A project of Democracy Fund

July 19, 2019

Local Fix: Equitable Collaboration, Heat, and User Research


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: Celebration

Last week, one of Teresa’s favorite sessions at SRCCON, a conference run by OpenNews, was themed “Celebration.” Run by American Press Institute’s Amy Kovac-Ashley, several journalists and newsroom technologists shared lightning talks about successes and how they’ve celebrated them in the last year. It included personal and professional wins, with celebrations involving everything from a pop-up newsroom party to a night alone with a good book and a homemade dinner. There were even bubbles, noise makers, and stickers to go with the theme. But, when Kovac-Ashley asked people to pitch their own ideas, a lot of people had a hard time thinking of the last time they celebrated a win. So we wanted to take a moment to remind you to celebrate yourselves. Buy a cupcake, give someone a high five, take a nap – whatever celebration looks like to you. It can be hard to take those breaks, but it will only make your future work and life even better. And if you want to share your celebration with us, just hit reply or tweet us at @thelocalnewslab.

Equitable Collaboration

We talk a lot about collaboration and how important is it for local journalism, but one thing that rarely gets highlighted is the money. When collaborations are supported, who gets the funding and who doesn’t can translate to who has power and who doesn’t. And, unsurprisingly, these dynamics play out along historically inequitable power structures – the big, white-led and white-majority organizations often get the dollars while those serving communities of color, and led by people of color, do not. Angilee Shah shared an important reflection on this recently, and asks a vital question: “In collaborations that seek to represent so-called ‘underrepresented’ communities, who should be in charge and who should get funding?” Resources from The Media Consortium and American Press Institute present some ideas and guidelines regarding how to create more equitable partnerships. In addition, we encourage you to read the prediction from Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, co-executive director of Resolve Philly, that argues “2019 will be a year of pursuing shared reporting structures that embrace equity over equality.”

Taking Heat Seriously

This week, a heat wave will overtake much of the U.S. It’s easy to forget that heat waves are by far the deadliest weather events in U.S. cities. Local news plays a pivotal role during heat waves by informing the public on how to stay safe and raising red flags when government responses fall short. Consider taking a page from this NPR report, which places the voice of a community leader from a St. Louis nonprofit that coordinates resources for low-income families, before it launches into meteorology. Also at greater risk are the elderly, who often have medical complications that make it difficult to adapt to extreme heat. Journalist’s Resource created a guide that can help local reporters figure out what to look for while reporting in elder communities, and how to contextualize the issue within wider trends (one of a number of JR guides on climate reporting). And while reporting on the current heat wave is surely top of mind for local newsrooms, following up is essential for helping your community prepare for future extreme weather events, which are becoming the new normal. 

Smart User Research 

At the Local Fix we often talk about listening to communities and creating feedback loops between journalists and residents. User research is one specific form of listening and feedback. While it is often seen as the purview of tech and product teams, user research can actually provide critical feedback for all kinds of projects from reporting projects to new revenue ideas. Newsrooms are finding clever and inexpensive ways to do user research on a budget, and there are some great guides to help you plan your own research efforts. (For examples of local outlets that have built feedback loops directly into reporting and production, check out our series of case studies from the Wyncote Foundation report, Building Stronger Communities Through Media.)

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.