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June 1, 2018

Local Fix: Why Local News Matters (with data), Pop-ups, and Wikipedia

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: Put Local News on Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the first stop for a lot of research online. When people want to dig a little deeper into a story, or assess the credibility of article they find online, they often turn to Wikipedia. In fact, Facebook is now using Wikipedia to pull background info on sources in the news feed. But what happens when small local newsrooms don’t have Wikipedia pages? Mike Caulfield just announced a crowdsourcing project to produce 1,000 new Wikipedia articles on local newspapers across the United States. Wikipedia is also reaching out to newsrooms, offering a new course through Poynter’s NewsU about what journalists need to know about “one of the world’s largest websites.” 

Real Data on the Impact of Local News

Here at the Fix we believe that local news is central to democracy, but what does that really mean and how do we know? Those questions inspired us to pull together some of the best research and articles on the impact of local news on our communities and our democracy. We know many of you also have to make the case for local news to funders, advertisers, partners and the public and wanted to share this list in case it is useful to you. If you have other evidence you use to show the link between healthy communities and healthy local media let us know. Here are eight reasons why local news matters to our democracy.

  1. Erosion in Local News is Tied to Drops in Civic Engagement Broadly – Research by Lee Shaker  and Jennifer L. Lawless and Danny Hayes 
  2. Every Dollar Spent on Local News Produces Hundreds of Dollars in Public Benefit – Research by James Hamilton 
  3. Local Watchdog Reporting Helps Keep Government Costs Down – Research by Paul Gao 
  4. Local News Builds Social Cohesion and Strengthens Community (and Visa Versa) – Research by Masahiro Yamamoto and Pew 
  5. A Loss of Local News has Been Linked to Drops in Voting and Contested Races – Jessica Brider 
  6. Local News Reveals Corruption and Wrongdoing and Creates the Building Blocks for National Reporting – Research from Pew  
  7. Local News is an Indicator for Tracing Public Health – Helen Branswell
  8. Journalism Education Correlates with Higher Rates of Voting and Volunteering – Research by Piotr S. Bobkowski, Patrick R. Miller 

What Journalists Can Learn From _________

Last week, the Membership Puzzle Project shared many of the lessons they’ve learned about membership programs by studying audiences and fields other than journalism. Many industries are grappling with similar questions that local journalism is, from how to build trust to how to build sustainable businesses. And in most of those industries, there will be solutions and ideas that local news could take and transform for their own uses. What are some unique places or fields that you get inspiration from? We’d love to know – send us a note at localnewslab@democracyfund.org. And read on for some inspiration from librarians, comedians, musicians, 11-year old philanthropists and more.

Pop, Pop, Pop-up News

A recent Twitter exchange about the strengths and challenges of pop-up newsletters versus pop-up podcasts got us thinking about all the great examples of short-run, event specific, or targeted news products we’ve seen that help build engagement and community around issues and ideas. One of the standouts in this space has been WNYC’s work on projects like Infomagical and Clock Your Sleep through its Note to Self podcast. WNYC has a new project out from its Nancy podcast focused on how to make friends and find your “gaggle.” These sorts of challenge-based podcasts and newsletters send people out on adventures, offer advice and use media and journalism as a tool for people to make their lives better in an immediate and profound way. Summer could be a fun time to try something small like this in your newsroom – perhaps a book challenge, a fitness challenge, a scavenger hunt, or other adventures that tap into local interests and passions. 

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.