A project of Democracy Fund

January 24, 2020

Local Fix: Guidebooks, Local Social, Compassionate Coverage

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: Support Networks

In five years, hundreds of women have participated in leadership programs through ONA, Poynter, JAWS, and more as a route to strengthen their own skills but also develop the communities they have to turn to for advice. But support networks come in many forms, as ONA program director Jennifer Mizgata reminds us in this piece at Source. She suggests support in the shape of personal advisory boards, mentors and sponsors (yes, those are different), and a care team that can include a hair stylist, a therapist, a pet, and more. We hope in the future that workplaces will prioritize support of a whole person. But this is a useful guide to take advantage of existing resources and to make your own in the meantime. Get started here with Jennifer’s suggestions but don’t stop there. Why not take a minute to reach out to someone and give them a little support, or think about how you can give back, too? Give advice, a shoutout or just a high-five. You never know when they might need it.

From Investigation to Guidebook

A number of organizations have turned their important investigations into citizen guidebooks to help people follow up on the stories they shared. Good journalism can help people navigate their lives, surfacing information they need to make decisions about their community and families. But often in the course of reporting journalists come to understand the deeper processes and systems that undergird the issues they are reporting on. An article or investigation can tell a piece of that story, but may not be the best vehicle to help others understand that larger context. We like how these guidebooks provide an evergreen resource for communities while a specific story may continue to develop over time. It reminded us a bit of City Bureau’s useful distinction between engaging, empowering and equipping communities through journalism and civic information.

Think Local on Social (media)

“Local news folks: What social projects are you proud of?” Dallas Morning News audience engagement producer Mallorie Sullivan asked on Twitter last week. “BRAG ABOUT YOURSELVES Y’ALL.” And local outlets’ social media experts delivered. Sullivan happily obliged when we asked if we could share some of the responses in the Fix, so here are just a few. Columbus Dispatch digital news editor Michelle Everhart highlighted the archival photos shared to their Remember When, Columbus? Facebook group, calling it “our happy little corner of the internet.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Christopher Kuhagen explained how the outlet had their Instagram followers vote in a bracket to choose the best photo of 2019. Ray Boyd, the Philadelphia Inquirer senior engagement editor, gave a shoutout to the “Quote of the Day” feature on the organization’s Instagram, incorporating video into already-powerful words. And Dakota Moyer, digital content manager for North Carolina radio station 97.9 The Hill WCHL/Chapelboro, shared a link to his vlog of UNC’s homecoming, which he has used across Instagram, newsletters, and their website. Social media experimentation is one way to connect with your community and build audience, but often the examples we see as successes, as Sullivan pointed out, come from large national newsrooms. At the same time social media professionals like these are often undervalued and invisible. This long list shows that innovation can, and is, happening on the local level. What local social media experiments have you done lately? Jump into Sullivan’s Twitter thread to share your own examples, or hit reply to share them with us.

Compassionate Coverage

A 2018 Tow Center Study of news in urban and suburban Philadelphia found that residents of Germantown — whose population is 84 percent Black — felt the media was not covering them fairly. Participants agreed that news coverage “does not prioritize other crimes that have a significant, day-to-day impact on their community.” In response to this kind of coverage, Free Press, the Media, Inequality & Change Center and Media Mobilizing Project announced a new project: the Philadelphia Organizing and Media Collaborative. This three-year long collaborative project aims to transform criminal-legal system reporting in Philadelphia. Their reasoning? The current system of crime and violence news coverage disproportionately targets “Black and Brown communities, the poor, their own neighborhoods’ safety and actions taken by police and elected officials.” In Cleveland, Chris Quinn started a conversation in 2018 that changed crime reporting at Cleveland.com. The approach was simple: not naming minors, in most cases choosing not to publish mugshots, and creating the “Right to Be Forgotten” committee to review requests to remove names and photos from previous posts. Quinn acknowledges this approach may seem to challenge some journalism norms he argues that as journalists “we don’t cover everything that moves; we pick and choose. Because we pick certain things and they’re there forever, they can cause suffering.” Just this week, the Houston Chronicle announced they’d no longer post mugshot galleries in what looks like a similar move. These efforts are coming to terms with the suffering news outlets may have caused some communities, as Free Press’ Madeleine Bair shared on Twitter in December. “When will newsrooms hold themselves accountable for not only their positive, but their negative impact—the fear that sensational crime reporting breeds; the ‘“othering’”; the erasing of voices, histories, POV?” 

Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, Christine, and Dani
@jcstearns, @gteresa, @newsbyschmidt, @danirosales27

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.