A project of Democracy Fund

January 10, 2020

Local Fix: Say Hi and Get Creative


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: Say Hi

Happy New Year Local Fix-ers. Usually we use this space to share one good idea or project that we think you should check out. As we get started with this new year, though, we want to hear from you. What are you excited about in 2020? What are you worried about? What should we feature here? Don’t hesitate to send us an email (just hit reply), or tweet us @thelocalnewslab with your own good ideas, questions, and things you want other people to know about. Or, just to say hi. This newsletter is for you and we want to make it as useful as possible. In the spirit of starting fresh, we’re dedicating the rest of today’s newsletter to getting creative. Get inspired below. We can’t wait to hear from you.


Get creative within boundaries

“Journalism needs creativity right now,” Katie Hawkins-Gaar wrote in an edition of The Cohort back in 2017. Her words are as true today as they were then. We know it can be difficult to ‘get creative’ when faced with limited resources, stress, and the state of things right now, but these constraints can actually lead to the best work, Hawkins-Gaar points out. “People are at their most creative when you give them boundaries,” she wrote. Here are some inspirations for how people have taken boundaries and used them to get creative. For example, artist Molly McLeod started a daily art practice. She shared lessons in a webinar that you can learn from. The conference frank, which is coming up in February, is full of examples of how different organizations have used constraints to their benefit. In 2018 at frank, Merriam-Webster’s Lisa Schneider said that clear boundaries on what they do and don’t do has given them a lot of power, and helped the dictionary gain popularity. For more inspiration, check out how we get inspired in our office in the next section.


Some of our own creativity sparks

In addition to the resources above, we asked some of our colleagues how they get creative and inspired. We noticed they had a few things in common: they turn off screens, give themselves and their minds time to wander, and focus on things outside of their day to day work. What are your favorite ways to get creative and inspired? Respond and we’ll share a few more next week.

  • Angelica Das reads advice columns: “It helps me feel less alone knowing that there are so many people out there who worry about the same things I do, and that have problems and ask for help.” 
  • Jocelyn McDaniel and Anna Kegler keep a notebook close by to capture ideas: “Then you revisit over time and continue to develop those ideas. That’s something I learned in the Artist way; it’s about “being pregnant with an idea and birthing it.” I think the moral of the story is that it takes time for ideas to really flourish.”
  • Nadia Firozi finds inspiration from art that’s accessible from anywhere: “For example, The Royal Ballet in the UK has a great YouTube channel and they actually air rehearsal sessions that include dramaturgy, ballet history, and more. They have people from all over the world represented.”
  • Josh Stearns turns to an array of newsletters: “I find these newsletters inspiring and useful.” 
  • Teresa Gorman makes cheeseboards:  “I host friends to watch cheesy tv and make corresponding cheese boards. Give yourself permission to do something just because.”


When all else fails, take a walk

One of the old tropes of journalism is the idea of “shoe-leather reporting.” Traditionally, the term has meant, as Jay Rosen describes in a 2015 post, “the journalist is literally on foot, walking from office to office, source to source, conducting interviews, pulling documents, hunting down facts no one else has confirmed yet.” Beyond journalism, walking a neighborhood, a city, a stretch of land is a powerful way to learn its stories, to build a sense of place. And walking has other benefits as well. A 2014 New Yorker article pulls together the science behind how and why walking can help spark thinking and problem solving. “The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts,” Farris Jabr writes. In the links below we’ve pulled together a few examples of how journalists have used walking to rethink their process, including experiments in slow journalism and community engagement.

Have a good weekend,
Josh and Teresa
@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.