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October 28, 2022

Local Fix: Media mapping in Colorado

Welcome to the Local Fix. Every so often 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…

Ask empathetic questions

Thanks to Street Sense Media’s new guide, journalists (and non-journalists too) can learn how to report on homelessness with more empathy and accuracy. For example, as Kristen Hare writes about Street Sense Media’s editor-in-chief Will Schick’s mission behind the guide, don’t ask people what it’s like being on food stamps or if they’re addicts. Being precise with language can make a real difference not just in the final piece but also in the interviewee’s experience. As Will told Kristen, “People want to be understood for who they are and how they ended up where they are.” 

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Local media mapping in Colorado

Editor’s Note: In the third part of our guest writer series this fall (check out the others here), we’re passing the mic to Corey Hutchins. For years Corey has chronicled the evolution of the Colorado local news ecosystem, including the work of the Colorado Media Project and Colorado News Collaborative, through his weekly newsletter. Ecosystems are the core of how we approach our local news work 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. The following is an excerpt from this piece announcing a new map of Coloradoans’ local information sources. Why does that matter? Read on! (Christine’s notes are in italics.)

Over roughly the last decade, the ranks of professional journalists in Colorado have shrunk by nearly half and one in five community newspapers has closed. The consequences of these spreading news deserts aren’t pretty.

When local news organizations diminish, research shows citizens can become less engaged in their communities, municipal finances can suffer, and corruption can flourish.

With fewer outlets and fewer reporters, more Coloradans are looking to varied sources to fill the gap. In these turbulent times and amid a fractured media landscape, it’s important to try and understand where Coloradans are looking for local news and information. Getting a clearer picture of what exists and where the gaps lie can illuminate the degree to which a need exists for reliable, trustworthy sources of local news and information and the path to providing those sources. 

The Colorado News Mapping Project is a collaboration among Colorado College, the University of Denver, Colorado Media Project, the Colorado News Collaborative, and others. This work seeks to help Coloradans find and learn more about existing sources of local news and information.

How did they do this? The team began with two public databases to list 400+ local publishers and broadcasters in the state, analyzed coverage for local and original reporting, and cross-checked with the Colorado Press Association membership.

Then work on the ground began. Colorado College students taking a class I taught called “The Future and Sustainability of Local News” spoke with residents in many counties about where they go for local news and information, regardless of how “traditional” it might be. I, too, contributed to the research. Hearken and Free Press helped us design the process and interview questions to ensure students were casting a wide net, specifically seeking out sources that underrepresented communities told students they considered trustworthy.  

In fall 2021, the first class of CC students interviewed more than 100 community members in 16 counties and identified at least 17 non-traditional information sources in 10 of them. These included Facebook groups, digital newsletter startups, schools, nonprofits, and more. In Colorado’s least populous county, San Juan, one student identified “various non-traditional information sources like an individual community member going door-to-door to tell people about certain events or occurrences.” …

Some local Facebook groups in Colorado have more members than the number of residents in the cities or towns they serve. (Florissant, population 172. Florissant Community Page: 4,100 members.) The people who run these groups can wield real power in their communities because of their control over the flow of information. 

But access to the internet is far from widespread. In Saguache County, a student learned “word-of-mouth is still dominant.” In Dolores, a senior center publishes a four-page monthly newsletter for 350 people, plenty of whom rely on it because they are not online. 

An important step in strengthening your local news ecosystem is by understanding it and learning more about what’s already out there. That’s why other regions like North CarolinaNew MexicoDelawareOregon (just published this week!) and more have focused on this. Check out Colorado’s map to learn more about how they’re doing it and what comes next.

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On our radar


Jobs, professional development, & funding

Have a pleasant weekend,

Christine & Pinay
(Pinay is our new intern! More to come about her in our next issue.)

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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