A project of Democracy Fund
The Local News Lab has been archived as of March 1, 2023. This page will remain online but will not be updated. More info.

September 28, 2022

Local Fix: 7 community listening tips from North Carolina

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 60f3fb5d-4441-4ba4-9167-7d2a34b6d367.png

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…

Take online violence against journalists seriously

There is no better time than yesterday to help secure your digital privacy, and make sure your staff or colleagues can do it too. This new resource from the International Women’s Media Foundation helps you get started. With a sample survey about online violence for staff, a template reporting and escalation policy, and an online violence risk assessment tool, IWMF’s guide aims to help change the culture in newsrooms when it comes to tackling online violence. As discussed at a panel with Taylor Lorenz of the Washington Post and Hannah Wise of McClatchy at ONA last week: “Being a journalist means leveraging a version of yourself to promote your work. And there should be institutional support of that, period.”
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 39269d94-e8b2-e351-b532-3eca6cedc9e8.png

Community listening in North Carolina

Editor’s Note: This issue, we’re passing the mic to Eric Frederick, writer of the wonderful NC Local newsletter that chronicles changes, challenges, and wins in North Carolina’s local news ecosystem. Ecosystems are the core of how we approach our local news support at Democracy Fund. This fall we are bringing you tangible examples from regions across the U.S. where people are putting in the work to build systemic responses to the local news crisis. First up: Eric!

When Shannan Bowen took over the North Carolina Local News Workshop last year, her top priority was a listening project — to learn how communities, especially underserved ones, get (or don’t get) the news and information they need. The findings would then help providers change, collaborate and innovate to engage and serve those communities better.

The pilot effort is the Western North Carolina Research and Community Listening Project. With a grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund, the Workshop in February hired Asheville marketing strategist and researcher Brenda Murphree as a listening fellow to conduct that yearlong initiative in 18 mountainous counties, using a survey, one-on-one interviews and focus groups to assess needs, find the gaps, and look for ways to fill them.  

Murphree writes a monthly report on what she’s hearing, and shares updates at roundtables with news professionals. Residents have told her the expected (few institutional news sources, limited internet access, low trust in legacy outlets), but she also has learned some things: Residents are “welcoming, curious and open,” she says, after you put in the work to find them. Facebook groups are easily the most trusted sources in many places; some have more members than their communities have people. And listening sessions go better when a trusted community member helps — as Murphree and Bowen found when they engaged a Cherokee tribal member to help conduct a session in the Qualla Boundary.

Murphree’s other advice:

  1. Do preliminary research. Pull detailed census data; analyze it for trends. That helps identify communities to pinpoint for interviews and focus groups. Study the relevant research on news deserts and challenges to local news and information ecosystems.
  2. Work your contacts. The best responses often come from outreach to folks you know, and the most helpful ones can come from activists and community organizers. Grassroots groups, social service organizations, nonprofits and local agencies can share links to your survey and inform constituents, clients and members about your project.
  3. Allow time to build relationships and track down referrals. Everybody knows this takes time, but it’s easy to forget that in your planning.
  4. Pull in an expert to review your survey as you develop it. Test it if you can; a consultant can streamline the process. Be willing to modify it as needed.
  5. Select a survey platform with good data analysis capabilities. Free or low-cost survey tools might be tempting, but spend your money not for the survey but for the analysis and reports that the platform can provide.
  6. Include some budget for marketing. Promotional materials and advertising will expand reach and awareness of your project. Nobody will take a survey they don’t know exists!
  7. Listen! Once people trust you enough to open up, simply sitting back and listening to their thoughts and experiences will reveal a lot.

Bowen adds that it’s crucial to maintain the relationships you build, and helpful to include non-news organizations, such as health networks, in the project. A final report next year will include proposals and calls to action.

Learn more about community listening in North Carolina and beyond: 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1da9b87c-914d-c9e0-310f-947b7bb3570f.png

On our radar

Have a good rest of the week,

Christine and Teresa
@heres_christine and @gteresa

Follow guest writer Eric Frederick here.

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 87dc2bba-c522-4503-97b5-0aa88ced9545.png

Sign up to get this newsletter in your inbox on Fridays: bit.ly/thelocalfix