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.

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

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

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

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

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

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

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

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

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

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

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

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

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

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

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

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

Joshua P. Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

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

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

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

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

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

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

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

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

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

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

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

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

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

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

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

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

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

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

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

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

J. Siguru Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

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

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

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

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

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

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

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

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

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

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

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

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

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

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

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

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

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

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

Cory Haik   Be essential

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

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

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

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

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption