A project of Democracy Fund

October 11, 2019

Local Fix: Learn to Listen, Whistleblower Tips, and Recognizing Women


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: Apply for Direct Legal Services We know that local journalists rarely have the legal support they really need to pursue deep investigative and enterprise reporting. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is working to help to fill that gap with a new initiative to hire RCFP lawyers to work in five regions. They will provide direct legal services to help local newsrooms “defend their rights to gather and report the news, gain access to public records and court proceedings, and hold state and local government agencies and officials accountable.” The deadline for proposals is October 31. Learn more here.


Learning to Listen

We invited the team from Dot Connector Studio to contribute a section this week about the new report “Learning to Listen: Building a culture of engagement in newsrooms.”  Take it away DCS:

Last week, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism released Dot Connector Studio’s research report on the first year of the Community Listening and Engagement Fund (CLEF)— Learning to Listen: Building a culture of engagement in newsrooms. The report offers an unvarnished snapshot of how newsrooms have fared in deploying the engaged journalism services Hearken and GroundSource. The research found that use of these services can indeed deepen journalists’ engagement with audience members, with consistent effort, buy-in from managers, and a well-crafted ask. The report documents successful use cases by newsrooms including Chalkbeat, The Colorado Independent, Dallas Morning News, KPCC, and Marfa Public Radio. However, given this volatile moment in the news industry, retaining staff, finding money and time for experimentation, and paying for such services pose challenges. The report covers year one of CLEF, but the program is continuing through mid-2020, helping even more newsrooms adopt other engagement tools and services from the Listening Post Collective, MuckRock, DocumentCloud, and Coral by Vox Media. Stay tuned for more. 


Covering Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers have been in the national news almost daily for the past few weeks, but the reality is that whistleblowers can and do come forward at all levels of government and business. They have had a significant role in exposing corruption and fraud along with other wrongdoings. Because whistleblowers are different than other kinds of leaks and sources, newsrooms need to understand the nuances and policies that define whistleblowing and think carefully about how they report on them. We’ve pulled together some resources and tips for journalists on covering whistleblowers that come forward, both locally and nationally in the future.  

  1. Familiarize yourself with whistleblower protection laws. From the False Claims Act to the Dodd-Frank Act to the Whistleblower Protection Act, an extensive legal framework surrounds protection and can vary on a state by state basis.
  2. Protect anonymity. Anonymity can be an important component of a whistleblower case. It offers protection to the whistleblower and in the long run can incentivize more whistleblowers to come forward in the future.
  3. Understand the differences between whistleblowers and “leakers.” According to the Government Accountability project, whistleblowers are workers who release information through an official process that shows an abuse of public trust. 

If you’re interested in knowing more about covering whistleblowers, the following resources can help:


Recognizing Women

Women make up 41.7 percent of newsrooms according to the 2019 Women’s Media Center report, but the percentage of women in leadership positions is much lower. Part of fighting for gender equity is also celebrating the women who are working to level the playing field. For example, at a recent Journalism & Women Symposium, top journalism innovators met to discuss their best leadership strategies and to celebrate each other. These strategies included learning to use past experiences to build upon for the future. In that spirit, we wanted to share some examples of how others are doing that for women in journalism overall. Angilee Shah is working to increase the representation of female journalists on Wikipedia. With only 18 percent of Wikipedia’s biographical articles being about women, Shah believes increasing the representation of women journalists will provide them with more opportunities and allow them to take their rightful place as those who shape how we understand the world through news media. The International Women’s Media Foundation’s #JournoHeroes campaign is another way to show recognition by sharing your own female heroes in journalism on Twitter. Finally, Kristin Gilger and Julia Wallace recently published their book There’s No Crying in Newsrooms about what they have learned about what it takes to lead in the field of journalism. The book examines the treatment of women in newsrooms during the 1970s, then tracks the modern history of women rising to leadership positions. These initiatives all show that looking back on the past and celebrating those who came before us can help us build a better future. 

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.