A project of Democracy Fund

March 6, 2020

Local Fix: Coronavirus, Careers, Quoting Women


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: Quote More Female Experts
Women make up half of the world but are underrepresented or siloed in news coverage and the workplace. A new project from Internews, called Reflect Reality, aims to help change that with a toolkit and resources to connect reporters with female sources, especially experts. Several local journalists have audited their work in the past few years to see the proportion of women they quote — a positive step to hold themselves accountable, even if initial results were disappointing. Only 19 percent of experts cited in news stories globally are women, and now there’s no excuse to not do better. Try marking the start of Women’s History Month by giving more women a chance to be recognized in your reporting.

Covering Coronavirus

At the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are the basics of food and water. Just above that is the need for people to feel safe and secure. Both the physical and psychological need for safety is being challenged by the growing spread of the coronavirus and people are looking to local newsrooms for critical information, context, and updates. There are national and international elements to this story, but it is fundamentally about a local story, about people, and places. Where has the virus spread? What steps are my local schools or towns taking? What can I do to protect my family? At times like this the way journalists report can have a huge impact on the public response — at best helping people respond in a reasoned and careful way and helping usher in smart policy solutions and responses. At its worst, reporting can cause panic and exacerbate bias and fear in ways that can have longstanding influence and make everyone less safe. While some of the coverage of the coronavirus has tipped into the sensational, we have seen a lot of great reporting by local newsrooms who are trying to meet these basic information needs. At the same time, newsrooms are also combating misinformation about the virus and working to keep their own staff safe. We’ve pulled together a few good articles with tips and suggestions for covering the coronavirus.

A Career Path in Local News

A few years ago, a presentation developed by Millie Tran made the rounds on Twitter and in Facebook groups of journalists trying to figure out their career path. Called “What am I going to do with my life???”, it walks through the systems and path of a career or, in Tran’s words, “a working framework for how to design the life you want.” And it still seems to have at least three other Google Slides anonymous animals viewing it every time we open it. “Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress,” Tran wrote. We saw some of that career wisdom at work when Tran recently announced that she is leaving her role as deputy off-platform editor at The New York Times after nearly three years to become the chief product officer at the Texas Tribune. She’ll join Stacy-Marie Ishmael, who has had her own fascinating career with stints at Apple, BuzzFeed and The Financial Times and will now be the Tribune’s editorial director. Ishmael shared her own career wisdom through a column on newsroom management at Source that is still worth a read. Tran’s slides, Ishmael’s columns, and both of their experiences demonstrate that there is no one perfect path. We need people with many skills in this movement, from developers to designers to lawyers to community organizers. How can you supercharge your skills and use them wisely in local news? Remember, you can be more of a leader than you might think.

Covering Native American Communities

In a recent survey of five national news organizations’ coverage of Indigenous peoples in the U.S., the Native American Journalists Association found that more than half of the content “relied on clichéd themes and stereotyping terminology.” At the same time, aspiring Native journalists face challenges in building careers, in part due to the fact that there are few degree programs in journalism at tribal colleges and universities, a Democracy Fund report on the state of American Indian media found in 2018. Efforts to address these problems run up against challenges in ownership, hiring, and funding. In one effort to take on these deep-rooted problems, Report for America recently announced a partnership with NAJA to create 19 reporting positions in local news organizations across the country. The journalists will join the news organizations for one to two years  in a full time capacity to report on issues that focus on or include Indigenous affairs.  While this is one step toward repairing and rethinking those relationships, many more things can be done right away when framing coverage and offering support to Native journalists. NAJA, the International Journalists Network, the Open Notebook, and more have created guides and resources to help educate Non-Native reporters about the best practices to know when covering these communities, while also providing resources for Native journalists to further their careers. Dive in to the resources below:

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.