Facebook is committing $300 million to support news, with an emphasis on local


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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Facebook and the local news industry both had tough 2018s — but on wildly different levels. Facebook began the year by shifting its News Feed algorithm in favor of more “meaningful interactions” and less Page/news content. That evolved to include focuses on trusted news, local news, and informative news. Some viral-focused publishers folded from the loss of traffic. (Other things, you know, also happened, like Cambridge Analytica and PR scandals and 30 million accounts hacked and threats of arresting Mark Zuckerberg at Heathrow and the words “A Genocide Incited on Facebook” appearing in a headline.) Meanwhile, in local journalism, news deserts expanded and more newsrooms faced more cuts, with Alden Global Capital’s strip mining of The Denver Post creating a special outcry — all while reporters stayed squeezed as pawns in their parent companies’ games. But despite the bad news on both sides, it’s still quite clear Continue reading "Facebook is committing $300 million to support news, with an emphasis on local"

Heightening the CMS race: WordPress.com and News Revenue Hub devise a toolkit for local newsrooms


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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Around two-thirds of smaller and medium-sized publishers use WordPress as their CMS (that’s content management system for the newbies) — but how many publishers can say they’ve developed a sustainable business model? The optimistic answer: More in 2019 (the realistic answer: unclear), or at least they’ll get closer to cobbling it together. WordPress.com is launching a new toolkit, called Newspack, for small and mid-sized publishers to streamline their technical decisions — and make choices that add to the potential of finagling a business model. Kinsey Wilson, former digital guru at NPR and The New York Times and now WordPress.com’s president, is leading the initiative, working with the News Revenue Hub and Spirited Media as development partners. “We’ve seen through our work at the News Revenue Hub how many small and medium-sized news organizations struggle with their websites. They’re limited by everything from stale design and Continue reading "Heightening the CMS race: WordPress.com and News Revenue Hub devise a toolkit for local newsrooms"

Fewer nosy neighbors and data overlords: This German publisher is trying to build a hyperlocal social network


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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Dog poop and parking spot shortages: just local news things. These story topics might seem trivial individually but are the core of what matters to local communities — and local news consumers. It’s journalists listening for their questions and getting them answers. In 2014, Sebastian Penthin cofounded Lokalportal, a startup inspired by his hometown village’s question of what they wanted local life to look like in 2030. At the same time, Neue Westfälische, a German regional daily newspaper in an area with about 2 million residents, was feeling the financial pressures in the newspaper industry, with subscriber numbers and sales steadily dropping. “We need to create a product of what local communities love and what provides value to them,” Alexander Drößler, a product manager at Neue Westfälische’s online service and Lokalportal liaison, said. Yes, there are Facebook groups for this — if you don’t mind Facebook Continue reading "Fewer nosy neighbors and data overlords: This German publisher is trying to build a hyperlocal social network"

The Dallas Morning News — still family controlled — shears its newsroom by 20


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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The Dallas Morning News, one of the largest remaining independently owned metro newspapers, announced it was laying off 43 staffers, 20 in its newsroom, Monday. The layoffs reach from senior writers to community reporters, with varying levels of time at the organization. The News is owned by A.H. Belo, which is publicly traded but still family-run; Belo used to include a number of other newspapers and a chain of TV stations, but it’s now mostly just the News. (I should note I spent a summer there as an intern and Nieman Lab head honcho Joshua Benton worked there for eight years. We’re both digital subscribers.) The News pointed to
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Need a local reporter in [state] with [expertise]? This directory wants to blow away parachute journalism


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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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.).

Can this network of lit-to-be-local newsletters unlock younger civic engagement?


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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As a younger-generation American who wants to be informed about my local area, is there a good option to get local news that doesn’t involve reading a site that feels like its pop-ups are draped with cobwebs? Younger Americans are paying for news in greater numbers. Younger generations are better at telling fact from opinion, though adults under age 29 are also the only age group to think “most news reports are fairly inaccurate.” Younger Europeans are turning to newspaper websites over TV news. And, unsurprisingly, younger Americans are the ones who are more likely to skip voting. (Though they did a bit better yesterday than in previous midterm elections.) The media industry is still adjusting to serving those tricky millennials with the type of news and information that will get them informed to participate in democracy. (We’ll handle Generation Z, or whatever you want to call them
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How the BBC built one of the world’s largest collaborative journalism efforts focused entirely on local news


This post is by Tara George from Nieman Lab


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Three large regional news publishing companies in the U.K. executed a coordinated public condemnation in June against what they saw as the British government’s preferential treatment of the south in its handling of a national rail crisis. Fueled by a sense of outrage over massive train cancellations and delays, the publishers put aside years of historic competition and came together around the #onenorth campaign, simultaneously publishing front page stories and a joint editorial in approximately two dozen papers, shaming the government to heed them and act. Joined by a handful of hyperlocal news publishers, the #onenorth coverage was picked up by radio and television and spread widely on social media, becoming a graphic display of the kind of power that three erstwhile competitors, Reach plc, Newsquest and Johnston Press, could wield if they buried their hatchets and collaborated. In the eyes of Jeremy Clifford, the editor-in Continue reading "How the BBC built one of the world’s largest collaborative journalism efforts focused entirely on local news"

“The smart phone screen is the only screen in some communities”: Local news’ digital adaptation


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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The Coastal Courier is a weekly community newspaper in Georgia with an office on Main Street — and a VR channel. “Are they adequately meeting the information needs with their technology?” Jesse Holcomb wondered. “Are they carving out a space on social platforms or avoiding them altogether?” Holcomb, a Calvin College professor and former Pew researcher, highlighted the Coastal Courier’s digital adaptation — not necessarily innovation — at an event at Columbia Journalism’s Tow Center Wednesday evening. He conducted research to answer those very questions more broadly in the journalism industry, finding that one in ten local news outlets don’t even have their own website, among other tidbits we summarized here. New in this talk: Holcomb shared the starting-a-local-news-outlet to-do list of Brian Boyer, head of product at digital local news chain Spirited Media: A website, a subscriber box, and an email newsletter. Then, “start publishing
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Venture philanthropy for local news might not be as scary as it sounds


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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An incomplete list of attempts to finance local news: Swallow that bile in your throat — at least for the last item. Local news is swimming in quite the pickle juice, as we’ve documented here before. Two of the brains behind a couple nonprofit, mission-driven, local-centric news organizations think venture philanthropy could help similar outlets get closer to the bullseye of sustainable local news as a public good.

Are billionaires trying to swipe local news again? (Nope.)

The concept is called the American Journalism Project, Continue reading "Venture philanthropy for local news might not be as scary as it sounds"

Where local news has adapted to digital — and where it can still grow (hint: not geographically)


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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So you want to support local news. But can you even find the subscribe button on the Daily Planet’s clunky website to do so? Is the website optimized for a smartphone? (Which is, of course, what you’re probably trying to use to find said button.) Does the organization even have a website, or does it shoot straight to social media instead of fighting with a WordPress template? If you answered “uh, don’t know” or “eek, no” or “maybe I can for one site but I care about strengthening local news more broadly,” then you might want to check out this new research from Calvin College professor Jesse Holcomb, published over at Columbia University’s Tow Center. Holcomb — who spent 10 years as a researcher at Pew before going to Calvin — examined 2,072 local news outlets, a sample drawn from Cision’s media database. (He defined “local” as “if
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$20 million is heading toward local news from the Lenfest Institute and Knight Foundation


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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Boom, baby: After initially joining forces to boost Table Stakes — their project to boost the nation’s metro newspapers — the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute are each putting $10 million into a joint fund targeted at local news. (Yes, $20 million total, with opportunity for more to come.) Table Stakes was launched in 2015 by Knight and Temple University, bringing leaders from four metropolitan newspapers in the U.S. together to gameplan for their digital transition. Lenfest was founded in 2016 and began supporting the newly rebranded Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative in February 2017, expanding to 12 newsrooms. Now, the new collaboration will center around three pillars, explained Lenfest executive director Jim Friedlich and Knight’s vice president of journalism Jennifer Preston:

Billy Penn, Denverite, and The Incline are all going after members. Can they become predominately reader-supported?


This post is by Shan Wang from Nieman Lab


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It’s a member, it’s a contributor, it’s a customer — no, it’s that saintly reader whose main interest is supporting these local news sites and keeping the journalism free to read for others who can’t afford it. Last fall, Spirited Media was laying off staff at each of its three publications. Earlier this year, it shifted its strategy to seeking significant reader support, namely, membership (contributions, donations, gifts, whatever you want to want to call it), a business decision that a whole slew of other sites both large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, legacy or startup, have converged on in the past several years. “We had just come off a lot of internal turmoil in the newsroom that left me with one reporter when I took over. People who care about journalism were aware that it might be a weird time to be asking people for support — um, wait,
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The Lenfest Institute is testing new products for local news, and it wants your help


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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In the local news space, what’s missing? (Don’t say money.) What about rigorous — maybe even fun — product development and testing? That’s what a new team organized by the Lenfest Institute, one of the newest kids on the local-news-innovation-and-sustainability block, is devoted to. Led by Sarah Schmalbach, the former co-leader of the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab and Gannett product manager who came up through Philadelphia’s local news environment, the Lenfest Local Lab is the institute’s collaborative attempt to dig into new ways that local news and information could be more useful and accessible for residents. National and international organizations have their own innovation hubs, from the BBC’s four-person team testing 12 prototypes for mobile storytelling and that Guardian mobile lab that ended earlier this year. But there isn’t quite a systematic approach to analyzing options for the special space that local news occupies — sometimes as Continue reading "The Lenfest Institute is testing new products for local news, and it wants your help"

An analysis of 16,000 stories, across 100 U.S. communities, finds very little actual local news


This post is by Laura Hazard Owen from Nieman Lab


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We know that local journalism is suffering. We talk about news deserts and shuttering newspapers. Research has tended to focus on individual communities, or more broadly on certain types of journalism outlets and the coverage of certain types of topics. But what do the problems for local news look like on a broader level? Researchers from the News Measures Research Project at Duke analyzed more than 16,000 news stories across 100 U.S. communities with populations ranging from 20,000 to 300,000 people. (U.S. Census data identifies 493 such communities; the researchers chose a random sample of 100.) What they found isn’t promising: — Only about 17 percent of the news stories provided to a community are truly local — that is actually about or having taken place within — the municipality. — Less than half (43 percent) of the news stories provided to a community by local media Continue reading "An analysis of 16,000 stories, across 100 U.S. communities, finds very little actual local news"

The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote an audience-driven article using Instagram Stories (and it wasn’t even about a hippo)


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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If you follow news organizations on Instagram, you probably see a dozen news quizzes or “things to know” every week on your Instagram Stories. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong about testing followers on current events and sharing roundups. But on a platform that lets users vote, rate something’s emoji-level, ask questions directly, and more — there might just be opportunity for a little more engagement. If you follow the Cincinnati Enquirer, though, you might get the chance to decorate some digital coloring book pages of Fiona the Hippo, or even sound off on the city’s public transit problems — and have the newsroom hear you out.
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Facebook puts $4.5 million more into news support with a membership accelerator and News Match cash


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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When Facebook announced its subscription accelerator for certain local news organizations in February, we chalked it up as one move in the larger dance between publishers and platforms. Now, Facebook is taking another step in the tango (pasodoble?) with a new accelerator focused on memberships for local news groups, extending the original accelerator, and donating $1 million to a nonprofit news matching-gift campaign. (Um, also. Facebook acknowledged to Congress this week that it had discovered a political influence campaign with techniques similar to those used by Russia in the 2016 presidential race. And the company recently lost $120 billion in market value in what MarketWatch called “the ugliest single-session decline since the company went public in 2012.” Not everything is pretty here!) The 15 to 20 participants of the membership accelerator will be selected by Facebook, with input from the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Continue reading "Facebook puts $4.5 million more into news support with a membership accelerator and News Match cash"

Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund selects a new round of projects to fund


This post is by Marlee Baldridge from Nieman Lab


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Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund announced on Tuesday the 98 media projects it will be funding for Round 5 of applications. Those chosen will receive a slice of €21,137,000 (about USD $24.7 million), bringing Google’s DNI outlay to date to €115 million, of the €150 million it has committed. “Larger” projects received 65 percent of this round’s funding, 26 percent went to “medium” projects, and prototype projects received about nine percent. The Digital News Innovation Fund — previously known as the Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund, until Google rebranded its global journalism efforts under the rubric Continue reading "Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund selects a new round of projects to fund"

In Alabama, a small-town paper is figuring out digital advertising — and they’re doing it live


This post is by Marlee Baldridge from Nieman Lab


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Digital advertising has, broadly speaking, been a disappointment for American newspapers. From 2013 to 2017, digital ad revenue for newspapers increased only about 8 percent — only barely beating inflation. (Meanwhile, overall digital ad spending — dominated by Google and Facebook — more than doubled over the same period.) But in the Alabama Piedmont, the Alexander City Outlook, print circulation of around 3,250, somehow managed to boost its digital ad revenue more than 80 percent in 2017 — from $56,000 to $104,000, Editor & Publisher reported recently. So how did the paper do it? Alexander City is a town of 14,773 people. While in many respects “Alex” City is just another small town outside of the more metropolitan city of Montgomery, the town newspaper, with a staff of three full-time reporters plus a managing editor, is anything but. (Tragically, after I started reporting this story, The Outlook’s editor
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Water in a news desert: New Jersey is spending $5 million to fund innovation in local news


This post is by Marlee Baldridge from Nieman Lab


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Compared to its peers, the United States is notoriously stingy when it comes to government dollars supporting media. Norway spends about $135 per capita each year on its public broadcasters; Germany spends $107, the U.K. $86, France $55, and Canada $22. The U.S. spends about $2.25. (That’s about half a Starbucks grande iced caramel macchiato a year.) This week, though, one state — New Jersey — took a small step in the other direction. On Monday, leaders agreed on a new state budget that includes $5 million in funding for innovative projects to improve local news in the state. Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to give his final signoff soon.

A look at how foundations are helping the journalism industry stand up straight


This post is by Christine Schmidt from Nieman Lab


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Foundations across the U.S. are helping journalists watchdog the powerful — but who’s watching the foundations? The state of the journalism industry might be much more tattered right now if not for philanthropic dollars helping to sustain national and local news outlets like ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Voice of San Diego, Texas Tribune, and others. Nonprofit news organizations have made so much progress in the past decade that now there’s even an playbook for how to make your own. But where is this money coming from, who is it going to, and how are these dollars reshaping journalism? (A piece by Julie Reynolds pointed out that the Knight Foundation has, in the past, invested in Alden Global Capital, the parent company of the “strip-mining” Digital First Media.) A study co-published by the Shorenstein Center and Northeastern University (and funded by a couple of foundations
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