A project of Democracy Fund

March 29, 2019

Local Fix: Art, Print & Info

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: Phone Hotline
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert’s decision not to indict officers involved in the killing of Stephon Clark ignited a number of strong opinions among Sacramentans. To capture their views, reporters at Sacramento’s Capitol Public Radio established a Google Voice phone line for members of the community to call and express their thoughts on the decision and Schubert’s presentation. This allowed reporters to speak directly about the issue with those most passionate about it (or hear their voices if they left a message). Pairing phone responses with Twitter and Hearken call-outs diversified the level of engagement Capitol Public Radio reporters had with their community (and gave them engaging audio for their stories). Listen here.

Supporting Information after Natural Disasters

This week, the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund launched a call for proposals to fund projects that address critical information needs as communities recover from Hurricane Florence. (Democracy Fund is a funder and coordinator of the NCLNL Fund). Information and oversight are often overlooked in long-term recovery once the drama of the initial disaster passes, but we know that news is vital for a resilient community. This new program was inspired by other similar efforts that recognize how important this is, especially work led by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation after Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. That effort supported things like accountability reporting and community forums. As Molly de Aguiar wrote then, “Community information needs and civic engagement are at the heart of sustainable, smart long-term recovery from a natural disaster.” There are more examples, but not as many as you’d expect. After Hurricane Maria, NAHJ launched the Puerto Rico Emergency Communications Access and Journalism Initiative with support from the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation and others. After Hurricane Harvey, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy made a grant to support long-term reporting by the Texas Tribune. These are all just the start – reporters on a panel about investigating disaster in 2015 pointed out that telling these stories can take years. And more work can be done to support those long-term recovery efforts by foundations and more. (Do you have more examples to share? Hit reply and let us know)

Art Forms That Inform

We often hear arguments about how newsrooms should look to technology for models and modes of innovation. But Laura Hertzfeld, a current John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford, recently asked “What’s holding us back as journalists from sparking the kind of experimentation we see in the arts?” She is spending her fellowship looking at what journalists can learn from the arts and theater. This week the Center for Media Engagement (CME) released a study that speaks directly to this question. In their new report “Journalism Through Theater: How An Art Form Can Inform” Ori Tenenboim and Talia Stroud found that “live theater performances based on investigative journalism can help increase people’s knowledge” and change perceptions and intended behaviors. This research reinforces the motivations behind a new grant program focused on supporting artists who will produce “innovative and revelatory journalistic work.” The Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism created this program because of their belief that like journalists, “artists are central in the invention and design of our shared future, and also critical in shifting public debate.” Below, we’ve collected a few examples of how local and national newsrooms have connected journalism and arts in powerful ways. 

Long Live Print

This week the Marshall Project, a leading digital nonprofit newsroom covering criminal justice, announced they were publishing “News Inside” a print publication that will be distributed in prisons and jails. The publication is led by Lawrence Bartley, a talented writer who himself was formerly incarcerated. He wrote an essay for the Marshall Project while he was in jail and seeking parole and now he is on staff helping create a new outlet designed to ensure that the Marshall Project reporting is reaching those most directly affected by the issues they cover. A similar commitment led the Center for Investigative Reporting to create and distribute comic books to kids and parents based on their investigative reporting of school building safety. In the last few months we’ve seen an interesting mix of US and UK publishers dabbling with print in new ways. Though we know that many community publishers would say – don’t call it a comeback – since print never died for them, it’s a reminder that print is another important tool to reach specific audiences. (Even BuzzFeed launched a newspaper for a day as a promotional stunt!). Below we link to some examples as well as research on the best strategies for digital newsrooms to use print for revenue and audience development. 

Have a good weekend,

Josh, Teresa and Maya 

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.