Reinventing the Future of Local News
From innovative uses of technology to hyper-specialized reporting
We live in an uncertain time for local media. While the coverage that they provide is vital for all sorts of reasons, numerous local newspapers have wrestled with the loss of advertising revenue or strict cuts from corporate ownership. A host of high-profile initiatives to blend technology with specialized reporting arrived on the scene in recent years, some of which have been beset with issues of their own. And some people working in local journalism face less-than-ideal working conditions and salaries.
But local media — print or digital or both — remains critically important to keeping people educated about issues facing their community and providing a sense of connectedness. The New York Times hosted a discussion of numerous possible futures for the local news, talking with the people behind a host of initiatives to revitalize that space.
The methods utilized by these organizations differs substantially. Chalkbeat opts to focus specifically on education and education-related issues, while Report for America applies a nonprofit- and service-based model to reporting. Detroit-based Outlier Media blends a hyper-local approach to news with a precise use of data; founder Sarah Alvarez told the Times that “[w]e have built databases from our reporting that Detroiters can access on demand via text message, since most residents don’t have broadband at home or generous data plans.”
The fourth participant in the discussion is Douglas Smith, author of Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News. The table stakes movement focuses on seven principles to make local news more sustainable. This isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all proposition: participants have gone in very different directions with this. But the results have been laudable: Smith observes that “[n]early a dozen table stakes participants have won or been finalists for a Pulitzer Prize since 2015.”
As the Times piece demonstrates, there isn’t one perfect solution for the numerous issues facing local media. But it’s also important to remember that the means exist for a better future for local journalism: the four perspectives on it here represent a good start for one of the most subtly vital issues facing the nation.
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