A project of Democracy Fund

October 19, 2018

Local Fix: Dark Money, Be a Better Manager, Looking Back at News Grazers Ten Years Later


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: Investigative reporting on a shoestring
You, too, can do investigative reporting (even if you’re part of a small shop with a small budget). Denise Malan of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) shared a trove of resources, tips, and help on how to pull it off at the Local Independent Online News Publishers conference last week, and shared her slides and links. Read through for ideas on how to create an “everyday investigative culture,” build good investigative habits, and of course, FOIA constantly.

Local News and Dark Money

Local journalism is the hero of the new documentary Dark Money, which follows Montana investigative journalist John S. Adams. “The thing about money in politics,” says director Kimberly Reed, “is you need a strong watchdog press to follow those issues.” The film debuted this month on PBS’s POV program, just before the midterm elections, and it shines a powerful spotlight on the critical role of local journalists in our elections and our democracy more generally. This past Monday was also the FEC filing deadline, which means that a trove of campaign information is now ready to be explored by intrepid local reporters covering their congressional races. To help you get started, ProPublica has refreshed it’s FEC Itemizer to provide more information on House and Senate contests. Below we have collected a few more tips for reporting on dark money. 

Understanding the Habits of News Consumers from News Grazers to News Jungles 

Ten years ago the Pew Research Center coined the term “News Grazers” to describe the fundamental shifts in consumer habits around news. They wrote, “A majority of Americans (51%) are now […] becoming their own editors, checking for news throughout the day, hunting through links and aggregators to find what they want, sorting among many sources, while also looking for overviews of what’s new today—and sharing what they find with friends. In short, news consumption is shifting from being a passive act—tell me a story—to a proactive one—answer my question.”

A decade after Pew heralded the rise of the news grazer a pair of reports paint a different picture of how people consume and make sense of the news. The Lenfest Institute recently published a study of Philly residents’ information needs and habits which found that instead of grazing for news, local people are facing “news jungles” that are overwhelming and hard to navigate. “Participants said they had too much information and news on their screens and that they had to opt out, sort through and hunt for information that they were actually interested in.”

Not every community faces a flood of information about their lives and issues. Lenfest points out one important exception: communities of color in Philly “repeatedly mentioned information gaps in the media about specific issues affecting Latino and black communities.” Whereas Pew highlighted how people were curating their own information diet a decade ago, today people are relying more and more on trusted information intermediaries like social media communities, activists, and apps that curate and organize news on key topics of concern. Earlier this year the Knight Foundation released a report that showed how communities of color use Twitter to consume and interact with mainstream media. A key finding was how “Twitter subcultures give voice to issues that mainstream media don’t cover,” raising awareness about “issues of concern on their own terms without waiting for journalists to take interest.” 

How is your newsroom responding to these trends? How might you develop projects that can help address these concerns? 

Managing it All

A Q+A with Recode co-founder Kara Swisher about her best and worst bosses was all over our social media feeds this week, and no wonder… Swisher is frank, honest, and takes no, well… you know… in her assessments of her former managers and in her own management style. You’ll often hear that journalism’s management challenges come from a lack of training for reporters who become managers as they move their way up. We also know that the dire lack of women and people of color in top positions makes things even worse. (In a recent speech at Third Coast, producer Phoebe Wang called it ‘“the gradient,” where there are “…all the white people at the top of an about page for a show and… a smattering of people of color in the middle, and all the brown people are at the bottom.”) We know becoming a better manager in these times isn’t easy – it takes an investment and hopefully some thoughtful training, all of which you may not have time or resources for. But if you are thinking about it, we’ve shared a few articles below we’ve shared a few articles to get you thinking, or perhaps, to forward to someone you know. Do you have any management tips for people working in local news? Email them our way.

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, and Gabe
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @gabemschneider


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.