A project of Democracy Fund

July 24, 2020

Local Fix: Engaged Elections, Organizing and Congressman Lewis

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: Engaged Elections

From the pandemic to widespread voter rights to mis- and disinformation, the 2020 election will be historic. Newsrooms must be prepared to cover it in a new way by centering communities and their needs. Hearken and The Citizen’s Agenda have come together to provide training helping journalists provide election coverage that ensures voters get the information they need from the people competing for their votes, in order to make the best decisions they can. This collaboration, called ElectionSOS, offers four weeks of free training to journalists connecting you to best practices, resources, and support around election coverage. You can apply for that training here. Applications for the August training groups are due today, Friday, July 24. (New applications will be up soon for a September group). 

Organizing for Equity in Newsrooms 

The collective power of journalists in the unions and organizational structures that have formed around American newsrooms over the past few years are activating to make their newsroom (virtual or not) a better place for themselves and their colleagues. Journalists at the Los Angeles Times negotiated with leadership to turn layoffs into shared furloughs and have also raised the alarm about the marginalization of staffers through the Black and Latino Caucuses. The newly formed groups are pushing their executives to publicly acknowledge the harm caused by the historically mostly-white newsroom covering L.A.’s communities of color. Management is also asked to commit to changing the power structures that exclude reporters of color through nurturing Latino and Black employees and tracking external candidates to “hire enough Latino editors and managers to, at a minimum, meet the county’s demographics halfway” in five years. “We’re critical because we care about the institutions we belong to. We want to make them better from the inside. We want them to have the stability to succeed,” L.A. Times audience engagement editor Adrienne Shih wrote. Even if you’re not in a union, you can help push for this change in your own networks. OpenNews just announced a new Slack community that will help journalists gather to push for more inclusive, equitable, and antiracist newsrooms. There will be a separate one for managers, too, who can learn from each other and support organizing efforts in their own way. As Lewis Raven Wallace of PressOn recently pointed out in a post on MLK50, “In a system that’s harmful to all people, we must work to reduce harm as we simultaneously fight to transform that system.” Here are some of those resources:

Our (Apparently) Annual Alt-Weeklies Check-in

Around this time last year, we wrote about “the future of alt-weeklies.” And funnily enough, we had a similar section three years ago, too. They both highlight the importance of alt-weeklies in the local news ecosystem and various innovations they have been taking to stay alive. But the past few years have taken alt-weeklies to a dangerous place at a pace no one expected. In March, Nieman Lab compiled reports saying that alt-weeklies were facing “total annihilation” due to COVID-19’s impacts on their event-based revenue streams. But “reports of our death, to paraphrase our coreligionist Mark Twain, are greatly exaggerated,” DigBoston publisher Jason Pramas said in April. A recent article in The Ringer highlighted how, after the murder of George Floyd and the uprisings that followed, the alt-weekly “was built for this fraught moment.” Other outlets could learn a lot from alt-weeklies’ history of questioning authority, being watchdogs of mainstream media, calling things by their name, and being unquestionably local. Of course, alt-weeklies also have a history of their own to reckon with of being led by majority-white leaders and staff and serving largely white readers, according to many surveys done in the past few years. Learn more about where alt-weeklies stand, check out their coverage of protests, and find some inspiration below.

Remembering Congressman Lewis

The passing of civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis hit the Local Fix team hard. We will be taking time as a team to reflect on his life by viewing the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” together on Monday, and by rereading many of his thoughts and speeches about the press. Congressman Lewis has left his mark on our country in innumerable ways including calling on journalists to stand up for what is right and to ‘be a headlight, not a taillight.” Here, in a few different recollections, are Congressman Lewis’ own words about the role of the press and the role we can all play:

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 supports promising new experiments redefining the public square in ways that make it more digital, participatory, and inclusive. 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. Follow us on Twitter at @TheLocalNewsLab.