Local Fix: Political Ads, GIFs, and Research as Revenue


Welcome to all the new subscribers. Send tips and feedback by hitting reply to this email or find me on Twitter @jcstearns. 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 ideaCo-create stories with your audience and with journalistic integrity. That’s the pitch behind WBEZ’s Curious City project which starts each day with a question to its audience: “What should we investigate next?” Check out this wonderful testimony from one local resident who got involved and read more here.

I Approve This Message – Creative ideas for reporting on campaigns and their ads

The mid-term elections are approaching and with them will come the inevitable flood of political ads. Street Fight points out that there is already a surge in online political ad spending but questions whether local sites will benefit. However, political ads are also a great accountability reporting opportunity and this year there are more tools and resources than ever to tap into. Nieman Lab reports that  the Internet Archive is creating a database that will make every “television ad, news segment, political blog, and campaign website in the Philadelphia market … searchable prior to the November 4 election.” After this pilot phase the project is hoping to expand. The Federal Communications Commission is also expanding its database of who is buying political ads on local TV and the Columbia Journalism Review suggests some ways to use it. Projects like ProPublica’s Free the Files and the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time are great examples of creative ways to make campaign issues and ads local.

Poynter reports on a study of the 2012 presidential election that found “political journalists opt for stenography over fact checking during presidential debates.”

All the GIFs that are Fit to Print – How local newsrooms can make and use GIFs

Could GIFs be part of serious local reporting? Absolutely. While the short looping clips have mostly been implemented online for humor and satire there have also been some creative uses of GIFs in journalism. GIFs are hugely popular and offer a unique way to capture people’s attention and to bring stories to life right in front of readers. The food site, First We Feast, used GIFs for a series of instructional “videos” on knife skills in the kitchen. Why not do something similar with a local chef? St. Louis Public Radio compared how beer is made at local mega-brewer Anheuser-Busch to how it is made in a local microbrewery. What local business in your area would make a good GIF profile? The Atlantic Wire used GIFs to report on the 2012 summer Olympics. Could you do the same with high school sports?

The Poynter Institute explains “what journalists need to know about GIFs” and Lifehacker has a good overview of how to make GIFs. (And if you are not following the News Cat GIF Tumblr you are missing out.)

Research as Revenue – Selling your expertise and deep local knowledge

A number of news sites are using their expertise in the subjects they cover to build a business around research and analysis that goes beyond daily reporting. Taking a step back from regular updates and articles to look at macro trends, and tapping into sources you have cultivated can not only be useful for journalists, but can also contribute to new products. This week Venture Beat launched a marketplace for research reports (and in 2011 Venture Beat reported on GigaOm doing the same thing). The idea has been around for awhile. Small local newsrooms aren’t likely going to start a research shop, but how else might they tap into their intimate knowledge and expertise to serve passionate niches of people? Rather than research and reports, local news organizations could use newsletters and events.

One ad-supported hyperlocal in New Jersey offers their content for free on their site, but charges for their newsletter and its working. Other sites are doing yearly outdoor or food guides in print.

Good Thinking – Why a CRM could be your second brain

Many local sites swear that having good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is key to helping them track contacts and build a sales pipeline with local businesses. It is like a second brain for you and your sales staff, where you put all your notes, contacts and more. For example, here are notes from a Block by Block workshop on what a CRM can do for you. And Niche Media HQ outlines how small publishers can maximize the value from a sales CRM. But what if the C in CRM stood for community? Projects like the Public Insight Network and GroundTruth are creating tools to help manage and deepen journalists’ relationships with sources and citizen collaborators.

As you consider which CRM is right for your newsroom, WorkETC reviews 22 things you didn’t know you needed in a CRM.

Have a good weekend,


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.

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