A project of Democracy Fund

June 28, 2019

Local Fix: Audience, Hurricanes and How to Hire Better


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: Get Some Travel Money

Have you ever wanted to hang out with someone you admire in local journalism who lives far away? Well, now’s your chance to do it. The Center for Cooperative Media wants to help pay for a trip to learn from a peer or organization that inspires you. Apply for the Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund to get either $500 or $1000 to travel. What makes the fund unique is it’s not designed for conference travel, so you can get creative. There are two options: apply to join small events in places like Texas or Chicago, or come up with your own learning trip. Check out the first recipients of funding for inspiration, then start brainstorming where to go and what to do. And if you’re still short on ideas, tap into an affinity group you’re a part of (ONA, NABJ, AAJA, SPJ, NAJA, NLGJA, etc), or reach out to someone featured on Gather. You never know what can happen.

Who Do You Write For?

A study from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia published this week shares findings about a group of local education reporters’ perceptions of their audience. Despite revolutionary shifts in the kinds of engagement tools available to journalists, “the ways in which these reporters thought about their audiences was remarkably similar to those reported in classic ethnographies of the 1970s,” writes Tow research fellow James G. Robinson. Almost fifty years later, it was editors, colleagues, sources, family, friends and the readers-who-write-back who were still at the top of reporters’ minds when they thought about audience. Absent from their “imagined audience”: public school parents, teachers, administrators, students and other community members that their reporting purportedly serves. The report recommends involving audiences throughout the reporting process, and increasing newsroom diversity to help reporters’ imagined audiences grow beyond their immediate circles. The recommendations may sound familiar if you’re a regular reader of the Fix. Rather than get down about these findings, we’re highlighting examples of organizations already doing these very things, like Chalkbeat. Beyond the education beat, there are organizations like City Bureau in Chicago, which just this week published its Community Engagement Guidelines (including a live version you can comment on) that offers concrete ways to create “a future where journalism belongs to everyone.” In North Carolina, News Voices, a project of Free Press, is using community organizing methods to help newsrooms and the communities they cover get to know each other better and collectively imagine the future of local news. While listening and collaboration can be a tough sell to folks caught in the daily grind of news production, these are practices that build trust and lead to stories that really matter to audiences. If you’re interested in this kind of journalism but aren’t sure where to start, check out the European Journalism Centre’s summary of a recent conference on engaged journalism, and Gather’s wide-ranging collection of case studies on engaged journalism.

Reporting for Resilience

As we head towards hurricane season in the U.S., we are keeping our eye on efforts to build resilience in communities facing natural disasters. An often-ignored but essential piece in those efforts is the news and information needs in those communities. The needs go beyond the moment when disaster strikes, though. Accountability reporting, engagement with local officials and access to key information are essential, long before and long after any one storm. But local news, already strapped for resources, often struggles to provide this kind of coverage. One way to address the gap is support from foundations. This week, the NC Local News Lab Fund and North Carolina Community Foundation awarded over $300,000 in grants for innovative projects that address specific information needs, hold government accountable and elevate stories of resilience across the state. Another way to find resources is to band together. Six Florida newsrooms are doing just that to cover climate change, which in places like Florida is not an abstract idea, but a daily reality. And of course, you can always turn to your own community. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico launched a donation and membership drive in 2017 soon after Hurricane Maria. Through a partnership with NewsMatch, they saw a 426 percent increase in individual donations, which powered their high-impact investigative work on hurricane recovery.

How to Hire Better

Exciting news – we’re hiring a new team member over at the Democracy Fund/ the Local Fix team. As we start the hiring process, we’ve been revisiting some of our favorite resources about how to make it better for everyone involved. While hiring can be hard, it’s also an opportunity to live out our values: how do we treat people, from the first interaction onward? Small things, like writing more accessible job listings and reexamining buzzwords like “culture fit,” can make a big difference. “Let’s build a hiring process that leads to a stronger newsroom and less misery,” Rachel Schallom wrote in a great piece for Source that we often turn to. We agree – and not just for newsrooms. Do you have a tip or great resource to share on this topic? Please send it our way!

Have a good weekend,Josh, Teresa, and Kip
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @kdooley1

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.