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March 31, 2023

Local Fix: A season of learning — Findings from community media

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…

FYI: We are no longer updating the archive of Local Fix newsletters here after March 31, 2023. You can find what we’ve published at this link and sign up for the newsletter here: bit.ly/thelocalfix

Local news in a local calendar

“If you’re a publisher and you’re just in the weeds, starting a news organization and trying to do investigations or something, it just might not occur to you that [a municipal calendar] is something that would provide value,” Sarah Stonbely told Nieman Lab. As the research director for the Center for Cooperative Media, she surveyed residents of three different communities in New Jersey to understand different information needs. One big ask? A calendar that gathers info about local events that involve exercise, housing affordability, early childhood education, mental health, music, and more. Have you seen this done well at a local news outlet? Hit reply and let us know. 

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A season of learning: Findings from community and ethnic media

As we move into spring, the season of growth, we’re learning new things. Here are three points that stood out to us from three recently published reports about local news and community media. 

“There was no other research like the one we needed”

Documented recently shared its learnings and process from over a year of researching information needs of Chinese and Caribbean immigrant communities in New York City. They hired specialists from these communities, worked with Listening Post Collective to design a thoughtful process, and developed understandings about these groups that will become “engines that will shape our future experiments that aim to serve these audiences.” It was worth the effort, as Documented learned from its experience building a WhatsApp channel for Spanish-speaking immigrants: “Although it may seem you are taking more time to launch by listening to your audience first, remember that the long route, in the end, brings greater returns.” They found, among other things, that two thirds of the Caribbean respondents are looking for more information about public benefits programs in the news they consume, and over half of the Chinese respondents say public safety is the most urgent topic to be covered (while over two thirds say it is the local news topic they consume the most). See the research & the roundup of their experience. 

“La infodemia” can be countered with community-centered ethnic media outlets

It is clear that people of color, especially those who primarily speak a language other than English, are targeted for mis- and disinformation. Now, there is even more evidence about what can be done about it: Researchers at three universities studied the ability of community-centered ethnic media outlets (CCEMOs) like El Tímpano in Oakland, Enlace Latino NC, and Conecta Arizona to equip Spanish speakers with accurate information and promote a sense of connection. Through a randomized controlled trial with 350+ participants and an info needs assessment of 1,800+ people, the researchers found: “Participants feel more empowered, and become more knowledgeable about local politics without sacrificing their understanding of domestic politics. These findings are particularly relevant given the growing influence of the Latino community in U.S. politics. By providing a platform for local voices and concerns, CCEMOs can help to bridge the gap between marginalized communities and the political system.” Read Yamil Velez’s summary of the research.

Rural publishers are disconnected from the potential for reader revenue

After surveying a bunch of local news publishers and a bunch of local news readers in rural places, researchers were surprised to find that readers are more willing to give than publishers are willing to take. “The reader results stand in contrast to publishers’ willingness to enact mechanisms to diversify revenue streams. On the surface, it would seem like publishers are simply leaving money on the table, not maximizing the potential economic viability of their civic institutions,” researcher Nick Mathews shared in a Twitter thread. “The myth that young people don’t care about news and that senior citizens are the backbone of the newspaper industry was also busted with this study as residents ages 18–54 were more willing to financially help their newspaper than those over age 55.” Check out their paper in Journalism Practice, or reach out to one of the authors for a copy. 

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On our radar



Events and other opportunities

This week has been heavy in a lot of ways. We’re thinking of the lives lost in Nashville and all of the local reporters doing their best there and beyond. We also stand in solidarity and celebration with trans folks for Transgender Day of Visibility.

Christine & Pinay

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.
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