January 23, 2019

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.

In the fall of 2017, two of the Bay Area News Group’s newspapers made a big shift — from one person covering housing to five. In an area with a housing crisis, it was a change that made a lot of sense for The Mercury News and East Bay Times.

You can read about the team’s first year here. But before you click over, some tips:

  • “Change your thinking,” said Rebecca Salner, assistant managing editor for metro and business for the Bay Area News Group. Don’t go scramble your beats to add more people to cover housing. Instead, step back and look at where you live and what people are talking about. “It sounds so silly, but we can miss those stories as journalists.”

  • Focus on the problems in your community. “Tell me what’s going on,” Salner said. “Tell me what’s changing. Some of that really is about thinking about it from an audience standpoint.” The Seattle Times’ coverage of traffic is one example of that, she said. “Maybe it’s childcare, maybe it’s health, maybe it’s traffic, but those things exist. Find a way to cover them from an audience-focused mindset.”

  • Don’t be afraid to stop something in exchange. “That can be so hard,” said housing reporter Marisa Kendall, who previously covered startups and venture capital for the Bay Area News Group. “We want to cover everything.” With staffs dwindling, she said, you can’t do that anymore. “You’ve got to let go of something to embrace something that will maybe get you more readership.”

More on this: I taught a NewsU course last year on how other newsrooms were saying no, and we talked about this for a month in this newsletter. Check out this strategy on figuring out priorities from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And Better News has primers, plans and strategies on how to reach new audiences.

Thanks to everyone who read and responded to our look at the past decade. We’d still love to hear about your 2008-2018.

ICYMI, here’s a new toolkit for local newsrooms and content management. And local investigative journalists, you have until Feb. 18 to apply for the Abrams Nieman Fellowship.

See you next week!

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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