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Local Fix: Site Design, Storytelling, and Social Listening

By JOSH STEARNS

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news, starting with one good idea…

One good ideaBuild a Time Machine. Thanks to a new feature in Google street view, you can compare how a location looks today with how it looked as far back as 2007. Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, picked out a few community landmarks and invited their readers back in time. Using the before and after pictures can be a great way to report on how local communities are changing, zoning and land use issues (all while tapping into local nostalgia).

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Dust Off Your Digital Archives: Is your site a graveyard or a garden

This week, Sam Kirkland at Poynter asked “Should publishers be taking better advantage of evergreen content in their archives?” (Spoiler: Yes.) Over at A List Apart, Allen Tan encourages us to think beyond the “feed” model for publishing: “Solely relying on reverse-chronology turns our websites into graveyards, where things pile up atop each other until they fossilize. We need to start treating our websites as gardens, as places worthy of cultivation and renewal, where new things can bloom from the old.” He offers simple (and complex) ideas for how to move away from the graveyard. In the last month we’ve seen great examples of tapping into archival content as a number of newsrooms celebrate big anniversaries. Check out these ideas for making the most of your archives from WNYC, the Wall Street Journal and the Australian.

We all face a balancing act in local newsrooms between constantly pushing out new content and trying to invest in the ongoing work of building our sites, businesses, communities, etc. On that note, I’ve often found this piece from Robin Sloan on “Stock and Flow” incredibly helpful.

Tips for Social Listening: Tapping the local zeitgeist online.

In a wide ranging interview with the founder of Pinterest, Alexis Madrigal calls the service a “database of intentions.” That got me thinking about how journalists could use Pinterest to tap into the zeitgeist of a local community. Using targeted searches of local terms – relevant to current issues, geography, locations – news organizations can keep a finger on the pulse of trends in their area as expressed via Pins. Obviously, Facebook and Twitter have searchable geotagged content as well, and there are lots of tips for journalists who want to mine that. But another network I find fascinating is Kickstarter. You can sort Kickstarter projects by geography and mine it for story ideas, new sources, and (with enough time) you can begin to see which local people are funding what kinds of local projects. With any of these tactics, it bears mentioning that when you mine online communities you are only going to see part of your actual community.

The emerging field of social listening holds a lot of promise for news organizations. Rachel Weidinger from Upwell is one of the smartest folks I’ve heard on the topic, check out her post here. The Journalism Accelerator project has a good four step guide to social listening too.

New Tools for Live Blogging: Live coverage is for more than just breaking news.

This month Reddit launched its new live blogging platform. The site has increasingly been a hub for debate and discussion around breaking news events and ongoing topics. But in the age of live-tweeting is there still a role for live blogs? That question sparked an interesting debate earlier this year, which journalism professor Dan Kennedy Storified here. Steve Buttry has argued that local newsrooms should be providing “live coverage” regularly, in some shape or form. Earlier this year Poynter offered these four tips for covering breaking news: 1) Aim for accuracy. 2) Use social media to listen and report. 3) Seek to understand developing narrative, craft strategy to deliver it. 4) Have a process, practice it often before breaking news happens. And longstanding live blog platform Scribblelive offers concrete advice on covering breaking news and specific ideas for local news organizations to connect with their communities with live blogs.

Another view: This summer a debate swirled about whether scoops matter. Do readers care who breaks a story? Matthew Ingram has a good round up of the debate, and for him, while “the half-life of a scoop is dwindling” what matters is trust and context.

Where Strategy and Storytelling Meet: Set goals to tell stronger stories.

Outside of journalism there is a big emphasis on storytelling right now, and recently there have been some good pieces on how storytelling can move people. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently outlined 5 strategies to for engaged storytelling: 1) Get feedback. 2) Mix struggle and success. 3) Let your audience finish the story. 4) Link personal stories to larger issues. 5) Create “pathways to action.” And the Harvard Business Review offereda similar guide on their site. Last year a Pixar employee tweeted 22 rules of storytellingand they are terrific. All of these examples highlight how people are using storytelling outside of newsrooms, and are a reminder that stories are the way we make sense of the world, how we move people to action, and connect with issues and ideas outside our own experience.

Ira Glass has had a huge influence on how storytelling on the radio sounds, and in this Lifehacker post he goes in-depth about how he approaches his work and the tools he uses.

Have a good weekend,

Josh

The Local Fix is a project of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Local News Lab, a website where we are exploring creative experiments in journalism sustainability.