A project of Democracy Fund

January 31, 2020

Local Fix: Paywalls, Community Fairs, Job Deadlines

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:Everyone Needs an Editor

Good reporters often have good editors behind the scenes, without a byline but with important insight into a project’s shape and impact. (And they often catch your silly mistakes, for which the writer of this section is very grateful!) As newsrooms have shrunk, the need for a strong backbone of editors has increased. “Screaming ‘EDITOR SHORTAGE!’ is not a great way to go viral, but in my view, it is the most significant challenge facing newsrooms right now,” wrote Alison MacAdam, then a senior editorial specialist at NPR, at Poynter in 2016. Now, a project fiscally sponsored by Investigative Reporters and Editors has launched to partner (and pay for) experienced editors no longer in newsrooms with the journalists seeking their guidance. You can get involved with this project or others that have clued into this need, like ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network or CIR’s Local Reporting Lab, or the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas’ free online course for investigative reporting in the digital age launching next week. 

Bringing Down The (Pay)wall… Temporarily.

Last week, the news about Kobe Bryant’s death had a tremendous impact on the city of Los Angeles as demonstrated by KPCC’s Erick Galindo writing that, as an Angeleno, “Kobe was hope, man.” In response, the L.A. Times took the step of dropping their paywall for all their Kobe-related coverage. We could only find six other instances of them dropping their paywall — five of those were natural disasters and the sixth was the death of a Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Times columnist. So, why drop the paywall? In 2016, University of Southern California’s Mike Ananny and Leila Bighash sought to answer that question. They found 69 cases of newspapers dropping their paywall between 1999 and 2015, discovering that in some cases, like with Kobe, newspapers drop their paywall to gives their audiences access to “coverage considered too civically valuable to commodify financially.” By removing their paywall newspapers are providing information they recognize is important to their community, reaching people they may otherwise not, and ultimately they’re removing an access barrier. Paywalls have a storied history with newspapers making the digital transition and looking for a new business model, though many nonprofit news outlets keep their journalism accessible year-round.

Resource Fairs Can Extend Journalism’s Impact

How can journalism serve communities beyond reporting an article? City Bureau’s Bettina Chang posed this question in their newsletter last week, explaining the evolution of their events series. One specific type of event that really responds to a community’s needs is a resource fair — an event showcasing the services your community has to offer, usually with booths and representatives from different local partners,, something a crop of local news orgs have been putting on recently. Last weekend, Block Club Chicago held its first free resource fair on the city’s West Side, offering a free meal, access blood pressure screenings, legal aid, workforce development and mentoring programs, Census 2020 info, a dropbox for unused/expired medications, Austin Weekly newspapers, drug deactivation kits, the Triibe Guide to Black Chicago, and much more.” Billy Penn, part of WHYY public radio station in Philadelphia, also organized an after-school activities fair in September as part of the Broke in Philly collaborative. Several years ago, Jambalaya News in New Orleans started holding job fairs after Hurricane Katrina brought a demand for construction workers to rebuild the city. “When we see a need, we are able to get volunteers. We organize and make it happen, so people feel like they are closer to us,” Jambalaya News COO Rocio Tirado said last year. These organizations, among several others, focus on extending journalism beyond the page and into the community through information and resources. The examples below can serve as a roadmap for you if you want to plan your own.

Last Minute Deadlines

Occasionally we like to highlight jobs and other opportunities, and man there are a ton out there right now. Many have deadlines of TODAY, but there’s still time for you to apply. Follow the lead of Jasmine Brown, a current Nieman Fellow, who said on Twitter that she applied at 11:48pm the night of her deadline. If you have an opportunity to share, or if you’re looking for something new, let us know – we always like to connect great folks with great opportunities. (And for more regular job listings, one weekly newsletter to check out is Mandy Hofmockel’s “Journalism Jobs and a Photo of my Dog”).

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.