Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

“‘Engagement’ will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that is often disregarded and undervalued.”

Local media will recognize in 2021 that, in order to be trusted and sustainable, they will need to operationalize their whole organization around understanding who their local community is, and what news and information offerings that community wants and needs.

They’ll need to come up with creative strategies to deliver on those needs, fund them, and market the unique value proposition they have of serving a community, which will always include providing critical information and holding the powerful accountable.

And they’ll recognize that the window of time to do this is extremely short, thanks to our deteriorating information landscape and the proliferation of dis/misinformation and propaganda.

In order to do this, local media organizations will constantly ask themselves versions of these questions:

  • Are we relevant? Is the majority of what we produce rooted in a deep understanding of our community’s critical information needs and interests?
  • Are we reflective? When the community looks at the staff and leadership in our organization, do they see themselves?
  • Are we read? Are people interested in reading (or watching, attending, listening to, etc.) the work we are producing? Do we truly grapple with the fact that, if we’re only consumed by a tiny percentage of our community, we may still produce powerful and impactful news, but might not ultimately be effective at our jobs?

Not nearly enough people outside of journalism and media know about the existing brands and organizations that live in this space, especially the local media organizations that have launched in the past decade. That’s in part because local media has not been able to do what successful businesses outside of the industry have done — getting to know their markets and consumers deeply. In doing so, an organization can design outreach and engagement efforts that build diverse funnels of information users/readers, contributors, and donors that then increase an organization’s brand and presence in the local community.

By starting with the community, relentlessly pursuing a relationship with them, and understanding what it means to serve them in diverse and meaningful ways, local media organizations can become civic pillars in their markets. The mere mention of their name will elicit recognition, respect (given their pursuit of transparency and truth), trust, goodwill, money and loyalty.

Decisions about coverage and products won’t be solely based on what a few people at the highest levels of editorial leadership think is important for the rest of the community to know. Decisions will be based on being accountable to the community’s information needs and interests first; a large percentage of coverage decisions will come from what is uncovered. As time and funding allow, media organizations will also seek to understand what gives communities joy and meaning and will design news and informational offerings that facilitate meeting these meaningful and important needs as a pathway to civic news literacy.

“Engagement” will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that’s often disregarded and undervalued. It will be understood that having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community. The organizations that operate in these ways should get the recognition and help that they have earned, given their position as the leaders local journalism and media can be modeling themselves after.

We are seeing exciting momentum in this space as local news organizations across the country address these questions and action towards solutions. Whether it’s in Vermont, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, or Oregon (organizations I work with through the American Journalism Project), there’s a movement taking place in local nonprofit news that will continue to grow in 2021. Media and news organizations that are rooted in a specific place, have their community’s back, and study and encompass the best aspects of what building brand loyalty means, will lean into being relevant, reflective, and read by the people that make up their market.

By doing so, they will not only operate as critical information and news providers but, most importantly, as trusted facilitators of community cohesion and health for years to come.

Anna Nirmala is a vice president at the American Journalism Project.

Local media will recognize in 2021 that, in order to be trusted and sustainable, they will need to operationalize their whole organization around understanding who their local community is, and what news and information offerings that community wants and needs.

They’ll need to come up with creative strategies to deliver on those needs, fund them, and market the unique value proposition they have of serving a community, which will always include providing critical information and holding the powerful accountable.

And they’ll recognize that the window of time to do this is extremely short, thanks to our deteriorating information landscape and the proliferation of dis/misinformation and propaganda.

In order to do this, local media organizations will constantly ask themselves versions of these questions:

  • Are we relevant? Is the majority of what we produce rooted in a deep understanding of our community’s critical information needs and interests?
  • Are we reflective? When the community looks at the staff and leadership in our organization, do they see themselves?
  • Are we read? Are people interested in reading (or watching, attending, listening to, etc.) the work we are producing? Do we truly grapple with the fact that, if we’re only consumed by a tiny percentage of our community, we may still produce powerful and impactful news, but might not ultimately be effective at our jobs?

Not nearly enough people outside of journalism and media know about the existing brands and organizations that live in this space, especially the local media organizations that have launched in the past decade. That’s in part because local media has not been able to do what successful businesses outside of the industry have done — getting to know their markets and consumers deeply. In doing so, an organization can design outreach and engagement efforts that build diverse funnels of information users/readers, contributors, and donors that then increase an organization’s brand and presence in the local community.

By starting with the community, relentlessly pursuing a relationship with them, and understanding what it means to serve them in diverse and meaningful ways, local media organizations can become civic pillars in their markets. The mere mention of their name will elicit recognition, respect (given their pursuit of transparency and truth), trust, goodwill, money and loyalty.

Decisions about coverage and products won’t be solely based on what a few people at the highest levels of editorial leadership think is important for the rest of the community to know. Decisions will be based on being accountable to the community’s information needs and interests first; a large percentage of coverage decisions will come from what is uncovered. As time and funding allow, media organizations will also seek to understand what gives communities joy and meaning and will design news and informational offerings that facilitate meeting these meaningful and important needs as a pathway to civic news literacy.

“Engagement” will get the respect it deserves as the center of excellence within local media organizations, not an offshoot concept that’s often disregarded and undervalued. It will be understood that having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community. The organizations that operate in these ways should get the recognition and help that they have earned, given their position as the leaders local journalism and media can be modeling themselves after.

We are seeing exciting momentum in this space as local news organizations across the country address these questions and action towards solutions. Whether it’s in Vermont, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, or Oregon (organizations I work with through the American Journalism Project), there’s a movement taking place in local nonprofit news that will continue to grow in 2021. Media and news organizations that are rooted in a specific place, have their community’s back, and study and encompass the best aspects of what building brand loyalty means, will lean into being relevant, reflective, and read by the people that make up their market.

By doing so, they will not only operate as critical information and news providers but, most importantly, as trusted facilitators of community cohesion and health for years to come.

Anna Nirmala is a vice president at the American Journalism Project.

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Cory Haik   Be essential

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context