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June 7, 2019

Local Fix: Pride, Book Clubs, and Taking Care

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: Take Care

Covering traumatic stories is part of the profession. Thankfully, more and more journalists are now speaking openly about the costs. Poynter has a useful round upof advice for journalists on how to take care of themselves while covering trauma, but honestly, the piece has lots of good advice for journalists in general. The article argues that “Journalists can’t properly cover trauma if they’re suffering themselves,” and provides a wealth of suggestions and resources. You should bookmark this link, but we hope that as an industry we can also have a bigger conversation about caring for those who cover our communities. Self-care is great but it can put the responsibility on the individual, when in fact there is much more that newsrooms, leaders and funders can and should do to create more safe and healthy workplaces during moments of crisis – and all year round.  

How Local Newsrooms are Using Book Clubs

This week Politifact announced that it is launching a summer book club focused on the Mueller Report. “Here at PolitiFact, we have a special devotion to primary documents;” they wrote, “as we read the report together, PolitiFact journalists will offer analysis and take your questions.” They are going to use the conversations as fodder for future articles exploring aspects of the report from a reader’s perspective. Book clubs have been used by a lot of newsrooms to connect with their communities. The L.A. Times announced last month that they were launching a book club with a focus on “[getting] people talking again by making your newspaper not merely something to read every day but something to experience.” For the L.A. Times, a good book club, like a good newspaper, is “something that brings us together.” Colorado Public Radio started a book club in 2018 focused on issues and ideas about regional identity. “We want the CPR News Book Club to be a place for you to talk about books with Colorado and Western themes, settings, ideas or characters,” they wrote in their kick-off post. In the Solution Set, Joseph Lichterman wrote up a case study about how High Plains Public Radio is using a book club to connect to their audience over a vast five-state listening area. It is worth noting that journalists also have book clubs for themselves – Lichterman runs one at the Lenfest Institute, and the Institute for Nonprofit News used to run an active “News Nerds” book club. Local newsroom the Berkshire Eagle even published some advice on how to run a successful book club and the American Library Association’s guide has helpful tips on everything from choosing books to fostering lively discussion.

Local LGBTQ Media

June is Pride Month, so we wanted to look at the role that local LGBTQ journalists and publishers have played in the history of this movement. A decade ago, on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the Village Voice reviewed how their reporting helped spark the protests and bring greater attention to them. While the Village Voice has now closed its doors, around the country there are local LGBTQ publications working to cover their community and create space for voices and stories that are left out of much of journalism. To learn about practitioners who have been in it for the long haul, check out Forbes’ recent profile of Chicago journalist Tracy Baim. Her early experience covering the AIDS epidemic inspired her to take bold risks as a media entrepreneur, buying and saving the weekly Windy City Times, a cornerstone of the Chicago LGBTQ community. “To this day I can see the faces of the people I was covering back then who were fighting for their lives,” Baim says. “I feel like I don’t have the luxury, having survived and witnessed, to rest.” Last month, BuzzFeed did a deep dive on the past and future of LGBTQ media that included a number of examples of local publications, both digital and print, and the struggles they face today. Yet, it is worth noting, as journalist and Northwestern professor Steven Thrasher recently did, that LGBTQ perspectives are not just important for covering those communities, but can help all journalists better wrestle with questions of identity, representation and objectivity in their reporting. And if you’re covering Pride events, be sure to check out GLAAD’s Pride Month Resource Kit for Journalists. 

Newsroom and Researcher Collaborations

Collaborations between newsrooms and researchers can make local journalism better. As in any collaboration, getting these two different groups to work together well can be tough at first, but worth it in the end. Those were some of the main points at a panel on the topic held at a conference about engaged journalism at the International Communication Association meeting in May. Democracy Fund Research Associate Jessica Mahone pulled together five tips from the panel on how to make collaborations between researchers and newsrooms work. It’s not the first time we’ve encountered this conversation. At SRCCON in 2018, Reveal and others detailed lessons, examples, and tips for better academic-journalist collaborations into a handy guidebook. There are even publications, like The Conversation and Journalist’s Resource, that take this idea on as their core mission, albeit in different ways. Dive through these links for more ideas and let us know if you have any more tips to share.

P.S. You’ll spot a new name on our sign-offs starting this week. A warm welcome to our summer intern Kip Dooley, who will help write and edit the Local Fix every week. 

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa and Kip

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.