A project of Democracy Fund

September 25, 2020

Local Fix: Personal Impact, Press Freedom for All, Events that Unite


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: Unity in Online Events

As Scalawag has been charting its course to become a member-driven, justice-oriented magazine for and by the South, events (now virtual) have been key to connecting with its community. Cierra Hinton and Alysia Harris recently told Better News how Scalawag’s virtual events — from a Black, queer poetry reading and dance party to an environmental justice documentary screening — have not only broken even financially, but have brought in around 20 percent of Scalawag’s current members. “People come to events because they want to join a community, which is why events are such an effective membership conversion strategy,” they write. See all their lessons and tips at Better News and the Membership Puzzle Project.

Check the Impact of the News on Your People

The news of the grand jury decision in Breonna Tylor’s case came days after the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the midst of a pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and weeks away from a heated election. It’s not just about breaking the news — but also about how the news breaks on your team, S. Mitra Kalita, senior vice president at CNN, pointed out at INN at Home’s session on addressing systemic racism in journalism this week. She and Lee Hill, executive producer of WNYC’s The Takeaway, discussed the power of self-care and the invisible work of people of color in responding to systemic oppression in our nation and in our newsrooms. Lee reminded the group that self care isn’t something that gets in the way of work — it is in fact a means to getting the work done. Key to this is understanding that these aren’t just challenging times, they are traumatic. “There is so much trauma to unpack here,” writes Stephanie Foo, in an article for Transom. “I’m writing this article for the third goddamn time,” she writes, arguing that allyship shouldn’t just be personal, it should be company policy. The piece offers concrete, specific, and clear steps newsrooms can take — must take — to support their staff. Kalita connects the dots between the personal and the professional, between people and policy in a Nieman Reports piece where she argues, “if you do not embrace or operate in diverse circles [in your personal life], it will be very difficult to diversify your newsroom.” Like Foo, Kalita also offers actionable steps you can take starting now. 

Press Freedom for All

The hundreds of reported aggressions against journalists in the U.S. this year have demonstrated the continued need for stronger legal reinforcements for journalists, especially for journalists of color. New partnerships are forming and creating critical infrastructure to defend reporters and newsrooms. In Ohio, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Connecticut, and New York City, university legal clinics are now staffing up to support local journalists in their regions thanks to the Legal Clinic Fund, a collaboration among four foundations. An earlier grant from the Legal Clinics Fund helped establish the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment which provides financial and career support for law students of color, queer and trans students, and students with disabilities who are underrepresented in First Amendment law. Nationwide, journalists of color and newsrooms led by people of color will soon have dedicated and focused legal support at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press as part of Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund. Tracie Powell, the fund’s program officer, pointed out: “Their news outlets have been burned to the ground and powerful actors have sought to silence them by refusing to include them on media advisory lists and by filing frivolous lawsuits. Access to critical legal support is a game-changer.” Check out the resources below for how your local news organization can get involved and how you can protect yourself as a reporter.

Experiments in Student Journalism

Journalists working on campuses are balancing courses and navigating coverage of their institutions, often as a full-time job without pay. And they’re filling vital needs for information in the communities that make up and surround their campuses. “While the pandemic economy has devastated the local news business, there remains a cadre of small newspapers that are more energized than ever, producing essential work from the center of the nation’s newest coronavirus hot spots,” Elahe Izadi wrote for the Washington Post this week. “Those would be college newspapers.” We love to see the innovation and ingenuity that come from these journalists, like the Daily Orange’s experiment with a membership program to bolster its fundraising as a nonprofit at Syracuse University, a collaborative voters guide from seven college papers in North Carolina, and three high schoolers’ determination to continue publishing as part of the Canadian Youth Journalism Project during all the early pivots of the pandemic. Take a look at these profiles and let us know how you cheer for student journalists by sharing on Twitter and tagging us @TheLocalNewsLab.

See you next week,
Teresa, Christine, and Areeba
@gteresa, @newsbyschmidt, @areebashah_

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 Twitt