A project of Democracy Fund

April 3, 2020

Local Fix: Offline Info Needs, Immigrant Media, Coloring Books

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: Get Help With Your COVID-19 Data Project

There are a lot of data stories that can be told around COVID-19, and double-checking your number-crunching is an essential step in telling them. But many local reporters don’t have data-friendly colleagues or editors in their newsrooms to help out. That’s where the Peer Data Review program from OpenNews comes in: You can get paired with a peer to think through your story alongside you and help guide you to the best result. The program ran in beta this fall and is focusing primarily on COVID-19 stories now. It’s a great example of ways that journalists can provide their own mutual aid to each other at this moment thanks to existing networks and relationship builders like OpenNews. Apply to get support here.

Connecting Community Needs

There is no denying that coronavirus has disrupted all of our lives. But local news has the unique power during these times of, as Hanaa’ Tameez put on Twitter, “being genuinely helpful in a crisis.” Local journalists have been working incredibly hard to understand and deliver the information and resources their communities need during this pandemic. Last month, the Boston Globe launched Boston Helps to connect community members in need of help with people who are willing to help by paying for someone’s groceries, essential toiletries, a meal delivery to someone’s home, a rideshare service locally, and/or monetary donation to a Bostonian. The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of the city’s six major media companies and other local institutions, is hosting virtual town halls that invite residents to talk through what information they need during this time. While this approach allows the journalists to talk directly with other Charlotteans, it brings up another issue about reporting COVID-19: Internet access. Journalists are doing vital work and it’s important that that work recognizes the needs of those who are offline and reaches them with answers. CJC’s solution? A COVID-19 Community Info Needs Phone Tree that asks participants to call five people in their city or town who wouldn’t participate in a town hall and/or do not have internet access. As the pandemic impacts everyone differently, there are many ways local journalists can help. Here are just a few examples of how they are going above and beyond to do just that.

Local Immigrant Info Needs Are At Risk

Government officials, medical experts, schools, and more are trying to reach as many people as possible during this pandemic with information they need to know to keep themselves and our communities safe. Media outlets that are run by and serve immigrants and speakers of languages other than English have been filling those information needs for decades. A report this week from the Center for Community Media highlights how immigrant-focused news organizations are digital first responders for their communities, trusted when other media is not. Daniela Gerson, the center’s senior fellow, was working on this report prior to the pandemic, but released an early version to showcase “outstanding examples of immigrant news outlets rising to the communication challenges of 2020” that “can save lives during crises.” For example: “By day, Richard Vang is an ‘unassuming heads-down, loyal employee’ at Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But when he returns to his suburban home at night, he descends the stairs to his basement closet, selects one of his many suits and transforms into an internationally known news anchor for Suab Hmong International Broadcasting Co.,” one of the oldest U.S. outlets for the Hmong community that fled Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand after the Vietnam War. Vang’s outlet is one of five that Gerson profiled, finding trends toward social media for growth in groups where misinformation proliferates, online broadcasting for reaching and building community with dispersed groups, and deep roots in local communities across nations. These outlets and these values are more important than ever during a pandemic. “If we lose them and others like them, moving forward it will become even harder to keep our society as a whole, including our immigrant communities, informed. And that will hurt all of us,” Gerson said in the report. Read more about those profiled below:

Color Your Neighborhood — From Your Home

When coloring books for adults became a trend a few years ago, they filled a creative need we didn’t know we had. The toughest decision we faced was if we wanted to color the tree an actual tree color, a welcome shift from the choices in the rest of our busy days. Now, these art spaces can be an escape for adults and children alike, and a way to explore new neighborhoods from our tables, especially with local outlets sharing coloring book pages in print and PDF downloads. Last week we highlighted ways that news organizations were sharing the news that kids need, including The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa using its newsprint as redesigned kids’ pages. This week, we witnessed a coloring book boom as creative uses of unused newspaper pages, fundraisers for outlets and artists alike, and just plain morale boosters highlighting local idiosyncrasies and landmarks. (Christine’s favorite: “We put the ‘ope’ in hope”.) Coloring books can also help explain scary situations to younger colorers, like KPCC’s Ashley Alvarado did on earthquakes as California Watch’s public engagement manager in 2011 and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital did on the pandemic this week. Have you seen other fun, locally-driven creative outlets from newsrooms? Share them with us by replying to this email (or, if you have colored a page, share that, too!). 

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.