A project of Democracy Fund

August 21, 2020

Local Fix: Disaster Safety, Campus Accountability, New Research


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: Let People Know How They Can Help
Two new surveys could help increase everyone’s understanding of the needs of local journalists — and neither should take more than 15 minutes, the researchers promise. At OpenNews, they’ve partnered with Big Local News to see how to best back up local journalists reporting on COVID-19, from analyzing datasets to tracking down information from government bodies. Damian Radcliffe, in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, is looking for local newspaper journalists to paint the picture of their careers and newsroom cultures today. Fill out one or both surveys if you can — we’re just as curious to see the findings! 

Back to the School’s Virtual Newsroom

As college students return to campus, student journalists are keeping a close eye on how university officials are rolling out COVID-19 protections and policies — and how they react when things go wrong. More and more campuses announced pivots to virtual after trying to bring students back in person this week. The editorial board of The Daily Tar Heel of the University of North Carolina perhaps said it best with the print headline “UNC has a clusterf— on its hands.” When these clusters emerge on college campuses, it’s not just impacting students in dorms — the decisions of these administrators may change the trajectories of the whole community. Journalists at colleges and universities understand the need for robust local journalism right now. Will administrators listen? And will readers step up to support college outlets like The Daily Tar Heel, many of which are fiscally and editorially independent from their universities? Check out these other great examples of students reporting on the pivot to semester-long remote learning after move-instudent suspensions after hosting a partythe impact of COVID-19 on city recycling programsa sports team’s mishandling of COVID-19 protocolsuniversity liability in the pandemic, and potential strikes from RAs. Then make sure campus reporters you know have these resources to lean on:

  • A new school year means new potential journalists. Here are tips from Taylor Blatchford of The Lead on how student news outlets can adapt to virtual training and workflows this semester
  • Students need to develop business models for their outlets, too. Explore resources from the Student Press Law Center on student media financial sustainability
  • Get inspired: Schools shut down campuses, but that didn’t stop student media in 50 states from covering COVID-19

New Findings from Spanish-Language Media

A collection of useful research, convenings, and webinars have recently come out that highlight the work of Spanish-language media as well as the information interests and needs of Latinx audiences. They cover different parts of the industry, angles, and communities (not a monolith!) but all have something in common: News organizations should pay attention to the information needs of various Latinx communities and find ways to fill those information gaps. Turns out — the Center for Community Media found in a report analyzing nearly 700,000 stories in Spanish-language media from the first three years of the Trump presidency — not very much of their reporting has covered topics that Spanish-speaking Latinx audiences are seeking, according to surveys, like healthcare costs, immigration, and the economy. Instead a lot of reporting centered on breaking news, like reporting on cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. That research doesn’t include coronavirus, which more than 30 journalists from English- and Spanish-language media discussed in the NC Local News Workshop’s first virtual roundtable this month. They shared their experiences disseminating their reporting on WhatsApp, republishing journalism in Spanish from Spanish-language media like Enlace Latino NC, and understanding the distinct info needs of different communities: “It’s not just about translating, we have to understand that the needs of the Hispanic community are distinct from a white community or an African American community,” Univision 40 reporter Berenice Malagón said. How you deliver content and information is important, too: The “first-ever Latino podcast listener report” from Edison Research found that 70 percent of Spanish-language dominant listeners have just started listening to podcasts in the last year, which might mean that’s a growth area for reaching these listeners. There’s lots more information below, so dive in.

Staying Safe in Natural Disasters

When a natural disaster strikes, local journalists are living through it alongside their audiences. This was starkly obvious over the past few weeks, with Iowa facing the Category 2 hurricane-strength derecho storm and now its aftermath, and now California beating back hundreds of wildfires across the state. “[With no] power, internet, or cell in Cedar Rapids this morning half the Gazette staff set up at our printing press, [with a] generator,” Gazette reporter Alison Gowans shared on Twitter. “All while their own homes, in some cases, had significant damage. So impressed with this newsroom and the dedication to continuing to get the news out.” So are we. The quick-moving wildfires in California remind us of the work local journalists have put in year after year to understand and navigate our planet’s natural disasters. This 2018 piece from Columbia Journalism Review puts the reporting into perspective and shows how journalists are preparing for fire safety. This is not the first time this year we have collected resources on safety at the Local Fix; we hope you and your loved ones (and your fellow local journalists!) are staying safe and sound.

 Have a good weekend,
Teresa + Christine
@gteresa + @newsbyschmidt

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. The Fix was started by Josh Stearns and Molly de Aguiar. Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund. You can find a full list of the organizations here. Follow us on Twitter at @TheLocalNewsLab.