Food journalism as regional news: Our conversation with Hanna Raskin

Hanna Raskin, allegedly. Photo by Allisyn K. Morgan.

On this week’s “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Hanna Raskin, founder and editor of The Food Section, a Substack newsletter devoted to covering restaurants and trends in food across the South. Before starting her Substack last year, Hanna was food editor and critic for eight years at the family-owned Charleston Post and Courier in South Carolina.

Raskin also covered food for alternative weeklies, including the Mountain XPress in Asheville, North Carolina, and Seattle Weekly.

I offer a Quick Take on The Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit news project that finally made its long-awaited debut. I wish them all good luck but have some issues with their business model, which includes a hard paywall — not entirely compatible with a nonprofit’s public-service mission.

Ellen’s Quick Take is on a Pew Research Center study on trends in digital circulation at locally focused publications. The bottom line: digital is trending up, print circulation continues to tank, and readers are spending less time on site.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Memphis newspaper legend Otis Sanford on the rise of a new media ecosystem

Otis Sanford at his 2014 induction into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame

This week on the “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Professor Otis Sanford, who is something of a journalistic legend in Memphis. As a general assignment reporter at The Commercial Appeal in 1977, Sanford covered the death of Elvis Presley. He also covered courts, county government and politics before being promoted into management. After stints at the Pittsburgh Press and Detroit Free Press, Sanford returned to The Commercial Appeal. In 2002 he was named managing editor and in 2007 he became editorial page editor.

As opinion editor in Memphis, Sanford launched a Citizens Editorial Board. While that was a number of years ago, Sanford was ahead of the curve in terms of community engagement.

In 2011, Sanford joined the University of Memphis Department of Journalism faculty. He holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism. He still writes a column on politics and events in Memphis. It’s published in The Daily Memphian, a thriving startup founded by journalists and business people who were disappointed by the rounds of layoffs at The Commercial Appeal.

The Daily Memphian is one of two digital newsrooms launched by journalists who left The Commercial Appeal. The other newsroom is the award-winning MLK50, started by Wendi C. Thomas, to cover income inequality, race and justice issues.

I’ve got a quick take on the latest from The Baltimore Banner, a digital start-up that will be competing with the Baltimore Sun, acquired last year by the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Ellen looks at the new Votebeat site, a Chalkbeat spinoff that just might help election integrity.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Houston becomes the latest city to announce a nonprofit news project

Downtown Houston. Photo (cc) 2018 by David Daniel Turner.

Big news out of Houston, where several major philanthropies have announced they intend to raise $20 million to start a nonprofit news project — just the latest major metropolitan area to embrace nonprofit journalism.

What makes it a bit unusual is that the Houston Chronicle, the legacy daily, is owned by Hearst, generally regarded as one of the better newspapers chains. Of course, all corporate chains are problematic, but Houston is not like Baltimore, where hotel magnate Stewart Bainum is launching the nonprofit The Baltimore Banner after losing out to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital in his bid to buy The Baltimore Sun.

The Houston effort is being led by the American Journalism Project, whose chief executive, Sarabeth Berman, told the Columbia Journalism Review:

Local news is a public service — one that’s been in sharp decline. This project demonstrates that local philanthropies can, and need to, play a transformative role in rebuilding and sustaining independent, original reporting in service of communities.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

With an anticipated launch in late 2022 or early 2023 on multiple platforms, the new nonprofit news organization will elevate the voices of Houstonians and address the needs of the community as identified in the American Journalism Project’s extensive research. Its wide-ranging coverage will be available for free to readers as well as other news organizations.

I wish them well, of course. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if the money could go to better use elsewhere. Greater Houston residents already get first-rate coverage of state politics and public policy through The Texas Tribune, which is also a nonprofit, and the Chronicle is presumably doing a better job than your typical Alden or Gannett paper.

Click here to read the full press release.