A project of Democracy Fund

September 27, 2019

Local Fix: Planning, Peers, Parties, and Payment

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: Peer Data Coaching
OpenNews recently announced a new project to support local journalists working on data stories. The program pairs a journalist with a peer coach to work out questions, problems and ideas. It’s a great model, especially for local newsrooms where there might be only one person, or half a person (or an imaginary person) working on data stories with no one to turn to for help. OpenNews is responding to a real need that we’ve heard for all types of topics and skill sets. Often, folks in local news feel like they’re the ‘only one’ doing something and can feel alone in their endeavours to transform local news ecosystems. Hopefully projects like this one can help people feel less alone – and make journalism better. Apply for the project by October 16.

Plan That Strategy

In recent months three nonprofit newsrooms have released strategic plans that offer bold visions for where they are headed, how they intend to grow, and what it will take to  get there. In the face of so much bad news in local news, these plans provide a bold sense of optimism and a hard-won sense of clarity about what the future holds. The plans are aspirational but clear-eyed about the challenges, they make big promises but also suggest hard choices, and they tell a story about the newsroom that makes us want to be involved. Indeed, each of them reads like an invitation – to their communities, to their funders, even to their staff – to join them in the work of making this vision a reality. They are roadmaps to possible futures. We’ve linked to those strategic plans below and provided a few pieces of concrete advice from Nell Edgington, who works with nonprofit organizations, including many newsrooms, on strategic planning, if you want to get started, or tweak, yours.

Journalism Pays Off 

We can calculate how much journalism costs — staff time, FOIA lawsuits, travel budgets, and more — but how do we calculate how much society benefits from investigative reporting? We saw a tweet this week from Wendi C. Thomas, who runs the nonprofit newsroom MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, in which she calculated that their reporting on one story had helped wipe out $6.5 million in medical debt. Thomas worked with ProPublica on the story which revealed the predatory billing practices of one local hospital in Memphis, and forced the hospital to forgive 6,500 people’s debt. Last year, researchers Paul Gao and Chang Lee reviewed municipal bond data in the years after a newspaper closure to show that “cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals.” In the links below we pull together a number of examples of efforts to measure the impact of quality journalism in dollars and cents. 

Local Podcast Parties

While you might think that listening to podcasts is a solo activity, many people are making it a communal one. Starting or joining a podcast listening group at a local newsroom could be an interesting way to connect with community members, collaborate with local podcasters, or extend the reach of your podcasts. Inspired by a tweet from Sarah Smarsh, we pulled together several examples. There are lots of ways to do this, from regular meetings to special events for one-off topics to online chats about popular series. For example, Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast that tells Latin American audio stories, created Clubes de Escucha or Listening Clubs. They’ve hosted 52 Listening Clubs around the world that got more even more people to listen and engage with their podcast. Now, they’ve created a guide for anyone to start a club. (Thanks Molly de Aguiar for the tip.) Washington, D.C.’s public radio station, WAMU, went with the theme of their new podcast about local food, and are hosting a happy hour at a local restaurant after each episode. There are more examples, and guides on how to get started, below. 

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, and Zaria
@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.