A project of Democracy Fund

November 1, 2019

Local Fix: Pass the Mic to NC Local, Local Edition, and Solution Set

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: Double your donation to 198 newsrooms

Today we’re celebrating the kickoff of NewsMatch 2019. For the next two months donations to 198 nonprofit newsrooms all over the country will be doubled. The dollars that NewsMatch helps raise go directly toward supporting journalists, newsrooms, and local news. If you want to help get the word out about NewsMatch or donate to newsrooms you care about, head on over to NewsMatch.org. Thanks for sharing!

Pass the Mic

This week we’re trying something a little different and featuring excerpts from three newsletters about local news. These newsletters regularly share stories about the often overlooked success stories and learnings in local news and are worth a subscribe. Thanks to Kristen Hare, Melanie Sill and Joseph Lichterman for saying yes to being featured, and for inspiring us often here on the Local Fix. Want more great local news inspiration? Check out the list of resources we turn to to compile the Local Fix, and this list of newsletters about journalism compiled by Lichterman.

Small Online News Sites Offer Big Lessons – NC Local

This excerpt from Melanie Sill’s NC Local newsletter has been edited slightly for length. Subscribe here

It doesn’t get much attention in national media, but local news has a small and scrappy entrepreneur community, including about 260 people who gathered last week at a conference of LION Publishers (Local Independent Online News.) LION’s membership of mostly for-profit online outlets has been taking on the same existential questions as bigger news-industry counterparts: How do we keep to our news mission but pay the bills? How can we add readers, viewers and impact? How do we expand sources of revenue — events, donations, membership, what else?

Many LION sites rely heavily on digital advertising, especially locally sold ads; others are building member programs, some are nonprofit and a few are part of larger groups. Many proprietors are editor, publisher and ad salesperson all in one body, and while one panelist confessed she was burned out and thinking of quitting, most voiced determination to solve problems and keep moving. 

LION’s member stories remind us that small shops can be more nimble with change than some big operations: For instance, founding editor Krystal Knapp from Planet Princeton did a lightning talk highlighting her success using push notifications to build audience; another panel focused on using text messaging for audience engagement — tools that are getting easier and less expensive to use. Jay Allred, president of Ohio’s Richland Source, described a breakthrough to simplify his site’s membership process from 13 clicks to 2 — and the resulting growth, part of a panel on lessons from the Facebook Journalism Project membership accelerator for local news organizations.
Read the Whole Story on NC Local
Links Sill Recommends:

More Than Bridal Parties in Nashville – Local Edition 

This excerpt from Kristen Hare’s Local Edition newsletter has been edited slightly for length. Subscribe here  

I saw a lot of things on my first trip to Nashville: biking bridal showers, tractor-pulled bridal showers, hot-tub-party-bus bridal showers. But on Friday, in a chilly convention center, I heard something I’ve been thinking for a long time now. The business narrative of local news is one of failure, said Michele McLellan, but there are “pockets of success.” 

McLellan has been tracking the births and lives of local news startups since 2008 with Michele’s List. In Nashville, at the LION Publishers’ annual conference, she told us that since 2008, she’s tracked 26 for-profit local online news sites starting each year, and that four out of five of them have made it for five years. On the day after learning of more layoffs at the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns and with whom I’ve been working on an obit experiment, McLellan’s data felt encouraging. It doesn’t fix those layoffs, or the many, many others that have devastated local newsrooms for years. But there are pockets of success. 

I didn’t get to talk to McLellan in person in Nashville, but did send her an email with a few follow-up questions. I asked what she’s most excited about now in local news: “I am excited about the progress that born-on-the-web news organizations are making, both the nonprofits and the for-profits. Both segments have stabilized considerably in the past decade in terms of their revenue.” And her biggest worry? “…That fake news propagandists will invade local news deserts before legitimate startups can get there.”
Read the Whole Story on Local Edition
Links Hare Recommends:

Lessons from Constant Recreation – Solution Set
This excerpt from Joseph Lichterman’s Solution Set newsletter has been slightly edited for length. Subscribe here

Launched in 2014 as Discourse Media, a nationally focused investigative site and broader journalism platform, the company was primarily bootstrapped for its first five years. But in late 2017 and early 2018 it decided to shift its focus to build a platform for audience-driven local news that can help fill the gaps in news coverage left by the decimation of local newspapers. 

This spring, the Canadian news startup The Discourse launched a fundraising campaign. It was looking to grow its base of monthly donors to support its reporting in three communities. The site called the campaign a do-or-die moment. The Discourse, however, did not meet its goal. It couldn’t convince enough readers to make monthly contributions. The Discourse’s goal was to attract 1,000 contributors. Just over 500 people donated. 

As a result, it decided to close two of its pilot sites and double down on its most successful pilot covering the Cowichan Valley in rural British Columbia. It focused on its next steps thinking about the audience engagement funnel. In order to expand its audience, The Discourse has tweaked its editorial approach and has upped its publishing frequency. It has also revamped its website and updated its SEO strategy [and] it’s focusing on its email newsletter strategy. Now it’s hoping to share that knowledge and those resources with other news organizations. It’s creating a nine-week long boot camp with two soon-to-launch local Canadian newsrooms to help kick start their businesses as they get off the ground.
Read the Whole Story on Solution Set
Links Lichterman Recommends:

Thanks again to Sill, Hare, and Lichterman for sharing their work with us this week! 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.