A project of Democracy Fund

May 24, 2019

Local Fix: Fungus, City Funding, and Collaboration

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:Transparency and PR
We often write about transparency, trust, and connecting with your community. That’s why a recent blog post from Technical.ly Delaware’s Holly Quinn caught our eye. Quinn shares some tips for an important community: local businesses and nonprofits that want their work covered on the site. It is a good example of how a straightforward blog post can help people understand how local news works – and maybe lead to better story ideas in the process. 

Collaboration Managers Unite

A project editor or manager can make a huge difference in a collaboration. For example, newsrooms involved in  Resolve Philadelphia’s two series on reentry and economic justice said at the Collaborative Journalism Summit that the collaboration would not have worked without project editor, now co-executive director of Resolve, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky. Friedman-Rudovsky isn’t alone. In a video detailing the state of collaborative journalism in 2019, the Center for Cooperative Media’s Stefanie Murray said over two dozen people now have the role of collaboration manager for journalism projects across the country. But just dubbing someone the manager of a collaboration isn’t enough. Below, we’ve compiled a few tipsheets and ideas for how to make that position a success. We heard a few common things at the summit last week, and they are reflected in the links below. It helps if the editor/manager is in a neutral position, and not based at one of the participating news organizations. This person has to be a combination of coach, editor, and community organizer. Plus, they have to be great at juggling lots of personalities, work styles, needs, and deadlines. (The cat herding is real.) Are you one of those folks managing a collaborative, or want to be? You’re in luck. The Center for Cooperative Media is launching monthly calls for collaboration managers working in journalism soon. 

Fungus Among Us

At the Collaborative Journalism Summit last week there was a running joke over the overuse of the term ecosystem. But we own that overuse and are going to double down today with a deeper look at the metaphor. At the heart of the ecosystem metaphor is a recognition that those working to inform and engage their communities are all connected, and the health of an ecosystem hinges in part of the health of those relationships. Last fall, in a talk about building more resilient journalism at the Online News Association, The New School’s Heather Chaplin asked: “Could we think of journalism less like a tree — because as strong and beautiful as trees are, if you cut one down, it’s dead — and more as a rhizome? Where if one growth dies the rest are still there, and more will come up? It’s a more resilient system.” Responding to Chaplin’s piece, Sue Cross of the Institute for Nonprofit News noted that a lot of plants grow with these kinds of underground root systems but the one she likes best to describe journalism is bamboo: “Greater tensile strength than steel, can take pressure better than concrete, able to bend without breaking.” Like rhizomes, mycelium mushrooms also sprout from a connected network of underground tendrils. On his blog, Nonprofit AF, Vu Le recently wrote about what the mycelium can also teach us about how to support networks of organizations. At a moment of transformation in journalism, support organizations like ONA, INN, News Revenue Hub, Maynard Institute, American Press Institute, OpenNews, Poynter, NABJ, NAHJA, AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA and others, are critical. At its best a support organization, like mycelium, “brings nourishment, clears out toxins, connects mushrooms to one another, creates symbiosis with other species, and decomposes and recycles nutrients, among other things.” Le’s post is a good guide for thinking about how support organizations can help build the kind of resilient journalism that Chaplin describes. 

We Built This City on Ink and Pixels

This week NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an unusual executive order. He directed city agencies to spend at least half of their print and online advertising budgets in local “community and ethnic media outlets.” The announcement was framed as an effort to ensure the city was delivering critical information “deep into the five boroughs, especially immigrant communities.” But it is also a move local media boosters have advocated for many years. The Center for Community and Ethnic Media has researched trends in advertising from New York City government and found in 2013 that agencies “spend little of their advertising dollars with ethnic and community publications whose combined circulation is about 4.5 million, or 55 percent of the population.” In 2017, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, and local publisher Liena Zagare, wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review about the potential for local city ads to help support the burgeoning local digital news landscape, noting that “New York City spends about $18 million a year on its own advertising – enough to employ a couple hundred community journalists.” Meanwhile, a city in Colorado is debating a different proposal to support local news. Corey Hutchins reports about efforts in Longmont, Colorado, to establish a special tax scheme that would raise new money for the local library, and would include support for expanding local news. The proposals are still taking shape, but local advocates position the idea as part of community owned infrastructure like the city’s municipal broadband and public library. The idea builds on efforts like Community Information Commons, Hutchins notes. We know that the idea of cities supporting local news is complicated, but the reality is that — from legal ads to postal subsidies — local, state and federal governments have long subsidized local news. We are hopeful that as these and other proposals move forward, local people can be put at the center of these discussions. Research has shown that erosions in local news have a profound impact at the city level, from ballooning costs to dwindling civic engagement, and we need forums where communities can come together to find solutions.

Have a good weekend,
Josh and Teresa

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.