A project of Democracy Fund

April 17, 2020

Local Fix: Equity, Supporting Local, What is Work?


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: Rethinking Our Relationship with Work

Okay, let us join the chorus of voices that say no, working from home during a pandemic is not the same as regular work from home. And if you’re still leaving the house for your essential job, that experience isn’t normal, either. We shouldn’t expect to continue on business as usual as we begin this long term adjustment of taking care of loved ones in new ways and of sharing spaces with roommates or kids, all while caring for our own mental and physical health. So it’s okay, necessary even, to rethink our relationship with our work if you can. Open News curated resources to help you do just that. The guide covers everything from “What expectations do I need to change now that my entire team works from home?” to “How do I even start thinking about a plan?” Take the time you need to make the adjustments, breathe (here’s your reminder to do so), and remember journalists are here to support each other.   

An Urgent Focus on Equity

Though everyone in the world is facing coronavirus, we are not impacted by it equally. The pandemic highlights the inequalities of the perpetuated systems harming communities of color — including factors like historically lower investments by philanthropy and other sectors and less access to healthcare and sick leave. On top of that, communities of color often have less access to trusted information that genuinely serves them. As Patrice Peck, writer of Coronavirus News for Black Folks, wrote, “Not only will this lack of coverage [of how the pandemic is disproportionately impacting the black community] likely worsen the pandemic overall due to a lack of greater awareness and information about the disease and pandemic within (and without) our community, but it’ll also devastate our community to a much greater degree.” We agree. Our teammates at Democracy Fund shared their approach to supporting equity in the commitments we make, noting “when we talk about equity in journalism, we mean investing in newsrooms led by and serving historically marginalized groups; supporting organizations working to shift industry culture and leadership; closing historic resource gaps that philanthropy has helped to perpetuate.” Journalists and funders alike are responsible for who they talk to and how people of color and their needs are represented in these conversations. “As a news org, we are culturally sensitive to the needs of our diverse audience,” said Mukhtar Ibrahim, founder of Sahan Journal, which covers Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees, describing why the outlet used just first names for a story about Muslim women making masks. “We are not beholden to the rigid rules of American journalism that don’t take into account the cultures of other groups.” COVID-19 is amplifying the need for people of color to be heard. Here is how journalists of color are already leading the charge and other tips for how to make it happen:

Sowing Collaboration in Memphis

The timeline of a collaboration isn’t straight and neat; it loops around, thickens with more partners and thins as some step back, speeds up and slows down, and sometimes gets lifted off the page and paused altogether. Each collaboration is different, but the partnership and camaraderie built up by a group of local outlets in Memphis, Tennessee has its own path chronicled in a recent Twitter thread by Wendi Thomas. Thomas leads MLK50, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power, and public policy in the city. “Collaborations take time — and the roots of this one go back to May 2019. Jacintha Jones, editor of Chalkbeat Tennessee, planted the seed when she convened the editors/publishers of eight Memphis news orgs. We jokingly called ourselves the Memphis Media Mafia,” she wrote — and pointed out that half the leaders are women and half are black, an important representation not just in the city of Memphis but also in the journalism industry. Their plans got sidelined by other pressing projects, but when this strain of coronavirus became present in their city, the leaders reunited (virtually). Not every outlet is still participating, but together the group is co-publishing first-person essays of essential workers and sorting through data from ProPublica on local hospital capacity. “I feel certain this won’t be the last coronavirus collaboration you see out of Memphis news organizations,” Thomas said. “This moment demands our attention, our energy and that we work smarter. How does that saying go? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

Fund Local News

With so many urgent needs facing our communities and our nation right now, where should journalism fit on people’s list of priorities for support and giving? This is a question we’ve heard a lot of people in newsrooms asking as the economic downturn wreaks havoc on business models across commercial and nonprofit news. It is a cruel fact that at the same moment news and information are so critical and understood as so important, those who provide that reporting are facing layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. Journalists already demur from making themselves part of the story, and when so many issues feel urgent and acute it can be hard to ask for help. But the reality is that no matter what issue people care about, information around and quality reporting of those issues matter. This is not just true of the daily information needs in a crisis like this, but also in the long path towards recovery when we’ll need solutions for our communities, connection to our neighbors, and accountability for our leaders. This week we put out a call to action for funders across the country to ensure that journalism is part of our nation’s response to this crisis. Below are some examples of how other newsrooms are talking with their community about the need for support. 

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.