Local Fix: Explainers, Money, and Hacking

Welcome to our weekly roundup of news and resources for local news. Once a week we will be curating some of the best writing on journalism sustainability and pairing it with concrete advice, tools and resources for local journalists.

One Good Idea: Over on Mashable Brian Ries customized a basic AP report using a ton of social media and user generated content. He tweeted the results as they compared to the original story. What do you think? How might local news sites augment wire copy (or even shared content from other outlets in the state) by bringing local, relevant, social content in?

1) Learning from Community Newspapers

There is a new book out by Penelope Muse Abernathy which takes a long look at how community newspapers need to transform to survive, and while the focus here is on saving longstanding print newsrooms, there are good lessons for local digital news start-ups too. In an interview with Justin Ellis at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Abernathy discusses how community news needs to diversify revenue streams and rebuild their connection to their audience. She makes interesting points about: 1) selling ads by knowing your community not just your traffic stats, 2) how people see relevant local ads as important information, and 3) creating services that meet the needs of readers and advertisers.

>>> Read more about the book in the American Journalism Review and Net New Check and, on a related note, check out this piece on community newspapers in San Francisco.

2) Explainers Aren’t Just for Ezra Klein

The rise of “explanatory journalism” – designed to help people understand the complex forces and issues behind the top stories of the day – has been largely focused at the national level. But Corey Hutchinson, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, talks about how he took the explanatory model to the local level in North Carolina. He makes a convincing case for how local journalists can help to explain city and state policy issues, and highlights how desperately that kind of reporting is needed. At a time when it seems like many of the national brands are competing to explain the same news, there is a real opportunity to bring local knowledge to bear on these big issues, as well as help illuminate uniquely local stories.

>>> Read more about building powerful explainers in these posts by Jay Rosen, the Poynter Institute and Journalism.co.uk

3) Hacking the News

The National Day of Civic Hacking just took place around the world, with many events that could serve local news organizations. Amy Gahran has a good round-up of some of the events focused on community engagement and empowerment over at the Knight Digital Media Center. In New Jersey, an event at Montclair State University called “Open Data NJ” was framed as a kick off for a new open data movement in the state. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 100 developers and journalists got together to build a few interesting projects that local news organizations might be interested in. Two examples were “News Bingo,” by three Boston Globe journalists, which encouraged user-submitted photos based on news categories and “Datacle” which can help localize national stories with voting data and more.

>>> If you are interested in the laws, lessons and ethics of data journalism, user generated content or using sensors in newsrooms Columbia University has three new reports out (Disclosure: I wrote a chapter for one of them).

4) Spending Money to Make Money

In a new blog post Michele McLellan, the founder of Block by Block, details results from her most recent local news survey that suggest local online news sites are not spending enough money to make money. Her survey found that when it comes to expenses, local sites “devoted more than half to editorial content, but less than one-fifth to sales, marketing and other revenue development efforts.” She offers a few case studies of sites that are finding a good balance between funding business development and funding editorial. For those interested in finding a better balance in your local news site, the New Jersey News Commons hosted a great training on starting a local news site and the video has just been posted online.
(Image by Commons at SF State on Flickr. Used under creative commons.)

Josh Stearns is the director of the journalism sustainability project at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Have tips? Send them to jstearns@grdodge.org or on Twitter to @jcstearns. 

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