A project of Democracy Fund

July 12, 2019

Local Fix: The Defender, Alt-Weeklies and How to Ask for Help


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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: Data as Revenue

Journalists produce a lot of data during the course of reporting a story. This is true even when it is not a data-driven story. However, for those who are collecting, cleaning, and organizing huge data sets there may be an opportunity to recoup some of those expenses. NJ Advance Media recently put the data they used for their Force Report, a police accountability project, up for sale (while still keeping the database free for the public). To do so they partnered with ProPublica whose “Data Store” was launched in 2014. That year ProPublica made $30,000 by selling data sets from their reporting. Just two years later they pulled in $200,000 and began helping other newsrooms sell their data. Beyond the revenue, selling your data can reveal new forms of impact. For example, in the wake of NJ Advance Media’s reporting for Force Report, the State Attorney General of NJ purchased the data so that they could improve their system for tracking police abuse of force in the future. 

P.S. We’re hiring a program associate at Democracy Fund. Check out the listing and spread the word.

Centering African American Media

This past Wednesday, the Chicago Defender ran its last print edition. While it will continue publishing as an online-only paper, it’s nonetheless a devastating change. Since its creation in 1905, the Defender has been a cornerstone for Black Chicagoans and African Americans across the country. The Defender informed and covered these communities – from pivotal historical moments to everyday life and culture – when other mainstream, white-led news organizations would not. Here at the Local Fix we understand just how critical these outlets are. That’s why we’ve partnered with organizations like the Obsidian Collection, which is digitizing the invaluable archives of black legacy press as a way to maintain this history and bring in new revenue for publications. It’s also why we commissioned a series of reports on American IndianBlack, and Hispanic media. In the New York Times’ coverage of the changes at the Defender, Angela Ford of Obsidian Collection, who authored our report, spoke to the critical role of these publications and the need to support their transformation and future. That research, along with other recent reports – like the State of Latino Media or the State of Ethnic and Community Media in New Jersey – show that these media are facing the same challenges as the industry at large. But they’ve also been systematically under-resourced and overlooked by funders. Foundations, including our own, must do a better job of addressing inequities in grantmaking if we are to truly build a sustainable future for journalism that reflects and serves all of America. When we talk about the sustainability of journalism in a digital age, we have to center organizations like the Defender in those conversations.

The Future of Alt-Weeklies

With the Association of Alternative Newsmedia Convention happening this weekend in Boulder, Colo., we’re highlighting some of the ways that alt-weeklies play a vital role in news ecosystems, and how they’re innovating new funding models. Alt-weeklies have never had the resources of larger papers, but their dogged reporting and distinctive voice has granted them something other outlets have struggled to maintain: a loyal readership. A March, 2019 article from CJR provides a look at how alt-weeklies across the country are finding new funding models to relaunch as digital outlets or nonprofits. Several new outfits started with crowdfunding money from readers outraged by the loss of their beloved alt-weeklies. Queen City Nerve in North Carolina, for example, was launched with the Venmo donations that came pouring in while the staff of Creative Loafing was commiserating in a bar on CL’s final day. The Baltimore City Paper found new life as the Baltimore Beat, which is building on the best of the City Paper’s history while forging a new future and vision for community media in the city. That work has been aided by the establishment of the Baltimore Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, which was modeled after the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. New community-driven publishers like NOISE Omaha are embodying some of the spirit of alt-weeklies while also reimagining what newsrooms look like and do from the ground up. Below, we’ve gathered a few examples of solutions and ideas alt-weeklies are pursuing. If you couldn’t make it to Boulder this weekend, you can follow along on Twitter: #AAN2019 and @AltWeeklies. And if you are in Boulder and see something brilliant we should feature, be sure to let us know here or on Twitter @TheLocalNewsLab.

A Little Help from our Friends

One of the great joys of writing the Local Fix each week and hearing back from this amazing community of readers is witnessing the deep desire you all have to help each other. But even when we know that people out there want to help, it can be hard to ask for it. Whether for a story, a new revenue idea, or your career, there are people around you ready to help you tackle roadblocks and grow. This week we pulled together a few tips for how to ask for help at work, and why it can be so powerful when you do. (Bonus: how to cultivate a culture of helping, from IDEO).

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, Lea and Kip
@jcstearns@gteresa@kipdooley1

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.

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