A project of Democracy Fund

August 2, 2019

Local Fix: Subscription Challenges, Mental Health, Take a Break

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: Test New Revenue Streams

Developing a new revenue stream can be harder than it sounds, especially for small teams who are already stretched thin. Aligning community needs with newsroom skills, and expanding your products and services takes time, and can feel a bit like wandering in the dark. Luckily, the Bureau Local in the UK recently shared their seven steps for business development for small teams, including the story of how they developed and tested their framework. It is chock full of ideas for how you can begin to build new ways of supporting your work. The team at Bureau Local will also hold a conference call (date and time TBD) to share more of their process. You can download their guide and sign up for the call here.

Subscribers and Sustainers

A memo sent to the L.A. Times newsroom this week sparked a discussion about the challenging realities of building reader revenue. The newspaper had hoped to add 150,000 new subscribers this year, but so far has only added 13,000. (It actually added 52,000 subscribers, but lost 39,000 in the same period). While the original memo seemed to lay blame at the feet of the newsroom, the ensuing discussion highlighted a range of issues that plague many newspaper companies, related to subscriber technology, business practices, and customer service. As news organizations shift to reader revenue, building loyalty can’t just be the work of any one department. It has to be coordinated across the entire organization. In the links below, we have pulled together some resources on how commercial, nonprofit and public media companies are building sustaining support from their communities. 

Mental Health Reporting

The Carter Center recently announced fellowship projects for mental health reporting. Over the next year, eight fellows will dive into underreported areas of mental health, like postpartum psychosis (April Dembrosky), complex PTSD (Stephanie Foo), and the psychological toll of childhood separations (Brittany Mejia). Several recent articles from Journalists’ Resource highlight research on why mental healthcare access remains low in the U.S., along with ways you can find and report impactful stories on the topic. Carter Fellow Aneri Patani was on a panel this week at the Asian American Journalists Association conference about mental health within the profession, which is a good reminder that journalists have mental health needs, too. While there’s a growing awareness of how social media can cause or compound poor mental health, intensive social media use is simply part of the profession nowadays, and can be hard to moderate. A recent report from Journalism.co.uk pulls together expert interviews and research on the topic, along with tips on how to maintain your health while staying responsive to the demands of 21st-century journalism. 

Take a Break

This week, The Sprawl in Calgary, Canada, announced they were taking a break. “Periods of silence are built into The Sprawl’s design” they wrote on Twitter. “No one needs another incessant torrent of fragmented information flying at them. We go quiet so we can return with journalism that is worth your time.” This message really struck us. We’ve worked with news entrepreneurs and journalists who haven’t taken vacation in three years because they worry they’ll miss some critical news, or that a pause in publishing will kill their traffic. The pressure this puts on them is enormous, and is another reminder that when we talk about sustainability, we are talking about more than just revenue. However, revenue can also force publications to take a needed break, too. Another Canadian outlet, The Discourse, posted this week that after missing their spring fundraising goal, they have decided to step back from near-term reporting and publishing. In a message to their readers, they explain how they’ll focus instead on their ultimate goal: “developing a replicable business model for in-depth local journalism.” This summer, they will gather reader input, build relationships in a community they plan to report on this fall, and seek new funding partners before returning to publication. The piece is an excellent example of openness and transparency, and left us feeling hopeful, not worried, about The Discourse’s future. On Twitter, we heard from a few others from small teams who build breaks into their schedule as well. Strategies include prepping evergreen content in advance, and pausing new reporting to republish pieces from the archive with new context on social media. Have you ever gone dark for a period, only to come back stronger? We’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter, @TheLocalNewsLab.

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.