A project of Democracy Fund

August 30, 2019

Local Fix: Beyond the Binary, Campaign Coverage, How to Grow Your Audience

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: Get Legal Support

As the legal capacity of local newsrooms erodes, the threat of a lawsuit can prevent a news organization from reporting important information the public needs to know. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press just announced they’ll be placing pro bono lawyers in local communities to support news organizations and journalists around the country. The Local Legal Initiative will “work closely and collaboratively with local and regional partners,” including news organizations of any type, press associations, law firms, nonprofits, universities – “anyone committed to helping local journalism thrive.” Submit a proposal for your local journalism community by October 31.

ICYMI: Teresa is hosting this month’s Lenfest Book Club on the memoir of Dorothy Butler Gilliam, the first black woman reporter for the Washington Post. Live discussion will take place on Zoom next Thursday, Aug. 29 at 1 PM EST. Learn more and sign up here.

Beyond the Binary

For years now trans journalists have been pushing media to improve reporting on transgender and non-binary people and the issues they face. In a new piece at Nieman Reports, Lewis Wallace looks at how “trans journalists are asking journalism leaders to confront the structural barriers that make it hard for trans people to enter and remain in the industry.” Wallace’s piece is an important deep dive that gives voice to a range of experiences of trans and non-binary reporters navigating newsrooms, and illustrates the ways that unquestioned industry conventions, like “both sides” and objectivity, have harmed the LGBTQ community. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Free Press News Voices project recently brought together local journalists and trans residents for an in-depth discussion about the lives of trans people in North Carolina, coverage of trans issues, and how the local paper can continue to tell more truthful stories about this community. Check out this Instagram Story to hear how it went and how you can try something similar in your community. In the links below we’ve collected a few other articles that build on issues Wallace raises, as well as a set of links to concrete advice for reporting on transgender and non-binary people.

Campaign Coverage With Communities

After the 2016 election, where hyperpartisan theatrics overwhelmed substantive policy debate, many in the press admitted that campaign coverage focused on the wrong things. As the 2020 race picks up, we want to highlight resources for local journalists looking to do things differently. First up is the Renewing Democracy Initiative, from the Solutions Journalism Network, which is offering grants for reporting projects that focus on potential solutions to electoral dysfunction. From gerrymandering to shady campaign finance to low voter turnout, there’s no shortage of problems – along with people working to solve them – for local journalists to shed light on. Grants are up to $4,000, and the deadline for the next round is August 31. The second resource is a (somewhat) old idea, but a good one: the citizens agenda, a strategy for focusing election coverage on the issues your readers care about, rather than on the campaigns’ talking points, partisan attacks, or poll-driven “horse race” coverage. WBUR in Boston, which is gearing up for the New Hampshire primaries, is exploring how to implement the citizens agenda with a reader survey they’ll use to shape their coverage. And the Center for Cooperative Media in New Jersey has a ready-to-use framework for how newsrooms can engage their community around elections. Got ideas for better campaign coverage? Reply here or let us know on Twitter, @TheLocalNewsLab.

Spend Money to Make Money

Is it worth it to pay to build an audience? Can you pay to reach more people and still build meaningful relationships? Those questions are at the heart of a new report from the Membership Puzzle Project on how you can spend money to make money in a genuine way that leads to more engagement, not churn. Email is a vital connection to readers, and the sheer size of your list can correlate with audience revenue. Thus: grow your list, grow your revenue. The new report is full of real world examples of how to do it, along with actionable advice for newsrooms of all sizes. Phillip Smith, the report’s author, notes the three biggest challenges for small-to-medium sized publishers: The budget to invest; Availability of staff time and skill sets; And curated resources to assist with campaign planning. The report, paired with the resources below, can get you started.

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, 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.