A project of Democracy Fund

August 9, 2019

Local Fix: Terror, Safe Passage, and Trust


Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea… 

One Good Idea: Pass the Mic

We are breaking form a bit in this week’s newsletter. Instead of writing three segments with curated links, we are highlighting three important voices on issues we care about. Rather than just link to their points, though, we are sharing their thoughts directly, by sharing their Twitter threads on terror, entrepreneurship, and trust, with their permission. What connects these threads is a deep concern for inclusion and community in local news. We talk a lot in this newsletter about the importance of listening. With that, we pass the mic. 

The terror that I’m reporting on is not abstract

Alexa Ura is the Texas Tribune’s demographics reporter, covering the intersection between politics and race. She wrote a thread this week in the wake of the El Paso shooting about how hard it is to untangle identity, safety, and public service as a person of color covering these issues. In her own words:

As a reporter, I’m not supposed to say any of this. I’m not the story. But after El Paso was terrorized, I’m still reeling. It feels selfish to put this out there when there are children burying their parents and parents burying their children. 

But it feels so personal. 

It feels personal because I’m brown. Because I’m from the border. Because this could’ve happened at the Walmart where my family shops. Because the terror that I’m reporting on is not abstract. I can’t disconnect when I go home. That’s not a luxury I have as a brown reporter. 

It also feels personal because it’s prompted in me a crisis of personal mission. My career is centered on writing about the demographic change that fueled the gunman’s hate. And I haven’t been able to shake the thought that the headlines on my stories fueled his manifesto. 

I write stories meant to help Texans understand what life is like for people who don’t look like them. But often readers instead accuse me of being divisive & hateful. They question why I make everything about race as if that’s not what nearly everything in this country is about.

I’m not looking for anyone’s pity, but I am asking for understanding. 

That you try to understand that brown reporters are grappling with the contours of a profession and world that hasn’t always made room for us. And that you understand that differences aren’t always detrimental.

Read Ura’s original Twitter thread here.

Journalism that provides safe passage

Karen Rundlet of the Knight Foundation reported from an NABJ session this week called “What I wish I’d known before I launched my media startup.” Wendi Thomas of MLK50Jiquanda Johnson of Flint Beat, and Dexter Bridgeman of MIA Media Group shared hard-earned wisdom on the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship, from business plans to events and advertising. The thread has been lightly edited for the newsletter format:

A critical point by Dexter Bridgeman: “Being undercapitalized is the main killer of any new business.” He encouraged founders to overestimate what you need as you start your newsroom. Jiquanda Johnson said she attends plenty of conferences to “meet with funders, show her work, demonstrate consistency and commitment.” Wendi Thomas talked about “knowing the exact budget and dollar amounts she needs to run her business at all times.” Rundlet noted that Thomas did a SWOT analysis and “sought out educational programs to study entrepreneurship.”

All three community publishes emphasized that “you shouldn’t go it alone.” “It’s one thing to be independent,” Rundlet tweeted, “quite another to be isolated.” At the end of her thread, Rundlet reminded her followers that, “The first Black owned newspaper in the U.S. was Freedom’s Journal. It was founded in 1827. The information provided in that paper and many others helped newly freed slaves find safe passage and opportunities.” 

“May the journalists of NABJ continue to provide the information our community needs and deserves for safe passage today.”

Read Rundlet’s original Twitter thread here.

Newsrooms and communities co-creating and building trust

In early June the Solution Set newsletter (subscribe!) did a case study on Stories of Atlantic City, a project where “local news organizations are inviting community leaders into the reporting process.” The case study inspired Molly de Aguiar – who helped fund the project when she was at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation – to share some background about how a powerful local reporting project like this comes about. Her thread is a great look at philanthropy, local/national partnerships, and the long, hard work of making big changes in newsrooms and communities. Here it is, lightly edited for the newsletter format:

I want to talk about the philanthropic story behind this work, too, to give some insight to other funders. It’s not just that this work was made possible by a grant, or a few grants over the course of a few years to Free Press and partners. This is years of layers of investments. 

First by creating central infrastructure (the Center for Cooperative Media) in support of the entire New Jersey local news ecosystem – many years before the Atlantic City work came to fruition – and then by layering in all kinds of other support to build revenue, collaboration, community engagement and research. Key to all of this work was giving patient operating support and experimental dollars to organizations like Free Press and Reveal who have played critical roles, along with the Center for Cooperative Media, in stitching together a network of partners including arts and environment organizations, libraries and others. 

Another critical component was investing in and trusting those who are such gifted and patient and generous network builders, like Mike RispoliCole GoinsAnnie ChabelStefanie MurrayJoe Amditis (and so many others) have been for NJ. Not to mention the funding partners – Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund in particular – who could see the promise, and brought resources to the table that really catalyzed this work in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. 

That the Stories of AC project happened (and will continue to bear fruit) is such a monumental victory for all of us who have poured our hearts into NJ news and information. It’s exactly the shift we have wanted to see – of newsrooms and communities co-creating and building trust. To funders I would emphasize that we got here through patience, perseverance, deep trust, and acknowledging the real resources (time, money, social capital, etc.) required to build work that endures. Believe me, there were times we thought all of this was going to fall apart. Instead, this work has wildly exceeded all of our hopes for it, and NJ continues to be the model for what a connected and collaborative statewide local news ecosystem looks like.

Read de Aguiar’s original Twitter thread here.

Thanks again to Alexa Ura, Karen Rundlet, and Molly de Aguiar for allowing us to share their stories here in the Fix. What did you think of this format? Do you know of other folks we should feature in the future? Hit reply and let us know.

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.