A project of Democracy Fund

April 10, 2020

Local Fix: Engagement, Small Businesses, Questions


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: Buddy the Elf, What’s Your Favorite Color?
While we agree that asking “are you ok?” is important right now, we also know the “how are you’s” and nonstop coronavirus conversation can be pretty overwhelming. This is a long-term event, so resilience and rest are important, especially in this week of holidays and time of constant catch-ups (Chag Pesach Sameach and Happy Easter!). Why not bust out your inner camp counselor and get creative with your conversation starters? Leah Fessler shared some useful ideas on how to “talk about literally anything else” on the Medium publication Forge, and the Circle Way has a great list of check-in questions you can pull from, too. Taking a moment to chat about your latest Netflix show or share a favorite recipe can help keep all of us going. Oh, and don’t forget to drink some water during your conversation (and otherwise!).

Community Engagement in Coronavirus

In the last few years, community engagement has become a core part of news organizations, building stronger ties between newsrooms and people’s living rooms and increasing offline and online communication and understanding between reporters and news consumers throughout the news-gathering process. Then a pandemic began. How is community engagement by newsrooms working and shifting in the coronavirus age? It’s especially important to understand how to engage authentically and safely with your community in this moment because, as Justin Aciello wrote on Twitter, “a lot of my work is essentially serving as a dispatcher. People trust me, so they ask questions. I might know the answer, I might not. But I listen and try to direct them to a resource. It can be very overwhelming but it’s worth it. I love my people.” Carrie Brown, director of the social journalism program at Newmark Graduate School of Journalism shared a resource guide for her students on how to engage with your community in the middle of this pandemic. While she (and we) recommend you don’t attempt to do everything at once, you can pull pieces that work for you to incorporate into your work. Start small — if this is new to you, take some time to figure out where your local communities gather now. Can you genuinely partner with people who already have ties to the community you want to reach? Considering hosting a virtual event for your community or for other journalists? Community engagement is still adapting to coronavirus but practitioners around the world are experimenting with new ways to engage with their communities to provide the help and support they need. Here are some tips they’ve shared:

Small Businesses Helping Small Businesses

This pandemic challenges us in many ways, and the financial challenges for small businesses are severe. Nonprofit and for-profit local newsrooms alike are facing tough economic pressures, just as local restaurants, gyms, shops, museums, and more are experiencing the same. Several local news organizations are stepping up to offer collective support for their nearby small businesses in inventive ways. Last month, the American Press Institute’s Kevin Loker shared many examples of news organizations offering ad inventory, free classified listings, maps of restaurants offering takeout and delivery, telling business owners’ stories, and more. West Virginia Public Broadcasting is inviting independent and locally owned restaurants to share news about their businesses on air for free and VTDigger teamed up with a Vermont glove company to increase member signups and donate masks to nearby hospitals. “We are all in this together as a community,” VTDigger founder Anne Galloway said in announcing the partnership. On the flip side, businesses are stepping up in new ways, too, like a Canadian fast-food chain that is sponsoring free access to coronavirus information and other news in local outlets throughout April. Small businesses of all types need help right now, and our communities can be a powerful source of it. Get inspired here:

Considering Tomorrow’s Questions

It’s always a good time to thank local journalists, but now is an especially good time to reflect on the work that they do. Local journalists have been recognized as essential workers in over 30 states, with governors and senators encouraging support for community media organizations. “During a time like this, when we as a state and nation are facing a crisis most of us have never experienced, few things are more important than having the facts and being informed,” Vermont’s governor said last month. Twitter saw a similar burst of gratitude for journalists with the #PRESSential hashtag organized by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists on April 9. As we appreciate local journalism today, how can we work together to make it resilient and re-envision what that essential role could mean in the future? How might we, as Anita Zielina wondered this week, build a better, more sustainable post-coronavirus media world? Other questions raised: Is journalism a business, or is it a museum? How might we facilitate a feeling of belonging through our journalism? How can we identify, cluster and address our communities in new ways to better serve them and build a business around them? What big questions are emerging for you right now? Reply to this email with one or two and we’ll feature a few in a future Local Fix. 

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.