Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro on her national campaign to invest in local news

Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro

On the latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the National Trust for Local News. She is also a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School in New York. At the Tow Center, Dr. Hansen Shapiro’s work focuses on the future of local journalism and the policies needed to assure that future. Her research involves audience engagement and revenue strategies, as well as the relationship between news and social platforms. She holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard Business School.

The National Trust for Local News is a nonprofit that is dedicated to “keeping local news in local hands.” The Trust works with local news publishers, philanthropists and socially conscious investors, and, as I’ve reported, worked with other collaborators to buy 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, perhaps saving them from hedge fund ownership.

I’ve got a Quick Take on a recent newsletter by past “What Works” guest Kristen Hare of Poynter, who reported on local media people who are starting to fight back against the abuse they’re receiving from some of the more sociopathic members of their audience.

Ellen weighs in on the death of Tim Giago, the founder of the first independently owned Native American newspaper in the United States, and dives back into the Dumpster fire in the newsroom of The Aspen Times in Colorado.

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

Poynter’s local media watcher, Kristen Hare, talks about what’s new and what’s next

Kristen Hare

Kristen Hare is a journalist, media watcher and faculty member at the Poynter Institute in Florida. Hare not only documents trends in our beleaguered industry, but she also teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to cover their communities effectively. Before joining Poynter’s faculty, she spent eight years covering local news for Poynter’s website. In addition to all of this, she also spent two years with the Peace Corps in Guyana, in South America.

At Poynter, she writes a weekly newsletter about local news called Local Edition. She’s also got experience in a number of local newsrooms. She has reported for the St. Louis Beacon and the St. Joseph News-Press in Missouri, and she still keeps her hand in by writing feature obituaries for the Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by Poynter in a for-profit/nonprofit partnership.

I’ve got a Quick Take on a tax credit for news subscribers in Canada, which apparently isn’t working all that well. Maybe it’s something in the permafrost. My co-host, Ellen Clegg, looks at a fight for control at the Chicago Reader, a 50-year-old alternative paper.

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

News organizations need to stop stonewalling on layoffs and diversity data

Photo (cc) 2009 by Richard Kendall

The Poynter Institute has published an important story on the difficulty of tracking layoffs of journalists, especially journalists of color. As Kristen Hare writes, very few news organizations let it be known when they’ve eliminated positions. “For an industry that prizes transparency,” she says, “we’re experts at asking for it and rotten at actually offering it.”

She’s right, and it’s something I’ve found pretty frustrating whenever I hear reports that newspapers owned by Gannett or Alden Global Capital have downsized once again. Since many news organizations follow the practice of last hired, first fired, journalists from underrepresented groups tend to be disproportionately affected — but finding out exactly what happened is difficult if not impossible. Hare offers three explanations for why this information is so hard to come by:

  • “Lack of public notice about who was laid off and where
  • “A reluctance among some journalists to say anything publicly
  • “Growing use of nondisclosure agreements that include non-disparagement agreements”

Hare also quotes my Northeastern journalism colleague Meredith Clark, who’s been working with the News Leaders Association to revive its annual survey of newsroom diversity — a survey that was suspended several years ago because so few news organizations were responding. Dr. Clark puts it this way:

The thing is, journalism as an institution, as a business, has a vested interest in continuing to isolate people in terms of their knowledge of what the field actually looks like. And the corporatization of journalism helps with that because it’s easy to say, “Oh, this is a problem for HR,” or, “Oh, because of legal we can’t do this.”

Clark is absolutely right, and it extends well beyond layoff and diversity numbers. I’ve been covering the news media for more than 25 years, and though I’ve found a great deal of openness to the idea that journalists should be as transparent as they expect their sources to be, I’ve encountered plenty of examples of the opposite, too.

Unfortunately, we can’t file public-records requests or demand the right to attend  meetings at media outlets. Rather, we have to rely on news executives to do the right thing. If they think government officials should be compelled to release data that casts them in an unfavorable light, then why do they think it ought to be different for media organizations?