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April 25, 2018, 11:09 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Who’s who in local news: A guide to the biggest brains and bank accounts in the fight for local journalism

Local news consortiums, labs, associations, and more.

There really isn’t another word than “local” for what local news does (no, hyperlocal doesn’t count). Local news’ strength and mere presence has been threatened in the roiling journalism industry — but a number of initiatives are stepping up to help fill the void.

In the past few years, local journalism — especially the traditional models of TV news and newspapers — has struggled to adapt to the challenges of digital advertising and platforms, as national-level organizations have greater scale to soak up subscription dollars and chase heavy-hitting stories. It’s not a new tale, but as the media landscape (and the Facebook landscape, the political landscape, the news group ownership landscape, etc.) continues to shift and everyone remembers the importance of quality local news to democracy, there are a number of rising initiatives focused on (and with funding for) local news. There’s also a solid group of organizations that have already been working on amplifying local news voices. But the network of brains and bank accounts dedicated to local news can get confusing.

A few weeks ago, we put together a guide to the different projects that have recently entered the trust-in-journalism arena. Here’s our attempt at detangling some of the different projects and groups working in the local space — from Localore for public media to Table Stakes to Report for America to the Local Media Association, and more. Did we miss any? Let me know!

ProPublica Local Reporting Network

Team: Charles Ornstein

Funders: This particular project is supported by a three-year grant from an anonymous donor, but ProPublica itself is a non-profit news organization with several donors

Participants: The first group of local investigative reporters are from the South Bend Tribune in northern Indiana; Orlando’s NPR affiliate WMFE; the Advocate in Baton Rouge, La.; Vale, Ore.’s weekly newspaper the Malheur Enterprise; the Santa Fe New Mexican; The Southern Illinoisan; the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia.

ProPublica has an established local newsroom through its ProPublica Illinois satellite, but the local investigators in this network are still based in their own newsrooms. The reporting is intended to “reach communities we would have not otherwise have reached…[in a way] that the journalism should emanate from those communities,” said Eric Umansky, ProPublica’s deputy managing editor when they announced the program.

Since January, seven journalists in those newsrooms have been guided by senior editor Charles Ornstein, though the local editors still maintain some editorial control. ProPublica also offers support with funding for the reporters’ salaries and benefits for 2018 in this first round of the network. Applicants were limited to those from areas with less than 1 million people.

In our previous coverage of the network, we noted that ProPublica’s effort was in part inspired by Localore: Finding America, a project from the Association of Independents in Radio that pairs producers with public radio stations in underserved areas. What’s that? Funny you should ask…

Localore: Finding America

Team: Sue Schardt, the Association of Independents in Radio, and a network of more than 1,100 producers in 47 states and 30 countries, according to the project’s website

Funders: Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Wyncote Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts

Participants: Numerous. A recent round of Localore included projects with WAMU in Washington, D.C.; WEAA in Baltimore, Md.; KCPT in Kansas City, Mo.; KUAZ in Tucson, Ariz.; WHYY in Philadelphia, Pa.; WBHM in Birmingham, Ala.; KNBA in Anchorage, Alaska; NCPR in Canton, New York; KOSU in Tulsa, Okla.; KOSU in Milwaukee, Wisc.; WUNC in Durham, NC.; WUOT in Knoxville, Tenn.; WVTF in Richmond, Va.; WWNO in New Orleans, La.; and KBCS in Bellevue, Wash. The list of the producers they worked with and the projects they developed is here.

Since launching in 2010, AIR’s Localore initiative has helped create public media projects for covering diverse communities across the United States. Independent producers have been paired with public media stations and supplied with funding to tell stories with and about underserved communities. AIR has helped lead three iterations of Localore, including one in 2016 that sought to “create sustainable projects that will enable continued engagement with communities who might not typically consume public media.”

“We’re at a point in the history of this industry where those stations, radio and television…are at full tilt just doing the day-to-day,” AIR CEO Sue Schardt told Nieman Lab in 2011. “They don’t have the resources, they don’t have the money — and, in many ways, even though the heart may be there, there’s not a mindset that allows them to experiment, to try new things, and to really have the space and the means to reinvent themselves.”

We’ve covered Localore’s origins, growth, and findings. This month, Localore began accepting applications (deadline May 6!) for #LocaloreLive, a new program awarding microgrants to individuals for planning in-person community engagement events. Details are here.

Reveal Local Labs

Team: The Center for Investigative Reporting, senior editor Ziva Branstetter; they’re hiring a collaborations editor and engagement specialist for the project

Funders: The Knight Foundation (Disclosure: Knight also provides funding to Nieman Lab.)

Participants: To be announced, but they hint at four locations “where local media outlets show either a history of partnership or willingness to collaborate, where top managers see the value of sharing resources with other news outlets and where reporters and producers are eager to be part of the team.”

This isn’t The Center for Investigative Reporting’s first swing at collaborating for local innovation: in 2016 they launched the Reveal Labs (Reveal is their digital platform/podcast) with funding from Google to power local investigative reporting and community engagement. They embarked on projects with local partner outlets in regions across the United States and in Europe, too, from a virtual reality storytelling tool to an exploration of social justice issues through an interactive campaign.

Now, CIR just announced a new version of Reveal’s local outreach, called — don’t hold your breath — Reveal Local Labs. This new initiative is supported with $500,000 from the Knight Foundation and is building on the lessons learned during the “piloting phase,” according to CIR editor-in-chief Amy Pyle. She clarified the difference between the two in an email:

Building on the success of Reveal Labs work, we are moving to this next phase in four cities, which we are calling Reveal Local Labs. At the center of each of these new communities will be an investigative project, alongside the kind of creative community engagement work we helped pioneer.

What’s also new is the nurturing of local collaborations — something we have learned a lot about through our own work with outside partners both through Reveal Labs and Reveal the radio program/podcast. The goal is to leave behind new relationships and trust on which future investigations can be built.

Local News Lab

Team: Josh Stearns, Teresa Gorman, Democracy Fund

Funders: Originally launched by the Dodge Foundation and focused on New Jersey initiatives, the Lab is now housed at eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, with additional support from the Knight Foundation.

Participants: The Lab works with several local news sites, especially those in New Jersey and North Carolina, but generally serves as a resource for the local news community as a whole.

Kicked off in 2014 to study and support the evolution of local news concentrated in New Jersey, the Local News Lab has shifted homes (Dodge Foundation to Democracy Fund) and focuses in its four years.

According to its website now, “the Local News Lab is a testing ground for the future of local journalism that supports people and their efforts to experiment with new ways of reporting, engaging communities, and sustaining news organizations of all sizes.” That now includes local journalism in New Jersey and North Carolina through its special funds announced earlier this year.

The Local News Lab also provides support for those testing grounds with plentiful guides for local newsrooms on everything from newsletters to events and a hearty weekly newsletter called the Local Fix highlighting “key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news.”

Local News Initative

Team: Northwestern University, Tim Franklin, Medill’s Spiegel Research Center, the Northwestern Knight Lab

Funders: The Lilly Endowment, John Mutz, Myrta Pulliam, and others

Participants: The Indianapolis Star, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune

This month, it was announced that Franklin — former president of the Poynter Institute — will lead Northwestern’s new initiative for helping the three newsrooms closely examine their audience bases and behaviors and develop financial streams to strengthen their operations. As I noted in a previous article, “over the course of two years, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications (no ‘and’) will help the news organizations — owned by the post-Michael Ferro Tronc, Hearst, and Gannett respectively — dig into reader behavior across devices and platforms and news needs and expectations in each market before launching a product development and experimentation phase next year.”

The initiative is calling those newsrooms its Learning Labs, and Medill will be reporting back on the lessons from those labs to share its findings and experimentation.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media

Team: Craig Anderson, Penny Abernathy, Steven King, JoAnn Sciarrino, Ryan Thornburg, and more at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Funders: The Knight Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Participants: The Center works with several North Carolina local newsrooms on best practices, and it is also working with a cohort of newsrooms from the state as well as Arkansas, Virginia, George, South Carolina, and West Virginia as part of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative (more on that later on).

UNC’s local media group conducts research and develops potential solutions for existing and newcomer news organizations in the digital age through its Reese News Lab, Carolina Data Desk, and more. The Center is also working with Knight, Lenfest, Poynter, and the American Press Institute on the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, previously know as Table Stakes.

Local Online Independent Online News (LION) Publishers

Team: Executive director Matt DeRienzo and a board of directors

Funders: LION members pay dues, but the group also receives support from the Knight Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Democracy Fund, and others.

Participants: LION has about 225 members.

Started in 2012 as the indie news site movement was gaining steam, LION Publishers is an advocacy (and sort of support) group for scrappy local news sites getting their bearings and thriving in the media world. Many of the sites have risen from the ashes of previous newsrooms or digital news ventures and have grown to become significant news outlets in their communities.

LION members can get help with advertising revenue and investigative reporting. The group also hosts events like a reader revenue summit with the Center for Cooperative Media and its annual conference.

Center for Cooperative Media

Team: Stefanie Murray, Joe Amditis, Sarah Stonbely, Carla Baranauckas

Funders: Montclair State University, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and more listed here

Participants: One of the Center’s arms, the NJ News Commons, is a network of news organizations, freelancers, and others across the state, who agree to “work on reporting projects together, share content through our story exchange, share best practices, attend trainings and seminars, and help keep each other informed as the news industry changes.” Find the full list of participants here. Many of the resources they develop, however, can be used in newsrooms beyond New Jersey and their events can bring participants from across the country.

“What was going to happen to news coverage once Gov. Chris Christie spun off the state-owned New Jersey Network (NJN) of radio and television stations?”

That question planted the seed for the Center for Cooperative Media, housed at Montclair State University, during a 2011 meeting in which a local co-op news model was suggested.

The Center for Cooperative Media strives for collaboration across all levels of news organizations but through its NJ News Commons and other initiatives has a special spot for local projects, too. It’s hosted events like a recent reader revenue summit with LION Publishers, studied models of collaborative journalism that local news outlets could adapt for themselves, orchestrated team projects like Voting Block to report on upcoming elections, welcomed research for ideas like community information districts, and developed a Facebook Fundamentals program (funded by the Knight Foundation) to support members of LION and the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Need some inspiration for your collaborations? The team has compiled a database of 99 (and counting!) collaborative journalism projects to feed your imagination.

Table Stakes/Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative

Team: Douglas Smith, Arlene Morgan, Burt Herman, Ken Herts, Quentin Hope, Charles Baum, Tom Rosenstiel, Jeff Sonderman, Amy Kovac-Ashley, and more

Funders: Knight Foundation, Lenfest Institute

Participants: The Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Philadelphia Media Network, Houston Chronicle, Milwaukee Journal, San Jose Mercury News, and Seattle Times, and more

Inspired by the New York Times’ innovation report, the Knight Foundation helped spur digital transformation in four local newsrooms and expanded the cohort in 2017 with increased funding and support from the Lenfest Institute. “We’re already heading down this path,” said Robyn Tomlin, then the managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, in 2015. “This is going to be adding some jet fuel to help us rocket faster.”

The project is now known as the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. Ken Doctor explained its circumstances and potential last year:

“The work is about journalism, about innovation, and ultimately about democracy,” says Jim Friedlich, the executive director and CEO of the newly renamed Lenfest Institute for Journalism…Metro newspapers don’t have to invent the tools of the digital trade; they just have to apply them, decisively. Most of the tools — from core-to-the-business applied analytics to reader revenue propensity modeling to social audience maximization to mobile news products that meet reader expectations — are available and market tested. What this project aims to do: take what the best of what national/global news companies now use to drive their businesses and apply it — quickly — at the nation’s major metro newspapers.

The initiative aims to add four more newspaper partners in 2018 and four more in 2019. In all, this will be 16 mostly major American metro papers linking their chances for survival, and new prosperity, to this project.

The funding also allows Poynter to offer teaching and coaching for dozens of local news organizations and the American Press Institute to develop the Better News resource guide to share lessons and evidence from the cohort. The University of North Carolina’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media is also working with local newsrooms in the state and across the Southeast region to implement best practices through the initiative.

Community Listening and Engagement Fund

Team: Cheryl Thompson-Morton at the Lenfest Institute, Paul Waters at Democracy Fund, Molly de Aguiar at the News Integrity Initiative, Jennifer Preston at the Knight Foundation, Jennifer Brandel at Hearken, and Andrew Haeg at GroundSource

Funders: Knight Foundation, Lenfest Institute, News Integrity Initiative, Democracy Fund

Participants: 18 local newsrooms, 14 other newsrooms, and two universities (See who they all are here.)

Newer than Table Stakes but a similar multi-partner effort, this fund is drawn together by different players in the journalism philanthropy world to help newsrooms bring tools like Hearken and GroundSource to their journalists and audiences. CLEF was mentioned in our guide to the various trust initiatives, as well, and it’s not exclusively focused on local newsrooms. But as an effort to offset the costs associated with implementing engagement tools like those two, it selected many local news organizations in its first round earlier this year.

They are running three cycles in 2018 and note that subsidies are limited — when the fund is out, it’s out. Applications for the second cohort will be accepted starting May 1.

Report for America

Team: Cofounders Charles Sennott and Steven Waldman, The GroundTruth Project; Kevin Douglas Grant, Maggie Messitt, Joanne Heyman

Funders: Google News Initiative, Lenfest, Knight, Galloway Family Foundation,, Select Equity Group Foundation and “numerous generous individuals”

Participants: West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Lexington Herald-Leader and Charleston Gazette-Mail in the first wave; the Chicago Sun-Times, The Dallas Morning News, KRWG at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Billy Penn and The Incline, The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Mississippi Today, and the Victoria Advocate in Texas have been announced in the next batch.

Inspired by programs like Teach for America and the Peace Corps, Report for America puts early-stage journalists into newsrooms across the U.S. for two-year stints. The goal is 1,000 journalists by 2022, and so far they have three in the Appalachia region with more newsrooms eagerly awaiting their corps member’s arrival this June. The money comes from supporters of RFA and from and local organizations in the communities the journalists will be living in.

Sennott, who has reported extensively in bureaus overseas and launched GroundTruth for training foreign correspondents, and Waldman, who authored the FCC’s “Information Needs of Communities” mega-report, teamed up after the 2016 election. This Q&A with my colleague Laura Hazard Owen and Sennott sheds light on many of the initial questions RFA is facing — Teach for America has not always been sunshine and rainbows — like how it actually works, how it balances being an outsider with working with local groups, what training it will provide to the newcomers, and what sort of newsrooms can apply for corps members.

Local News Subscription Accelerator

Team: Facebook, Tim Griggs

Funders: Uh, Facebook.

Participants: Fourteen metropolitan newsrooms: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Omaha World-Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Tennessean, Newsday, and Advance.

The platform’s three-month olive branch to the industry launched in late March, inviting representatives from the aforementioned news organizations to design projects with funding from Facebook to bolster their digital subscriptions. Facebook has also included local news organizations in its test for subscriptions within Instant Articles.

Facebook says this accelerator will help local news publishers in “unlock[ing] strategies that help…build digital customer acquisitions on and off our platform.” The Lenfest Institute is helping to coordinate the grant from the Facebook Journalism Project with workshops by Griggs (of former New York Times/Texas Tribune fame) and regular reports on best practices.

As described in a previous Nieman Lab article: “These publishers will gather in person once a month, complete weekly trainings on digital subscription marketing, and design their own project for putting the trainings in action (supported by grant funding). But additional newsrooms across the country will also get access to some of the strategies through the Lenfest Institute, the Local Media Consortium (1,600 individual publications), Local Media Association (3,000 newspapers, TV stations, digital news sites, and radio stations), and the News Media Alliance (2,000 news organizations).” What are those groups, you ask? Keep reading…

Local Media Consortium

Team: Tom Sly, chief revenue officer at Scripps, is the interim CEO and Christian Hendricks, after a 25-year run at McClatchy, is the president; the board is comprised of execs like Chris Loretto, Digital First Media’s chief digital officer, and James Green, vice president of digital at Lee.

Funders: Members pay dues, and additional revenue comes from a programmatic ad exchange. As of October 2017, the LMC is a non-stock for-profit company, though previously it operated as a “contractual agreement.”

Participants: Here’s a list of the Consortium’s members, ranging from A.H. Belo to WRAL (Capitol Broadcasting). Partner service providers include Monster.com, Google, and a suite of ad-tech services.

The Local Media Consortium represents 1,700 individual news outlets across 75 members. The group was started in 2006 and had some rocky moments alongside the rest of the industry before Rusty Coats led its rebirth in 2013. We wrote about the changes in 2014:

In 2006, 176 newspapers came together in a partnership with Yahoo to found The Newspaper Consortium. The idea, a simple one now, was an important step forward for the development and growth of ad networks. Yahoo had the reach — 400 million users worldwide at the time, according to The New York Times — but the newspaper companies (which included the MediaNews Group, Hearst, Belo, Scripps, Journal Register, Lee, and Cox) — had the experienced ad sales teams. Together, they sought to increase revenues all around — so that a newspaper could sell local ads to local businesses that ran when local readers went to Yahoo, splitting the proceeds along the way….

Today, the Consortium is taking a step towards fulfilling its promise of increased revenue through a new partnership with Google. The deal is supposed to strengthen Google’s relationship with local publishers by ‘turbocharging’ the online news business via “growing budgets” for programmatic buying…The real draw of the Google partnership for consortium members is a new private ad exchange that sells publisher inventory programatically.”

Coats recently left the Consortium, pointing to tensions with the board over the group’s mission, and Sly is in as interim CEO. Members of both the Consortium and the Local Media Association (see below!) will have access to the strategies discussed in the Facebook Local News Subscriptions Accelerator (see above).

Local Media Association

Team: The staff includes Nancy Lane as president and Jed Williams as chief innovation officer; the board includes folks from audience engagement platform Second Street, digital marketing and newspaper publishing company Swift Communications, Gatehouse Media, Spirited Media, Sinclair, Nexstar, Scripps, and more. (Tom Sly, interim CEO of the Local Media Consortium, is on the board here too; the Consortium’s president, Chris Hendricks, is on the board of the association’s foundation.)

Funders: The association offers advertising to its members and a subscription-based industry intel service with research papers and webinars; its affiliated Local Media Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable trust. The association’s financials on Guidestar show a combination of funding from contributions, program services, and events.

Participants: The association has 3,000 members including McClatchy, Scripps, Nexstar, Gatehouse, Sinclair, Meredith, and more: “newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, directories, pure plays and research & development partners, are active members,” their website says. Here’s a list of the media company members and their partner list is here.

This industry trade organization focuses on sustainable business models and has a plethora of webinars, conferences, training, and other resources. The association will share access to the Facebook Local News Subscription Accelerator strategies with its members, as mentioned above, and is participating in an anti-misinformation/pro-media literacy effort with Poynter, the Stanford University Education Group, and some YouTubers, funded by Google.

Photo by Paul on Unsplash used with a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 25, 2018, 11:09 a.m.
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