A project of Democracy Fund

February 28, 2020

Local Fix: Local Theater, Global Innovations, NPR at 50

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: Creative Connections through Local Theater 
In 2017 The Dallas Morning News commissioned two playwrights, Janielle Kastner and Brigham Mosley, to write a play about local news. Nearly three years later, “Playwrights in the Newsroom” is set to premiere this March 5 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Katser and Brigham had full creative control over the play they were writing, and in the spirit of trust and transparency, the Morning News couldn’t dictate what could and couldn’t go in the play and would see the play for the first time with everyone else. The idea for this project came as the newspaper started searching for creative ways to connect with new audiences. The product that comes from the collaboration between theater and journalism allows audiences, who might not otherwise engage with the important work produced by journalists, become aware of issues and stakes that may have an impact in their lives. In the Morning News’ case, Katser and Brigham use narrative storytelling to show audiences why it’s critical to support local journalism. 

Local Innovations Around the World

While we focus a lot on new ideas and experiments in local news in the United States, there’s a wealth of other innovations in different local news ecosystems around the world. Last week Ariel Zirulnick of the Membership Puzzle Project highlighted the creativity of La Silla Vacía’s workshop series in Colombia where members “donate their brain” for other members to learn from, like exploring nature in a hike together, improving one’s understanding of data analysis, and reconnecting with your pet better through sport. (Many outlets in Latin America are earning between 20 and 80 percent of revenue from membership, Zirulnick has said before.) In Europe and Africa, the French Le Monde news organization is experimenting with reaching readers on WhatsApp after the platform limited ways to share content to cut down on misinformation. WhatsApp serves 2 billion users, and while only 20 percent of Americans say they use WhatsApp lots of people use it to communicate with each other and with loved ones in other countries. How can news outlets play a role in sharing reporting or providing context, background and useful information in those conversations? Le Monde has some suggestions. So many of our challenges are shared across the globe; we all benefit when our solutions are shared too. 

NPR Turns 50

NPR celebrated the 50th anniversary of their articles of incorporation this week. After public radio advocates scotch-taped the medium into the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the founding members of NPR went on to create the unique shows and reporting we listen to, read, and experience today. The original “National Public Radio Purposes” written by Bill Siemering are pasted up at many public radio staffers’ desks, and they’re worth a read for anyone working to serve communities. Siemering revisited the values in a post in Current this week, and found that “results have been mixed.” Across the public radio system, there are stations providing innovation, local voices, and new collaborations. It is a part of the local journalism landscape that is actually seeing an increase in reporters. National and local public media are partnering up to do better work together, including NPR, but also national player American Public Media, Reveal, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and others. But there are also deep challenges. Public media has never truly represented or served all of America, as former radio reporter Brenda Salinas talks about in a recent podcast episode of The View From Somewhere. But revisiting the past and where things have measured up also gives us the opportunity to envision what the future could look like. We re-shared on Twitter a document that talks about some of the first organizing to create the U.S. public media consortium in 1950. Imagine what organizing, memo-writing, and big ideas are happening today that we’ll be reflecting on 50 years from now.

The Little Things Turn Into the Big Things

How is your New Year’s Resolution going? We’re 59 days into 2020, and a few days into Lent for those who participate in it. If you feel like you wanted to make some changes in your life, today is still the day to start. (Or maybe tomorrow, our bonus day in this leap year!) Mariana Dale, an early childhood education reporter at KPCC-LAist, shared how little changes in her day can help make big changes in her work. Through small but intentional steps she was able to bake engagement, outreach, and personal contact into each interaction she has with a potential source and listeners. She starts with five steps, including: ask questions like “What’s an issue that isn’t getting enough attention?” and “How do you find information about early childhood?”; spend 20 minutes a week tracking the people she interacts with in a source spreadsheet; following up with links to stories the sources are quoted in; finding a similarly-minded friend in the newsroom (or elsewhere, like Gather); and more. Reply to this email to share one small change you’re focusing on in your work and we’ll share some back with Local Fix readers.

 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.