20200
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20100
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2070
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2020
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7

Everything happens somewhere

“The gap between what local and national audiences want to read will continue to shrink, as digital news outlets get better at spelling out the context that allows more readers to connect.”

Prediction: The gap between what local and national audiences want to read will continue to shrink, as digital news outlets get better at spelling out the context that allows more readers to connect.

Readers, regardless of location, want to find themselves in a story. By explaining how a local story fits in larger context (national, global, historical, etc.), we not only help a national audience understand the importance of the material — we do the same thing for the local audience. What a national audience might find astounding, a local audience may be shocked to discover is not business-as-usual for everyone.

Providing this context will almost certainly require extra reporting, but adding this type of information will improve the journalism and fuel impact. And once you have the facts, presenting them to a national readership doesn’t always have to be difficult. In my experience, adding or — more often — removing a few words along with giving a bit of extra thought to digital headlines can be the difference between communication and confusion.

Two examples from 2019 stand out to me, both from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Both investigations were intensely local. One focused on the specific mechanisms by which wealthy Connecticut towns keep their housing — and their populations — segregated. The other was a series of articles about the sexual assault crisis in rural Alaska, a situation compounded by a profound lack of law enforcement resources.

Each of these stories is of primary interest to the residents of those states. But to read these deeply reported stories is to discover the universal themes within them. The challenge for ProPublica was to express those ideas as clearly and elegantly as we could.

With that goal in mind, in partnership with the Anchorage Daily News, we titled Kyle Hopkins’ first piece “The small village where sex offenders outnumber the cops 7 to 1.” No matter where you live and no matter who you are, you understand immediately that such a village should not exist.

The story drew over 2 million views on Apple News alone. Alaska has a population of 737,438. After the piece ran, U.S. Attorney General William Barr traveled to Alaska and declared the law enforcement crisis a public safety emergency.

For the Connecticut Mirror partnership, we chose to title the story “Separated by design: how some of America’s richest towns fight affordable housing.” With this headline we aimed to confirm what most house-hunters already suspect — the local governments of rich towns are actively using their powers to keep prices high — and working-class people out. Connecticut, a state with some of the most severe income inequality in the nation, was not just the focus of the piece but also the best place to tell a bigger story about an issue that affects most Americans.

An abridged (but still very clear) version of this headline (“Separation by Design”) ran on front pages all over Connecticut. The longer version also drew more than 2 million views on Apple News.

Everything happens somewhere. Why it matters, not where it happened is what readers — both local and national — really want to know. It is a newsroom’s job to illuminate the “why.”

Meg Marco is a senior editor at ProPublica.

Prediction: The gap between what local and national audiences want to read will continue to shrink, as digital news outlets get better at spelling out the context that allows more readers to connect.

Readers, regardless of location, want to find themselves in a story. By explaining how a local story fits in larger context (national, global, historical, etc.), we not only help a national audience understand the importance of the material — we do the same thing for the local audience. What a national audience might find astounding, a local audience may be shocked to discover is not business-as-usual for everyone.

Providing this context will almost certainly require extra reporting, but adding this type of information will improve the journalism and fuel impact. And once you have the facts, presenting them to a national readership doesn’t always have to be difficult. In my experience, adding or — more often — removing a few words along with giving a bit of extra thought to digital headlines can be the difference between communication and confusion.

Two examples from 2019 stand out to me, both from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Both investigations were intensely local. One focused on the specific mechanisms by which wealthy Connecticut towns keep their housing — and their populations — segregated. The other was a series of articles about the sexual assault crisis in rural Alaska, a situation compounded by a profound lack of law enforcement resources.

Each of these stories is of primary interest to the residents of those states. But to read these deeply reported stories is to discover the universal themes within them. The challenge for ProPublica was to express those ideas as clearly and elegantly as we could.

With that goal in mind, in partnership with the Anchorage Daily News, we titled Kyle Hopkins’ first piece “The small village where sex offenders outnumber the cops 7 to 1.” No matter where you live and no matter who you are, you understand immediately that such a village should not exist.

The story drew over 2 million views on Apple News alone. Alaska has a population of 737,438. After the piece ran, U.S. Attorney General William Barr traveled to Alaska and declared the law enforcement crisis a public safety emergency.

For the Connecticut Mirror partnership, we chose to title the story “Separated by design: how some of America’s richest towns fight affordable housing.” With this headline we aimed to confirm what most house-hunters already suspect — the local governments of rich towns are actively using their powers to keep prices high — and working-class people out. Connecticut, a state with some of the most severe income inequality in the nation, was not just the focus of the piece but also the best place to tell a bigger story about an issue that affects most Americans.

An abridged (but still very clear) version of this headline (“Separation by Design”) ran on front pages all over Connecticut. The longer version also drew more than 2 million views on Apple News.

Everything happens somewhere. Why it matters, not where it happened is what readers — both local and national — really want to know. It is a newsroom’s job to illuminate the “why.”

Meg Marco is a senior editor at ProPublica.

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