A project of Democracy Fund

April 13, 2018

Local Fix: Getting Personal, $1 Million From the Community, and Change-Making


by Josh Stearns and Teresa Gorman

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: Yes people like in-depth reporting

The Seattle Times recently developed an analytics hub that helps them focus less on page views and clicks and more on serving people. With this new tool they can track how articles help convert readers into a subscribers. Their takeaways offer an important reminder about why newsrooms need to measure impact and success in ways that aren’t just about clicks. The results showed that in-depth and time-consuming work can drive more subscriptions than ‘quick hits’ that drive a lot of traffic. Are you looking at what makes people come back and support your news? Get started by checking out how the Seattle Times is doing it, and through resources like Metrics for News, and CIR’s Impact Tracker.  

Good Journalism is Personal

ProPublica does a great job of sharing their reporting recipes to help other people learn from their work. In their recent post on maternal mortality one point really stuck out: “Of the 2,500 stories submitted in the first week, fewer than 75 came from black mothers. Yet black mothers die at three to four times the rate of white mothers.” The post explored how they addressed that gap, and how doing so changed their coverage in important ways. In another post we are highlighting this week, a community engagement reporter shares how she has been building relationships with 90 women across Alabama and how that work has touched her and taken over her life in ways she never expected. These posts are good primers on how this work gets done, but also reflect the deep humanity and deeply personal nature of audience-driven journalism. 

A Playbook for Community Investment

The local news site Berkeleyside hit a milestone this week, raising $1 million from reader investors through a Direct Public Offering. Throughout their  two-year journey the Berkeleyside team has been open and transparent about this effort. Through a series of articles and case studies there is now a pretty solid playbook for others who want to replicate this model. Berkeleyside had some things going for it: an active membership program, a mixed revenue model, and a community with resources to make significant investments. But their story still offers good lessons for newsrooms thinking about membership programs and cooperative models. It is a reminder that there are other tools out there we should be exploring as we think about new business models for news. 

Accelerating Change

No one debates the need for real changes in journalism business models, community engagement, publishing products and technology – but there are real questions about how to accelerate those changes. How do we build on what is working while avoiding the pitfalls of chasing scale, and that honor local knowledge and experience? How do we ensure resources for innovation are distributed equitably so that local and independent newsrooms benefit? A series of events, cohorts and programs are aiming to build momentum around positive change. Not all of these are new, but together they paint an interesting picture of how foundations, organizations, and industry groups are trying to speed the pace of meaningful change.

 Have a good weekend,

Josh, Teresa and Melinda

@jcstearns, @gteresa, @SzekeresMelinda 

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.

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