A project of Democracy Fund

April 29, 2022

Local Fix: New data on corporate control of local news

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Welcome to the Local Fix. Every other 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…

Calling on newsrooms to be transparent

After news broke that a meager 303 newsrooms out of a targeted 2,500 provided data to researcher Meredith Clark and the News Leaders Association about the diversity of their staffs, Sisi Wei of OpenNews and Jon Schleuss of the NewsGuild organized this open letter, with 150+ organizations signing on. It calls on the Pulitzer Prize administrator to require nominees to participate in one of the journalism industry’s diversity surveys. The letter reads, in part: “Journalists have an ethical duty to be accountable and transparent. We must be accountable to our readers and our workers by making sure our newsrooms reflect the demographics of our readers. And we must be transparent with that data to improve the diversity of our newsrooms so they can operate at their full potential.” In 2018 and today, Democracy Fund stands behind this call for change. Do you?
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When big money buys local news

While everyone was talking about that blue-bird buy announced earlier this week, we were thinking about this study on what happens to local news when a corporation buys a news organization. Researchers examined 130,000 articles from 31 corporate-owned papers, from LA Weekly to the Denver Post to the New York Daily News, before and after their purchase. Guess what they found? After a corporate owner takes control, the amount of reporting broadly drops — as many staffers are laid off or bought out — and local coverage generally decreases. That nuanced reporting is part of our shared understanding of our communities, and it matters. “These acquisition events are decisive in hollowing out newsrooms, which means they can’t be relied on as a financial model of ownership and stewardship for local news,” one of the study’s authors told Nieman Lab.

And we know that other models experience turbulence, too. This week the Chicago Reader finally got the green light to move to its new nonprofit home after being held up by one of its owners following fact-checking of his column about vaccines. Staffers campaigned for the owner to release the Reader, all while doing their own reporting and getting the paper out. It’s part of the paradox of mission-oriented media, as Alex Sujong Laughlin wrote for Poynter recently: will a media outlet be drawn more to making money or to adhering to its mission — and can it survive that way?

Let’s look at the Reader again. It’s home to the Chicago Independent Media Alliance which works to help all indie media in the region become sustainable. It’s clear we can’t count on corporate owners to help make that happen, but folks are coming up with many inspiring solutions like CIMA to bring mission and sustainability closer together. For example, check out the network set up by the Granite State News Collaborative, the new founders joining Tiny News Collective, early results from Indiegraf’s response to “bootcamp fatigue”, and the teamwork that went into making the New Jersey Civic Info Consortium happen — to start! (P.S. Don’t forget these resources for news entrepreneurship from LION Publishers and INN if you’re thinking about launching something new.) 
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On our radar


Jobs and other opportunities

Fingers crossed that spring is around the corner,

Christine and Teresa
@heres_christine and @gteresa

The Local Fix is a project of Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which supports work that aims to transform journalism so everyone has access to information they need to participate in our democracy.

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.

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