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Nov. 15, 2018, 8:47 a.m.
LINK: shoeleather.us  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   November 15, 2018

Amazon may have gone with the most predictable of picks for HQ2, but that doesn’t give media organizations an out for hunkering down in the country’s elite metropolises. This directory of local reporters who actually know their communities wants to take away excuses for parachute journalism a little more firmly.

Shoeleather, launched this week by freelance journalist, Kentucky native, and New Orleans resident Sarah Baird, currently lists around 330 freelance journalists. Need someone in New Mexico or Missouri to report on the community’s response to a Trump rally or a climate change effect? The list can be sorted by location, speciality (food criticism, politics, environment, etc.), and identification (race, person living with a disability, LGBTQIA, etc.).

“The biggest issue is national editors sending in reporters to these areas and getting the story wrong,” Baird told me. “The baseline is very simple: A city-by-city directory of everywhere that isn’t New York, L.A., San Francisco, or D.C., of writers there that editors can consult instead of using the excuse that they don’t know anyone on the ground.”

Regional or local newsrooms looking for a reporter with the context of another region are welcomed to use it as well, she said — with the goal being payment for the freelancer, not sucking out their source list.

The Society for Professional Journalists also maintains a list of freelancers, for members. That doesn’t mean it has convinced editors to use journalists who are experts in their local communities during breaking news (see: any lineup of satellite trucks and hotel rooms when a shooting happens outside of a major city) or for pieces that can be more planned out. Some news networks, including the BBC, have created framework to loop in more (and more equitable) local-national collaborations and bolster the local outlets.

Baird wants to grow Shoeleather beyond just a list, as a larger resource for journalists who aren’t based along the journalism-heavy coastlines. She envisions workshops, a journalism resource lending library to share more expensive equipment, and more social interactions/network abilities than a meetup in Manhattan.

Baird started building Shoeleather with a developer this summer after reporting on Appalachian wrestling in Hazard, Kentucky. One of the wrestlers told her he spent a day with a national news outlet as they sought to report on a wrestling match between a “Progressive Liberal” villain and a Trump-supporter character last year — but only ended up using one line from him about coal.

“If you don’t live in a New York and people are writing about your town over and over again, it kind of becomes like a joke— it’s like, ‘oh lord they’re back again, writing another story’,” she said, pointing to New Orleans’ Kalegate in 2014 after The New York Times quoted a New York-to-New Orleans transplant bemoaning the lack of kale.

“It’s part of a larger cultural shift that needs to happen in journalism toward trusting people on the ground and local news reporters to tell their own stories.”

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