A project of Democracy Fund

November 22, 2019

Local Fix: Building Loyalty, Leading Through Turmoil, Covering Guns


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: “Manager is a role, managing is a function, leadership is a practice.”

At SRCCON:LEAD this week Stacy-Marie Ishmael gave a talk about what it means to lead in journalism “in times of turmoil” — including the global political moment we are in, the unfolding challenges of the industry, and the personal pain so many of our colleagues have faced through “repeated restructurings and layoffs and management changes.” Ishmael ends on a point about journalism and harm, and “an institutional inability to reckon with the fact that we cause harm all the time.” There are so many important points in the talk that we won’t try to summarize them all. Just go ahead and read it.

Covering Gun Violence

In early November, over 200 people came together for the “Better Gun Violence Reporting Summit” to work on creating new best practices for journalists reporting on gun violence. Speakers and others have explored how the way things are done create more harm than good. While the takeaways are still being shared and digested, some Philadelphia newsrooms acted right away after attending. They compiled a list of resources including information for support groups and counseling services, and have started sharing it and linking to it regularly when reporting on gun violence. It’s one action among many newsrooms and journalists can take. Below, we’ve compiled a list of important reflections, resources, and ideas from other journalists and leaders about covering gun violence that have been shared over the past few months. Take some time to read and reflect, but also be inspired by those newsrooms in Philadelphia who took quick action.

Keep Them Coming Back

What is more important: A big email list or a loyal email list? It’s a trick question, because both could be important to building your audience driven revenue strategy. However, more and more people are looking at how to build loyalty with the readers they already have, rather than just grow their audience. This lesson led the News Revenue Hub to launch their new Audience Lab with the goal of “helping newsrooms to find not just new readers, but loyal ones.” Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative is finding similar results in their research which is being put to use across Gannett to attract and keep digital subscribers. They have created a model for a loyalty measurement which can help guide how they move readers to become subscribes. German publisher DuMont has also used a loyalty metric called “priority visitors” to help identify readers from their local regions who visit their sites at least five times in a month. We’ve collected a few more examples, some smart analysis and a how-to guide around reader loyalty in the links below.

One Week, Three Reports

In roughly a week three major reports on the state of local news were released. We wanted to step back and explore what they all add up to, where they align and diverge, and most importantly what can local newsrooms concretely use in these reports to advance their work. In a Brookings report the author endeavors to show how erosions in local news have national implications and regional impact, highlighting the vital connection between local and national issues and debates. The PEN America report dives into specific regions with case studies in North Carolina, Michigan and Colorado, written by local journalists, that provide a view into how these issues are playing out for local communities. PEN’s recommendations span ideas for newsrooms, tech companies, philanthropy, news consumers, academia and public policy, noting that these challenges demand action across those sectors. One theme across the reports was the role of public policy in addressing the democractic needs of an informed public. Both the Brookings and PEN reports below propose policy interventions, but the Knight and Gallup polling in their new report suggests that most people are not yet supportive of tax dollars subsidizing news. That said, their polling also found that a broad majority of people value the press and the role it plays, but largely do not understand or know about the crisis facing journalism. When given facts about the financial struggles in local news people are much more willing to pay or donate to support it. That is an opportunity for newsrooms and argues for greater transparency and engagement with communities around the struggles of doing this work. In places like New Jersey we have seen engagement and organizing lead to broad bi-partisan support for policy related to news and information. It was impossible to ignore that all of this research came on the heels of the Gannett and Gatehouse merger being finalized, and Ken Doctor had one of the most comprehensive overviews of what that deal will mean which we’ve also linked to 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.