A project of Democracy Fund

March 8, 2019

Dunbar, NICAR, and Perception


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: Women’s Day
Happy International Women’s Day. We spotted a great tweet today that encouraged folks to share one way a woman has helped you in your career. How has a woman helped you in your local news career? Tweet it to @thelocalnewslab. When you’re done, you can check out this awesome list of women Local Fix readers admire from 2017, and follow them on Twitter.   

Audience scales, community doesn’t

At the Local News Lab this week we republished a piece by Damon Kiesow that speaks to a key distinction between national news and local news when it comes to debates about business models. “To succeed, local media have to abandon scale and refocus on community… Local readers need to be served at local scale. The internet is infinite, your community is not.” In his piece Kiesow invokes evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar whose research suggests that humans can only maintain about 150 stable and close relationships. “Media have a similar limit ,” Kiesow writes, “ it is the number of readers who feel you are part of their community and are willing to invest their time or money with you.” It turns out that Dunbar’s number is useful in a range of other aspects of how we think about building strong organizations, meaningful community engagement and even friendships. The links below provide a range of ideas and lessons for applying Dunbar’s number in different ways.  

CAR it up

Around 1,000 attendees are at NICAR, the Computer Assisted Reporting conference, this week sharing and learning tips and tools on data-driven reporting. We know it can be harder for local journalists to make it to these events, but luckily NICAR is one of many conferences that does a good job at sharing handouts, presentations and notes with those of us that aren’t there. As fellow non-attendees, we’ve been scouring the hashtag #NICAR19 to find links that might be useful to local newsrooms. Click through below and find a list of data and design projects from local newsrooms with limited resources, a tipsheet from Erin Mansfield on doing data journalism outside of major cities, a network with tips on covering the 2020 census and more. Did we miss something? Send it our way 

How people see journalism and why it matters

The latest edition of the Columbia Journalism Review includes a major new poll on public perceptions of journalism and the journalistic process. There is a lot to unpack in this study, but one finding stood out as a symbol of how much the public misunderstands how reporting works: 60 percent  of respondents believe reporters are paid by their sources sometimes or very often. This is only the most recent in a series of surveys on public perceptions that together should deeply worry newsrooms. In November, the News Co/Lab project at Arizona State University conducted a study in Macon, Georgia; Fresno, California; and Kansas City, Missouri that found that “local news staff rate themselves higher than news sources, the public.” This echoes findings from the American Press Institute which found that “the public is confused by some basic concepts of news.” These concepts include ideas and terms that often taken for granted inside newsrooms, like “op‑ed,” “attribution,” and the difference between an “editorial” and a “news story.” Amidst all this research there is hope. People resoundingly say they want more information on how journalism works, about sources and story choices, and they want to be engaged and feel a reciprocal relationship to those providing the news. Newsrooms can and should be doing much more to show their work, explain their process, listen to and reflect their communities.  

Have a good weekend,

Josh, Teresa, and Maya
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @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.