A project of Democracy Fund

September 6, 2019

Local Fix: Newsletter Swaps, Collaboration, Push Alerts

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

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Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

One Good Idea: Citizen’s Agenda Partners
Raleigh Convergence, a local news startup in North Carolina, recently partnered with the local chamber of commerce and a nonprofit, Innovate Raleigh,  on a city council and mayoral forum. Rather than the conversation ending after the forum, though, Raleigh Convergence continued to facilitate getting answers for citizens. They’ve been compiling them for a follow-up candidate questionnaire, and co-published their coverage with partners in the project. “I think content sharing and engagement facilitating can be a way small, local news organizations can work out strategic, effective partnerships,” Raleigh Convergence‘s Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen shared with the Fix. 

Swapping Newsletters and Building Community

We get a lot of newsletters from a lot of newsrooms. But a week ago when we opened the weekly dispatch from City Bureau in Chicago, we were greeted by a different name. City Bureau had given the top half of their newsletter over to a note from staff at Block Club Chicago, another local newsroom in the city. It turns out that this was a newsletter swap, and Block Club had made space in their newsletter for City Bureau staff to introduce themselves to Block Club readers, too. Newsrooms across Chicago have been using newsletter swaps to support each other and grow the overall audience for local news. Prior to this swap, Block Club Chicago and ProPublica IL swapped. And ProPublica IL has also tested swaps with WBEZ and Chalkbeat Chicago, too. We DM’d ProPublica IL’s Logan Jaffe about the experience and she told us that one piece of advice she would offer is “Have a reason for the swap. Have something to point to — journalism that shows your collaboration. Doing the work beforehand is probably the best case to make to readers for why they should sign up for another organization’s newsletter.” Jaffe encouraged newsrooms to think of it less as a transaction and more as an introduction. “Think of it as introducing a reader to a friend you genuinely want them to meet, rather than just a formality. Have something to show for that relationship.” In a few days, just one of these swaps garnered 300 new subscribers for ProPublica IL. Darryl Holliday at City Bureau echoed that sentiment. He told us, “We’ve built relationships with folks at [Block Club Chicago] going back to 2012 when many of us worked at DNAinfo together. I think that relationship changes the formula in a good way—we don’t do things that are strictly transactional and we really want each other to succeed, so hopefully that shows in the ways that we work together.” Jaffe called this “sharing space,” and for local newsrooms who share street corners and neighborhoods, why not also share digital space too. Other sectors – like activism – have been using list swaps and co-marketing for some time. Below we’ve collected some advice from those efforts:

Creative Collaboration

Three Local Fix readers wrote in to us over recent weeks about creative reporting partnerships that are bringing innovation and collaboration to local news in different ways. A team at the University of Southern California is trying to build new frameworks to help journalists use data “as a way to fuel local news.” Christine Schmidt at NiemanLab reports that the project — called Crosstown LA — uses publicly available data on LA’s traffic, air quality, and crime to analyze trends and report local — really local — stories from that.” Currently, the USC team is working with KPCC and LAist, but the goal is to be able to help many more local newsrooms use these data sets to surface stories and add context to their reporting. On the other side of the country, journalists at the University of Maryland teamed up with NPR to cover the climate crisis through the stories of communities in Baltimore. The Code Red Summer project included hand built sensors, on the ground reporting, and community engagement. The series also relied on partnerships with the Howard Center for Investigative Reporting, Capital News Service, WMAR television, and Wide Angle Youth Media. Moving from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., ten local newsrooms in the District pooled their resources to cover homelessness together on one day. Not only were the Baltimore and DC examples collaborative, both were based on models from other local reporting, showing how good ideas can be adapted and built upon. 

Alert Alert

Push notifications have come a long way since we last talked about them in the Fix in 2017. It is easy for them to become overwhelming for anyone with a few apps on their phone, but if used thoughtfully and appropriately, they can inform, engage, and build audiences. Currently, many local news organizations aren’t using them as well as they could be, Krystal Knapp says. Knapp, who is the publisher of Planet Princeton in New Jersey, is creating a guide for publishers to use push alerts as part of an RJI Fellowship. Local newsrooms have some unique advantages that can make them stand out when it comes to notifications, including their literal location. Lenfest Local Lab recently tested out how to take advantage of location-based reporting by creating an app that sends notifications about stories as people walk by specific places. It was an early experiment, but did show a rise in engagement. Do you have a unique experiment you’ve done with push alerts, or other kinds of notifications, lately? Send it our way.

P.S. Many thanks to Kip Dooley, who ended his graduate internship with us in August. We miss you already Kip!
 Have a good weekend,
Josh and Teresa
@jcstearns, @gteresa

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.