A project of Democracy Fund

February 7, 2020

Local Fix: Election reporting, CMS destiny, Newsroom HR Policies

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: Talk to Voters

Last week The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer released a massive project on the 2020 election called Journey Across the 100. Over six months, journalists from McClatchy traveled to all 100 counties in North Carolina and asked hundreds of residents what they care about. This kind of election reporting, grounded in community and people, is vital. Robyn Tomlin, executive editor for the southeast region for McClatchy, shared on Twitter and in a follow-up interview in the email newsletter NC Local that this work shows how community concerns in swing states are far more nuanced then they’re often conveyed. “One of the biggest lessons for all media from 2016 was about the importance of on-the-ground listening,” Tomlin said in NC Local. “We’re trying to embed that into all of our political coverage efforts this year.” Go explore the project and get inspired to do your own people-first election coverage. 

“CMS is Destiny”

As the technology to tell stories has changed rapidly, so have the tools to actually produce and share those stories. Content management systems are a necessary evil of journalism. There are many many horror stories, as Kristen Hare shares in Poynter, of terrible CMSes that make life harder for everyone, from reporter to community member trying to read a piece.While a CMS is the vehicle for a news outlet to share  reporting, there is not one silver bullet solution that is a perfect fit for all organizations with differing workflow and resource realities. Some organizations with more resources have developed their own CMSes to license out to others as another revenue stream like the Washington Post’s Arc Publishing and Vox Media’s Chorus. But what about organizations that don’t have that bandwidth and tech talent? The Institute for Nonprofit News maintains its own WordPress framework, and there are also collaborations in the works between the News Revenue Hub, WordPress, the Google News Initiative, and more partners to develop CMSes for newsrooms of different sizes, budgets, and technological savviness. But with any change comes opportunity as well as risk.  Poynter and a new project based at Temple University called News Catalyst is trying to to help newsrooms sort through and adopt new technology in the digital transition and in their exploration for a CMS that fits their needs. They shared a guide this week for making those choices. But even then, it’s not always a painless process. To help, nonprofit newsrooms and newsrooms serving underserved groups can apply for  funding and guidance to switch to new publishing systems. Hopefully these resources can help your newsroom say goodbye to those horror stories!

Safety, Security, and Legal Support

If the last week is any indication, we are in for a contentious and heated election year. At the center of every contest and every conflict are the  journalists who are covering the campaigns. The heated nature of elections and campaign rallies and the increase in abusive rhetoric and outright attacks on the press mean that newsrooms and journalists need to brush up on safety practices, legal guidelines, and develop plans for protecting reporters online and off. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and National Press Photographers Association have all released new guides and resources for 2020. We collected those, along with a set of resources from other press freedom groups, that you should review and bookmark. We also want to encourage journalists to talk openly with each other about these issues. Journalists are often careful not to make themselves the story, but we shouldn’t accept these threats and harassment as the new norm. Only by talking about it together can we build the solidarity we need to take care of each other in the field and in our newsrooms over the coming year. 

HR Policies Are Important

The sustainability of journalism isn’t just about revenue strategies but also about HR policies. Really, it is. It may not get as much attention as debates about paywalls and platforms, but the internal policies that newsrooms adopt shape the kind of newsroom and news you create. In a recent Twitter thread, the new editor-in-chief of Berkeleyside’s expansion into Oakland posted a few job openings followed by an overview of their policies and the kind of workplace they are trying to create. Over at The Cohort, Emily Ramshaw of the new newsroom The 19th talked with Mel Grau about the intentional and inclusive policies they are putting in place to build their organization. In the interview Ramshaw outlines a set of robust benefits and says it was important to her to build that into the organizational budget from the start. Ramshaw hopes those policies are not just a strength that will help attract prospective employees but also something funders and donors will see as a value and invest in. However, it is not just start-ups who can rethink these sorts of core policies. In January, the Washington Post announced it was expanding parental leave to 20 weeks, which inspired Nieman Lab to track what others newsrooms offer. It’s all over the board. All of this matters because when it comes to rebuilding the kind of journalism our communities and our democracy needs, and in order to build with equity and inclusion at the heart of our work, infrastructure matters. You can’t just make tweaks around the edges; you have to care for the people that do the work through the policies you create.

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.