A project of Democracy Fund

March 1, 2019

Local Fix: African American Media, Power, Place and Policy


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: Hiring Your Biggest Critic
Late last year, editors at Rochester, N.Y.’s Democrat & Chronicle introduced the Time to Educate initiative in partnership with Hearken. The project aimed at highlighting educational inequities in the Rochester community. Using Hearken’s engagement model, reporters fielded questions from the public and readers voted on those they most wanted to see answered. The top-voted inquiry came from Howard Eagle, a resident of Rochester for more than 40 years and longtime critic of the D&C (he even expressed criticism of the initiative itself). Instead of shying away from this sometimes tense relationship with a local reader, editors at the D&C included him in their reporting process. Both Eagle and his network of local leaders were consulted at every stage of the planning and execution of the project and towards the end, the D&C published a profile of him. It’s a great example of the good that forms when reporters listen and work with the communities they cover. Read Hearken’s case study of this project

African American Media Today

This week, Democracy Fund released a report by Angela Ford, Kevin McFall, and Bob McDabney of The Obsidian Collection. Based on an analysis of Black media lists and interviews with Black media entrepreneurs, the report provides an overview of the history and scope of media serving Black communities in America. Here are a few key takeaways from the report:

  • America’s Black press is made up of 158 publications across 29 states and D.C., with 20.1 million online readers. These publications make up the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association dedicated to America’s Black newspapers.
  • The Black press was particularly hard hit by the loss of advertising revenue when tobacco companies pulled print advertising. Black Americans were one of the audiences primarily targeted by cigarette advertisers.
  • Building and maintaining digital archives can provide not only an important record of the history of the Black press but also a template for strengthening the Black press today. That’s why the Obsidian Collection, a current Democracy Fund grantee, is dedicated to collecting and preserving archives of America’s Black legacy press.

The authors argue that one way to help support journalism in African American communities is helping news organizations focus their efforts on reporting local news and events by syndicating content that is of interest to these communities nationwide. A dedicated corps of journalists and writers focused on coverage of national current events and on opinion content for African American communities is vital for the advancement of the black press. If you’re interested in knowing more about African American media, the following resources are a start:

Power and Place at #InfoNeeds

Josh and Teresa were both at the Knight Foundation’s Knight Media Forum this week. Since the theme was closely tied to the interests of the Local Fix (“Strengthening Local News, Community and Democracy”), here are a few early takeaways. Two themes jumped out to us at the conference – power and place. Several conversations raised the power dynamics between funders and grantees, newsrooms and communities, and within newsrooms. “What does it mean to share power — and relinquish power?” MacArthur Foundation’s Kathy Im asked. “We need people to bet on us, too,” QCityMetro’s Glenn Burkins said in a session about supporting ethnic and community media. We also heard about inspiring examples of local news innovations deeply rooted in place and relationships in spots like Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, with tons of interest from other locations about how to learn lessons from these locales. The Knight Media Forum had scribes taking notes at almost every session, and they are all going to be posted to the Knight website. Below we’ve highlighted a few links with takeaways and resources shared at the conference:

Policy Ideas for Platforms and Local News

Public policy has shaped American journalism since the earliest days of our nation. Examples include postal subsidies, tax breaks on ink and newsprint, laws requiring governments to print legal ads and public notices in newspapers, free licences for radio and TV broadcasting, public media funding, public access TV fees levied on cable companies, and more. Recently a series of proposals has explored new policy frameworks that respond to the ways our news and information landscape have changed. This week, Free Press released a report proposing that a small 2 percent tax on targeted advertising could result in $2 billion a year for diverse, local, independent journalism. Their premise is that the platforms reap enormous financial gain by leveraging people’s personal data to target ads (and reporting has shown that these targeted ad systems have been exploited to spread misinformation, promote racism and anti-semitism, and discriminate against job seekers.) The recently released Knight Commission report on Media, Trust and Democracy also focused on private data and the failure of platforms to protect user data when they called for social media companies to be held accountable as “information fiduciaries” with an expanded responsibility to users. Below are a few other policy proposals and ideas that have emerged recently.

Have a good weekend,

Teresa, Josh and Maya, with contributions from Lea Trusty and Jessica Mahone.
@gteresa@jcstearns@mayaaliah

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.