A project of Democracy Fund

October 16, 2020

Local Fix: Equity First, Beyond Apologies, Budget Guides

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: Catch Misinformation in Your Comments
Journalists, researchers, and advocates are working overtime to make sure people have the information they need to participate in and understand the election. But mis- or disinformation could be lurking right under your own journalism’s links in the comments sections. Andrew Losowsky of the Coral Project recently shared a guide to cleaning up your news outlets’ comments with templates you can use to respond to false posts. It matters: “The comments on your site are read by more readers than you realize, and have an essential role to play in supporting or undermining the integrity of the upcoming election and its aftermath,” he writes.

Commitment to Change

 A few weeks ago, The Los Angeles Times released a 3,300-word editorial, chronicling the paper’s history and context of white supremacy. As editorial page editor Sewell Chan noted in a piece for Nieman Reports explaining the process, The Times isn’t the first publication to come to terms with its racist history through reflection in its own pages. In 2000 in Tennessee, The Jackson Sun’s journalists published a series, recognizing its biased coverage of the civil rights movement and the events that led to changing race relations in their community. The stories, timelines, excerpts and vignettes can serve as an educational resource today, helping readers navigate the civil rights movement through the eyes of people who lived it. In Alabama, The Montgomery Advertiser in 2018 published a series, calling out its past indifference to lynchings and other acts of racial terrorism. It addressed the Advertiser’s indifference to the human suffering, both in the city and in the long process of reconciliation. In Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader began a special report in 2004 with a note: “It has come to the editor’s attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.” The journalists failed to record the “first rough draft of history” and played down the movement by refusing to report on sit-ins and marches and relegating them to small notices in the back pages. But apologies are only the first step: In order to move forward, newsrooms need to confront their own histories with race. “Real progress comes when pluralism becomes unremarkable — when diverse stories, about diverse communities, told by diverse newsrooms, are the norm,” wrote Chan in Nieman Reports. Read on for these examples and consider — what has your newsroom done to reckon with its past?

Equity First: Not Just Newsrooms

This week, program officers from journalism funders across the country called on fellow funders to invest in communities of color and to change the internal practices and structures that hinder equity-centered grantmaking. “Journalism and philanthropy must do more to repair the decades of harm they’ve done to communities of color,” wrote Lea Trusty, a co-author of the call and program associate at Democracy Fund. The call comes a year after the News Integrity Initiative and consultants Frontline Solutions brought together funders to identify what barriers were to action that centers equity and how to overcome them. The resulting report released with the call to action outlines three main challenges, including that the cultures of journalism and philanthropy commonly reinforce white masculine norms. “Which organizations and individuals should receive funding, how much funding, and how long funding should last are all decisions predominantly made by white leaders and boards,” the report states. Paired with the barriers are steps funders, and newsrooms, can take now, including centering equity in definitions of funding innovation, investing in leadership and emerging talent within communities of color, and mapping and moving decision-making power to affected communities: “It’s time for philanthropy to invest in ways that uphold the values and principles of journalism for a new American landscape.” 

Collaboration 301

Budgets, relationships, and egos, oh my? Or not: More and more journalists are turning to collaboration — in one-time editorial projects, philanthropically-supported initiatives, and beyond — to provide quality local journalism that serves the public. But their logistics can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, Heather Bryant, Shady Grove Oliver, the fine folks at the Center for Cooperative Media, and the collaborators they interviewed have answers to a lot of frequently asked questions about collaborations. In three recently released guides, journalists can dig into advice on collaborating with non-news partners, developing new partnerships in journalism, and the budget and financial structures often used in various journalism partnerships. Follow their guides to think through questions like “How can the group ensure all the partners are treated equitably and their needs are being met?”, “Who has direct or related experiences that would contribute to a more well-rounded and nuanced piece of journalism?”, and “How will decisions be made? By a popular vote? Will a project manager make the final call?” Check out these three guides below, and the other three the Center and its partners have published recently here. Happy collaborating.

Have a good weekend,
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 Twitter at @TheLocalNewsLab.