A project of Democracy Fund

September 3, 2021

Local Fix: More legal protections for local newsrooms

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key questions in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

One Good Idea: Three Ways to Improve Journalism’s Accessibility Online
“When it comes to social media, often what I hear is ‘image, image,’ or ‘image 024’ with a super long number,” Belo Miguel Cipriani, a digital inclusion specialist who became blind in 2007, told Poynter for an article published this week. Writer Katya Bandouil highlighted three ways news outlets can start making their reporting more accessible: including alternative text on images, double checking captions on videos and audio, and crowdsourcing recommendations from people with different user experiences. Check out the full piece here.

More Legal Protections for Local Newsrooms

The handy thing about media liability insurance is that it’s, well, like most insurance: there if you need it, humming along in the background if you don’t. When faced with claims for libel, copyright infringement, or more, many newsrooms — especially those that are new, small, and/or searching for sustainability— can be overcome with the costs of legal challenges.

Take the Geneva Believer in central New York. A local construction company filed a libel and defamation lawsuit against the one-person newsroom after its reporting on the company’s bids for city contracts and possible conflicts of interest in the city council. “I knew the First Amendment was on my side,” Jim Meaney, the Believer’s founder and editor, said, “but I didn’t have the resources for a potentially lengthy and costly legal tussle with a multi-million dollar construction company.” Meaney worked with the Cornell First Amendment Clinic to address the lawsuit and emerged victorious after a judge dismissed the complaint and ordered the company to pay the Believer’s costs for the lawsuit. 

In addition to support from local legal clinics, affordable media liability insurance can help local newsrooms protect themselves against legal cases like these. This is a benefit that Local Independent Online News Publishers members have been asking for for a while; now, LION Publishers has introduced an affordable insurance option for small news organizations, as well as pro bono pre-publication review on investigative stories and other support from Lawyers for Reporters.

If you are part of a newsroom and want to better equip yourself against legal challenges by partnering with clinics, signing up for LION’s insurance, or just knowing what to look out for, take a look at the links below.

Have a good (hopefully long!) weekend,

Christine and Teresa

@heres_christine and @gteresa

P.S. We’ve seen the 👀 discourse around journalism internships and barriers to entry on Twitter this week. Consider this piece from Areeba Shah, our recent intern, on what funders can do about the journalism pipeline myth.

 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.