstearns, @gteresa

The Local Fix is a project of the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which invests in innovations and institutions that are reinventing local media and expanding the public square. Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund, you can find a full list of the organizations we support on our website.