A project of Democracy Fund

September 13, 2019

Local Fix: Racial Equity, Research, and Connections

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: Connect With Each Other
While neither of us are at the Online News Association conference this week, we’ve loved how people are sharing resources, slides, and tweeting learnings from sessions and conversations. Another great thing that has happened this week is Heather Bryant’s idea to hold a ‘digital unconference,’ for those not at big journalism events that have happened recently.  “Just because we’re not at a conference doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to meet other amazing people and connect over what we’re working on, fascinated by and wanting to learn more about,” Bryant wrote. You can join the informal digital video call today (Friday) at 4 pm ET/1 pm PT. Interested in more ways to connect digitally with like-minded folks trying new things in their communities? There are lots of ways to do that. For example, Gather has regular video calls around certain topics. And if you want to meet some of these folks in person, apply for a Peer Learning and Collaboration Fund stipend. Are there other places you turn to online to connect with local journalism innovators that we should share? Respond and send them our way.

New Funding Focused on Racial Equity in Journalism 

We were thrilled to see the launch of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund this week. The fund, which Democracy Fund is one of the contributors along with Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, the Google News Initiative, and the News Integrity Initiative, seeks to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of news organizations led by people of color to increase civic engagement for communities of color. Ida B. Wells Society of Investigative Reporting co-founder Nikole Hannah-Jones put it well in the announcement when she said “Media organizations led by people of color have long been a vanguard of our democracy, holding the powerful accountable for the ways it treats its most vulnerable citizens in ways mainstream media has often failed to do.” However, even though they’ve played such a vital role, news entrepreneurs of color have faced huge gaps in capital and resources, including in foundation funding. Over five years only six percent of the $1.2 billion in grants for news in the US went towards efforts serving specific racial and ethnic groups, according to a study we commissioned last year. This new fund is one way to confront issues of inequality in journalism and philanthropy, and to ensure all communities have access to news and information with a broader, more accurate array of perspectives. “Now more than ever, we need reporting that addresses the root causes of racial injustice and confronts racism with unflinching honesty and courage,” Maya Thornell-Sandifor of Borealis Philanthropy, which hosts the fund, noted in the announcement. We agree. If you’re a newsroom interested in applying, there will be more details about eligibility and the process on the Borealis website. Sign up now to be notified when details are posted. 

Stories Start Local

When independent local news site ARLNow broke a major criminal justice story in their community – through dogged reporting, FOIA requests and more – their story got rereported by a number of national outlets with little or no credit. Local news publishers complain about this sort of thing all the time, but ARLNow’s founder Scott Brodbeck used this example as a jumping off point to talk about why it matters when digital hyperlocals like his are made invisible. “It’s because national media reporters who love reminding everyone that local news in crisis are absolutely ignoring the Local Independent Online News Publishers success story of hundreds of grassroots local online news orgs sprouting up around the country, dismissing most of us as one offs,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “With more love from nat’l outlets, we can grow the # of indie local sites more quickly, help would-be publishers learn best practices, and fill more local news voids.” Brodbeck also pointed out that too many people are quick to dismiss hyperlocal publications because they don’t look and feel like traditional newsrooms – either because of their design, voice, or coverage – but he believes that we need new kinds of publications that break the mold and reinvent local coverage. Below we highlight one story that discusses the landscape of Local Independent Online News Publishers and point to a few examples where local news laid the groundwork for critical national stories.

Research Round-up

Occasionally in the Fix we like to highlight recent research with useful wisdom for local newsrooms. This week we’ve got four pieces of research we wanted to highlight and they come from a range of sources – academic, industry, and the field itself. First of all, from the Reuters Institute a new study dives deep into how young people consume news and information. One of the themes throughout this report was that young news consumers are looking for sources that present authentic reporting, enriched by local voices and perspectives. Over and over again in the study those being interviewed talk about valuing local sources and perspectives, even on global issues and events. A new report out of Duke University looks at who is actually producing that kind of reporting. The researchers found that, “local newspapers significantly outperform local TV, radio, and online-only outlets in news production” but under the surface of that topline finding is some interesting nuance. For example online-only media outlets only account for about 10 percent of local news, but more than 80 percent of the news they produce addresses critical community information needs. A different study from the Membership Puzzle Project focuses on how some of the online-only sites are building robust membership programs. “The most common means we saw for enabling memberful routines,” write the authors, “are through self-hosted platforms (including voting, comments, and callouts); shared work with data (including hackathons); email and email newsletters; surveys; social media; trainings and other education; and editorial meetings and events.” The report is full of ideas and models for engaging readers in ways that deepen reporting and expand sustainability. Finally, the American Press Institute published a guide for local newspapers who are facing the difficult decision to cut print days. In “Making it work when publishing days must go,” David Ho offers proven guidance on how to decide which days to cut, how to communicate to readers, and how to increase the value of your digital product. 

Have a good weekend,
Josh and Teresa, with additional help from Lea Trusty
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @lmariahtrusty

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.