A project of Democracy Fund

October 23, 2020

Local Fix: Repackage, Map Your Reporting, Round of Applause

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: Protect your reporting from manipulators

Local news is a vital source for communities, but how should journalists respond when bad actors try to take advantage of it? First stop: Understand the vulnerabilities and opportunities that these actors see. Check out the new Media Manipulation Casebook from Dr. Joan Donovan and a team of researchers. It lays out the five standard steps of disinformation campaigns, or information that is intentionally false or misleading and spread to sow confusion and discredit other people. Strengthen your reporting by equipping your newsroom with the tools to recognize the power of local news — and to protect it.

Package, Repackage, Repeat

According to new findings from Pew Research, many adults in the U.S. are just recently starting to pay as much attention to the election as they are to COVID-19 news, Trusting News highlighted on Twitter this week. But as we pointed out two weeks ago, millions of people have already voted in the election. So what’s a journalist to do? Package, repackage, repeat. It’s a phrase that Teresa first heard from Reveal’s Matt Thompson years ago about how to present information on the web: “It’s how you juggle the demands of a devoted, info-hungry community with the needs of your semi- or irregular users. Package, repackage, repeat,” he wrote in 2012. And it really applies to election coverage right now as people dip in and out. Many organizations are encouraging reporters to make the most of the useful election reporting they already have right now. For example, don’t assume people have seen your previous coverage, Trusting News’ Joy Mayer says. Meet voters where they are, a tip sheet from PEN America advises. People may be just skimming headlines or reading one story, so make contextual information easy to digest and access. Find those tips and more things to think about as you cover these next few weeks of elections below.

Mapping the System in Maryland

After a nine-month long investigation of Maryland’s child support system, Yvonne Wenger, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, knew not just about the flaws in the state’s child support policies — but the systems behind them. She found that parents in neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates owed tens of millions of dollars in child support due to unfair policies that targeted poor families. But that was the tip of the iceberg — shaped by less-visible policies and power dynamics. Through systems thinking, a framework that helps journalists contextualize events they cover, Wenger examined the underlying connections and ideas that contributed to complex problems in Maryland’s child support system. In a chat on the Gather Slack this week with Kayla Christopherson and Cole Goins from The New School’s Journalism + Design program, Wenger shared how three exercises from the systems thinking toolkit deepened her reporting and engagement process: stakeholder mapping, system mapping, and identifying feedback loops. By identifying stakeholders, reporters can be more mindful about the voices they center in their stories. Mapping out the system allows for reporters to examine the forces and factors — the bottom of the iceberg — that affect the people they’re reporting on. And third, looking at feedback loops uncovers patterns in the story and identifies issues that reinforce the same problems. In Wenger’s case, this process provided her with a wider lens to understand how the child support system was punishing low-income parents and driving instability in their families. By thinking in systems, journalists can hold entire systems accountable.

Round of Applause

Over the past few weeks, we have seen several celebrations of local journalists and why their work matters: the second year of LION Publishers awards , Current’s Local That Works contest for local public media and public service outlets, and ONA’s Online Journalism Awards. We know that awards don’t capture all the nuance of the service of local news, but we’re due for a little celebration. We’re inspired by the solutions reporting from the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, the response to the pandemic by COVID313 from Detroit Public Television, Documented’s engaged journalism through WhatsApp, and more. Peruse the projects from finalists and winners, shout out your own project by adding it to our thread, and/or take a deep breath. You’re doing a great job. 

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.