What are your ideas for helping local news?

August 20, 2018
Category: Tech & Tools

How do you solve a bunch of big problems? Maybe it’s time to look at small solutions.

Carolyn Fox has a few ideas about things pretty much anyone could do to help out local newsrooms. The senior director of content at NOLA.com and managing editor of The Times-Picayune shared her thoughts on Facebook last week on the day more than 400 newspapers published editorials on the value of a free press.

“The press has been in the press lately,” Fox wrote. “As I ponder what we can do about local media’s survival, there’s one small thing I can think of: have each other’s backs. I think that’s something most of us can get on board with. So I have some ideas and I hope you do, too.

“1. When I Google a big story and see a selection of news links to click, I’ll click the one that comes from a locally based source over a national source. Those national sources get a lot of love. Let’s throw some to the crew based in the place, not just flying in.

“2. I’m going to tweet and Facebook more great work from our local competition. And I’m going to encourage my staff to do the same. Some already do. I’ll follow their example.

“3. I’ll encourage my friends and family and social network to subscribe to local news, digital or paper. Small thing. But lots of small things…

“And 4. I’ll try harder to go to local news sites directly when big stories break. But also try out a different one each week. I know those digital ads and those page views are cents, not dollars. But whatever helps.”

Fox sent a few more ideas via email:

  • Give subscriptions to local papers and sites or donate to local non-profit news orgs as gifts.  

  • As an editor, Fox said, she’s thinking about when to aggregate and link to local news instead of using the Associated Press for breaking news. “We did something like that for the Gazette shooting, using Baltimore Sun and putting all their links in, and I want to do more of that on other national stories of interest to our local audience,” Fox said. “Local news orgs are often way ahead of AP or WaPo and NYT anyways. And when people use our links, it’s definitely driven more audience, which means more PVs and more ads served.”

  • Curate Twitter lists of local news organizations and journalists. “I’m going to start creating one for myself of newspapers and news sites, and their reporters, across the country,” Fox said. “We all tend to follow WaPo/NYT/WSJ people, but if I follow the San Jose Mercury News, for example, I’ll get some ideas for my newsroom, and share their interesting stories to my (albeit small) Twitter following.”

Fox’s ideas struck on something I think about a lot. We know about the hedge-fund owners hurting local newsrooms. And those newsprint tariffs aren’t helping either. But those two issues alone aren’t the only problems.

There are several projects aimed at helping local newsrooms, from a corps of young reporters to beefing up investigative work.

If you’re not in a position to battle hedge-fund owners or tariffs, what can you do?

Here are a few ideas from me:

  • If you’re a national newsroom editor or leader, how much profit are you making from rewriting local stories? It’s great that many of you are making money from digital subscriptions. But what happens when the local news hole you’re sipping from dries up? Could you pay local journalists or newsrooms to rewrite a version for you instead of aggregating it? Project Fact’s Heather Bryant suggested this idea last year in a Poyner piece about how local and national media can work better together when big news breaks.

  • Local newsrooms, how can you partner up with each other? Tiny newsrooms in Long Island did this to cover the opioid crisis. Put aside the instinct for competition and look for ways that more resources can lead to better work that better serves your communities. The Center for Cooperative Media has a lot of resources and examples of this.

  • Don’t count on anyone figuring the digital subscription/ad magic out too soon. Be creative with how to fund work that really matters. We’re talking about this now in Local Edition, our newsletter on the transformation of local news. A non-profit newsroom raised $100,000 for ambitious work by getting community foundations to work together. A for-profit newsroom raised $70,000 by approaching community organizations. And The Times-Picayune used a grant to bring back environmental reporting.  

What ideas do you have to help shore up local news? Share them in the comments, on Twitter or in an email, and I’ll gather up a big list. I’m guessing there are a lot of you who, like Fox, care deeply about local news and its future.

“I worked at National Geographic the majority of my career, and I loved it,” Fox said “But I’ve never been around journalists as passionate and ‘all in’ as the ones in this newsroom, and that’s despite multiple rounds of layoffs and tons of internet trolls.”