A project of Democracy Fund

May 25, 2018

Local Fix: Vermont, Political Ads, and Media Manipulation

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: Dig Into One Local News Success Story
new case study on VTDigger has been making the rounds online for the past few days, and for good reason: through the piece, we are offered a powerful model for how to build robust and sustainable local news organizations. The report follows the story of how Anne Galloway and the staff turned “a small state-focused news startup in Vermont into an inspiring enterprise with growing audience, staff and revenue.In the second least populous state in the country, VTDigger is averaging nearly 300,000 monthly users, has a staff of 19 full-time employees and an annual budget over $1.5 million.” This is an important report that highlights both how hard this work is and provides clear takeaways for people running or starting news organizations.

Investigating Political Ads Before the Midterms

A series of new tools and developments have recently put a spotlight on political ads and the midterm elections. There are also now a few new resources for investigating who is behind political ads in your area. Both Facebook and Twitter announced new approaches for how they will label political ads and candidates. In addition, Facebook will store and let people view ads for up to seven years after the ad is run. This brings the social media giant closer in alignment to the political ad transparency requirements put on broadcasters. TV and radio stations have long had to keep public files with records of who bought political ads. A few years ago – after years of campaigning by public interest advocates – the FCC forced broadcasters to put all of those records into an online database. That move sparked a ton of new reporting on political advertising. This new tool from Facebook could usher in a similar bump in important stories in the lead up to the midterms. Below are a mix of how-to articles and resources for reporting on political ads. 

Data and Society

Data and Society (a research institute focused on “the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development”) announced two new reports this week that are worth your time and attention. Both come from their “Media Manipulation” project and focus on how media is used and misused, understood and misunderstood:

Women Photographers

If you follow @womenphotograph on Twitter, you might have seen the “week in pictures gender breakdown.” The organization has been tracking the percentage of photos made by women in large news outlets, including the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Guardian and the BBC. Spoiler alert: the numbers aren’t great. But more organizations and groups are there to help, in the news industry and beyond. Bitch Media recently profiled several groups that started on social media to create communities for photographers that are women of color, and organizations like the National Press Photographers Association have been stepping up to talk about the issue. But the focus is often on national and international groups in articles. We’d love to see a similar breakdown of local news organization’s photo bylines (if you know of one – send it our way!), and know that this is a conversation that needs to be had at the local level, too. Take a look at who’s telling your visual stories and ask yourself if it represents the community you serve. 

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.