Great to see Serge Schmemann’s recent New York Times opinion piece about local news (free link) pop up in today’s print edition. Schmemann interviewed Ellen Clegg and me and cites our forthcoming book, “What Works in Community News.”
The Institute for Nonprofit News, or INN, has a new CEO. Karen Rundlet will succeed Sue Cross, who announced earlier this year that she was leaving the post. Rundlet, who is currently senior director of the Journalism Program at the Knight Foundation, has worked with grant recipients such as City Bureau/ Documenters in Chicago, INN’s NewsMatch program, Sahan Journal (based in Minneapolis and one of the projects that Ellen Clegg and I report on in our book “What Works in Community News”), Solutions Journalism Network and Military Veterans in Journalism.
Rundlet has also worked as a journalist and manager at the Miami Herald as well as the public radio program “Marketplace.”
INN is an important player in the world of local news startups. NewsMatch, which allows community journalism organizations to leverage local donations with matching national money, has been transformative. The organization also acts as a fiscal sponsor for nonprofits that have not yet obtained 501(c)(3) federal tax status — donors can make a tax-deductible gift that is administered by INN and is then passed along to the local media outlet. Its model code of ethics is used by local news organizations across the country; see, for instance, the “Ethics & Practices Policies” at The New Bedford Light.
According to the announcement of Rundlet’s appointment, more than 425 news organizations now make up the INN Network, supporting more than 5,000 people who work in nonprofit news in North America.
“Karen is uniquely positioned as a visionary, passionate and experienced journalist and philanthropist to propel the nonprofit news movement,” Marcia Parker, the chair of INN’s board of directors, said in a statement. “As a leader of our field, she already is driving the national advances to redesign news media that is inclusive for communities of color and can bring trusted information to everyone.”
A little more than a month from now, “What Works in Community News” will be released by Beacon Press — and it’s already receiving significant advance buzz. In addition to pre-publication endorsements from the likes of Margaret Sullivan, Steven Waldman and Penelope Muse Abernathy, The New York Times on Sunday published an opinion essay about the local news crisis in which our book is prominently featured. Times editorial writer Serge Schmemann interviewed Ellen Clegg and me, writing (free link):
[T]here are signs that things are looking up. In their book, Ms. Clegg and Mr. Kennedy chronicle various ways in which local and regional news organizations — whether paper, digital or radio — are trying to restore local coverage. Most are nonprofits, often assisted by a number of foundations that assist news start-ups. It’s not a flood, but what is certain, they write, ‘is that the bottom-up growth of locally based news organizations has already provided communities with news that would otherwise go unreported.’”
In addition, Booklist, the publication of the American Library Association, recently gave our book a starred review. The reviewer, Alan Moores, said: “For readers who despair at the collapse of traditional media nationwide, this survey is a bolster; for journalists looking to create such viable news sources in their own communities, its a highly useful road map.”
Ellen and I are thrilled that our book is receiving such a strong reception. We hope it will serve as an inspiration to spark the rise of still more local and regional news projects across the country. In the meantime, you can keep up on developments in local news as well as our podcast at our website, What Works: The Future of Local News.
The release of a new report by Penelope Muse Abernathy on the state of local news is always a big deal. For 15 years now, she’s been tracking the extent of the crisis, and has done more than anyone to popularize the phrase “news deserts,” which describes communities without a source of reliable news and information. This week Abernathy, now at Northwestern University’s Medill School, issued “The State of Local News 2023.” It’s a downbeat report, although there are a few bright spots. Here’s a key finding:
The data and insights collected and analyzed in this 2023 report on The State of Local News paint the picture of a country and society increasingly divided between the journalism-have’s — mostly residents in more affluent cities and suburban areas where alternative news sources are gaining traction — and the journalism have-not’s, those in economically struggling and traditionally underserved metro, suburban and rural communities. This partitioning of our citizenry poses a far-reaching crisis for our democracy as it simultaneously struggles with political polarization, a lack of civic engagement and the proliferation of misinformation and information online.
Before I continue, a disclosure: Abernathy, who’s been a guest on our “What Works” podcast about the future of local news, was kind enough to provide a pre-publication endorsement of the book that Ellen Clegg and I have written, “What Works in Community News,” which comes out in January.
Abernathy’s principal collaborator on the new report is Sarah Stonbely, director of Medill’s State of Local News Project, who I interviewed in 2022 when she was at the Center for Cooperative Media, part of Montclair State University in New Jersey.
If you’d like a good summary of Abernathy and Stonbely’s report, I recommend Sarah Fischer’s overview in Axios, which leads with the prediction that the U.S. will have lost one third of its newspapers by the end of 2024.
The cleavage between affluent urban and suburban areas and less affluent urban and rural areas is one of the major challenges Abernathy and Stonbely identify, and it’s definitely something that Ellen and I noticed in our reporting for “What Works in Community News.” I recall asking folks at the start-up Colorado Sun why they were trying to stretch their resources to cover stories across the state rather than focusing on Denver. The answer: the Denver metro area was already fairly well served despite massive cuts at The Denver Post, owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. By contrast, there was very little news coverage in the more rural parts of the state.
As Abernathy and Stonbely put it: “The footprint for alternative local news outlets — approximately 550 digital-only sites, 720 ethnic media organizations and 215 public broadcasting stations — remains very small and centered around metro areas.” Indeed, this chart tells a rather harrowing tale. As you can see, people who live in news deserts are considerably less affluent and less educated than the national average.
The report also includes a section called “Bright Spots in the Local News Landscape.” Although the interactive map is a little hard to navigate, I can see that several projects that Ellen and I profile in “What Works in Community News” are included, such as NJ Spotlight News, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, The Texas Tribune, The Colorado Sun and the Daily Memphian.
The report also highlights The Boston Globe as one of its good-news stories, observing that, under the ownership of John and Linda Henry, the paper has thrived on the strength of its digital subscriptions. In a sidebar, Tom Brown, the Globe’s vice president of consumer analytics, tells Abernathy that digital growth continues, although at a slower rate than during the COVID pandemic. Retention is down slightly, too. “We are nonetheless still seeing overall strong retention,” Brown says, “and we are investing in several areas of the business with the goal of engaging subscribers more and, in particular, our new subscribers.”
Editor Nancy Barnes adds that though the Globe is ramping up its coverage of the Greater Boston area as well as in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, it can’t fill the gap created by the gutting and closure of local weekly papers at the hands of Gannett, the giant newspaper chain that until recently dominated coverage of the Boston suburbs and exurbs.
“Having returned to Boston after many years away, I have been stunned by the decimation of local newspapers across Massachusetts and New England,” Barnes says. “However, our coverage strategy is not tied to specific Gatehouse newspaper communities [a reference to Gannett’s predecessor company]. We cover greater Boston in depth, but we don’t have the bandwidth to be the local news source for everyone.”
This week’s Medill report is the first of a multi-part series. Future chapters will be released over the next few weeks and into January.
This morning I received an email with the intriguing subject line “This was our favorite story of 2023!” from NJ Spotlight News, one of the projects that Ellen Clegg and I are profiling in our forthcoming book, “What Works in Local News.” The top of the email reads:
Last week we kicked off our year-end campaign, and we couldn’t be more excited to share how your support made a big impact in 2023, plus give a glimpse into the exciting plans we have for 2024.
As a reader of NJ Spotlight News, you know you can depend on our nonprofit journalism day in and day out. But do you know what goes into producing just one story, from start to finish? Take, for example, our story last week on youth voting, which investigated college age voters in New Jersey and their attitudes towards politics. Here’s a look, by the numbers, of what went into it:
We put everything we’ve got into all of our stories because we value in-depth, comprehensive reporting. These New Jersey stories need to be told and we believe sourcing our information from a variety of voices and perspectives is the best way to do so. And because of our hard work, we’re making a real difference in our New Jersey community.
The email did not link to the story, but here it is. Reported by Hannah Gross, Spotlight’s education and child welfare reporter, the story takes a deep dive into whether college students would vote in the following week’s state and local elections — a tough sell for younger voters given that there’s no presidential race on the ballot.
“People don’t realize how much change actually comes from the local standpoint,” Rowan University student Jamie Ivan told Gross. “Everyone thinks: ‘Oh, it’s not presidential, it doesn’t matter.’ Presidential elections matter a lot, but so do local ones. It affects your everyday life. It directly impacts you.”
Acting on a hunch, I checked to see if Gross is affiliated with Report for America, a project that places young journalists at local news organizations across the country. Indeed she is. Report for America is also featured in “What Works in Community News” — we interviewed RFA corps members at news projects such as The Colorado Sun and the New Haven Independent, and we also include a featured conversation with RFA co-founder Steven Waldman, edited down from our podcast interview with him.
NJ Spotlight News began life about a decade ago as a website covering statewide public policy and politics. Several years ago it merged with NJ PBS, and today comprises the original website plus a daily half-hour newscast, with a lot of cross-pollination between both sides of the enterprise. It’s an example of how public broadcasters can step up and help solve the local and regional news crisis — one of a number of business models that Ellen and I explored in our reporting on how to build a sustainable future for community journalism.
LION Publishers has named 36 winners of its 2023 Local Journalism Awards — and four of them have either been featured in “What Works in Community News,” the forthcoming book by Ellen Clegg and me, have been guests on the “What Works” podcast, or both. Two other projects we’ve highlighted were finalists. For that matter, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers’ executive director, Chris Krewson, has been a guest on our podcast as well. Below I have omitted circulation categories, but you can find them if you click through to the full list.
• Santa Cruz Local, in California, was honored as LION Business of the Year, the organization’s “marquee award.” The Local was also the co-winner of the Operational Resilience Award and a finalist for a Community Engagement Award. We interviewed CEO and co-founder Kara Meyberg Guzman for both our book and our podcast.
• The Food Section’s editor and founder, Hanna Raskin, was the winner of the Community Member of the Year Award for her work in helping other members and for sharing her knowledge. The Food Section, which is devoted to Southern food and cooking, was also a finalist for a Business of the Year Award and an Outstanding Coverage Award. Raskin has been a guest on our podcast.
• VTDigger, a large nonprofit that covers both statewide and local news in Vermont, was a co-winner of the Public Service Award for its reporting on legislators’ ethics disclosures. Founding editor Anne Galloway has been a guest on our podcast.
In addition, The Colorado Sun and The Mendocino Voice, both of which are covered extensively in “What Works in Community News,” earned finalist nominations, the Sun for Collaboration of the Year and the Voice for an Accountability Award. We plan to have folks from both projects on our podcast sometime next year after the book is published.
Congratulations to all the winners and finalists!
Ellen Clegg and I are thrilled to go public today with our book, “What Works in Community News: Media Startups, News Deserts, and the Future of the Fourth Estate,” to be published on Jan. 9 by Beacon Press.
The book consists of a close look at nine different regions in the U.S. and the independent news organizations that are serving them, ranging from tiny outlets like The Mendocino Voice in Northern California and The Bedford Citizen in Greater Boston to larger statewide projects like NJ Spotlight News and The Texas Tribune; and from rural newspapers like The Storm Lake Times Pilot in Iowa to urban outlets serving communities of color like MLK50: Justice Through Journalism in Memphis, Tennessee, and the New Haven Independent.
We also include a series of conversations drawn from our podcast with leaders, thinkers and entrepreneurs in local news.
Through a blend of on-the-ground reporting and interviews, we show how these operations found seed money and support, and how they hired staff, forged their missions, and navigated challenges from the pandemic to police intimidation to stand as the last bastion of collective truth — and keep local news in local hands.
“What Works in Community News” is already receiving praise from such important figures as Margaret Sullivan, Steven Waldman, Penelope Abernathy, Greg Moore, Victor Pickard and Anne Galloway.
It’s been quite a ride. We can’t wait to share what we learned with you.
Advance orders are available through: