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'Plenty of success stories in this space'

Project Oasis, which was launched a year ago, is live — and it's a wellspring of help, information and insight for the local news business.

Oasis is a collaborative initiative to build a database of the more than 700 digital-dominant, independent local news outlets in the United States and Canada, to share insight about how they are working to be sustainable, and to share research on best practices. Partners are the Center for Innovation and Sustainability of Local Media at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media; LION Publishers; the Google News Initiative; and Douglas K. Smith.

First, there’s a database that includes a map and list of all 710 publications, compiled in the middle of 2020 from a survey and research at UNC. You can sort the map and list by things such as location (there are 24 outlets in North Carolina), platforms, revenue stream, tax status (LLC, nonprofiit, sole proprietor, etc.), years in operation and editorial strategy. Each publication also has a profile.

The project also produced the GNI Startups Playbook for news entrepreneurs, with valuable guidance on building a product, finding and expanding an audience, identifying initial sources of funding and revenue, and setting up operations, including templates and a large list of resources. It was written by Ben DeJarnette of LION, with contributors Anika Anand (a LION deputy director and a UNC grad who grew up in Kinston); Conor Crowley of GNI; Phillip Smith of Journalism Growth Lab; and Smith.

And there’s a report that tracks trends in digital-native local news, written by Chloe Kizer, a Durham operations and growth consultant working with the UNC Hussman School. Among its key findings:
  • The number of these newsrooms grew by 50 percent in the past five years. One in five say they are fully sustainable, and another two in five say they’re on the way there.
  • They lean heavily on part-timers, contractors and volunteers; most have fewer than five full-time employees, and only half have personnel on the business side.
  • About three-fourths are commercial businesses; the rest are nonprofits.
  • Most rely on a single main source of revenue, usually local advertising (multiple sources are better, the report says).
Among the researchers were Kizer; Susan Leath, who was the CISLM director then; and my good friend Ryan Tuck* of Cary, a journalist and consultant who, you remember, wrote this newsletter in the first half of 2020.

Tuck told me they began by assembling the existing research on these news organizations (including that of Penny Abernathy’s News Deserts team at UNC) and then designed the survey and did the additional interviews and research on which the database and report were built. The idea, he said, was “proving that local news business is a good business” and illuminating the path to sustainability.

“There are plenty of success stories in this space, and what is perhaps the most exciting thing is that they don't look alike — in terms of the audiences they might be serving, in terms of their editorial mission. But when you break them down to something like widgets — the choices they made, and the types of ingredients they have as an organization — they look really similar.

"That, to me, is inspiring, because if you can do something which most journalists do have in excess, which is have a really sharp passion for a mission, the sort of choices you make around how to build that business are fairly transferable.”

Project Oasis’s products are all organic. They’ll be updated from feedback, developments and new insights.

    ➵ Here's Kizer’s guide to using the information.
    ➵ Here's more about the project.

    * Tuck, as well as being my predecessor in this space, is my former colleague at McClatchy, EdNC and UNC, and maybe some other stuff I’ve forgotten (dude wears more hats than Johnny Depp). He’s now a partner at Blue Engine Collaborative, a network of consultants and advisors to media organizations around the world.
One way to build your own
OK. Want to start a news organization? Applications are now open through April 11 for the first cohort of the Tiny News Collective, a LION partnership with News Catalyst, to help launch sustainable local news outlets by supplying them with affordable resources and support. I wrote about how it works in my January 6 newsletter. (The aforementioned Anika Anand is also a TNC team member.)

If you're interested, you can start with the application guide for essential information, including upcoming workshops, AMAs and office hours to get help, and a checklist to finish before you apply.
And more on sustaining local news...
🗞️ Is momentum building in Congress to support local news providers? Mark Jacob of the Medill Local News Initiative (and Steven Waldman, President of Report for America) say it is. Jacob reports the latest and lays out the options, including one that seems reasonably free of conflicts of interest — a tax credit to encourage people to buy news subscriptions.

🗞️ API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel writes about the "dreamers, problem solvers and pioneers" who are defying fears of the demise of local news — in ignored communities, in the fight for accountabiliity, in reporting on race, and in voting rights.

Sunshine Week continues

Events marking Sunshine Week 2021, presented by the NC Open Government Coalition, continue today and Thursday.

Today at 1:30 pm, reporters Victoria BouloubasisLisa Sorg and Kate Martin will lead a discussion on improving underserved communities' access to public information and meetings. At the same time Thursday, Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, will lead a discussion of transparency in higher education. 

You can still register by reaching out to the Coalition email account. Those who register, Coalition director Brooks Fuller told me, will have access starting Friday to recordings of the sessions, including Monday's discussion of this year's Sunshine Week reporting project, by the NC Watchdog Reporting Network. You can also participate in discussions of the issues by following the #NCSunshineWeek hashtag on Twitter.

    ➵ Here’s a call to address the lack of public access to records on hiring, promotion, suspension, demotion, termination or discipline of state and local government employees in North Carolina, from NCPA president Paul Mauney and Bill Moss, publisher and editor of Hendersonville Lightning.
    ➵ NC could track police misconduct, shootings — but data would be secret. Colin Campbell, NC Insider.
    ➵ Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) is “assessing the need for legal assistance to strengthen freelance investigations nationwide” through a survey. [Respond by March 30.]

On abuse of female journalists

Misogynistic and racist digital violence against female journalists isn’t news — it’s a daily reality, and a growing threat to physical, mental and professional well-being. For women, everything the job demands also carries risks — from telling the truth to cultivating sources.

If you’re covering issues of race, which you can’t ignore, you’ll be a target of hate — more if you’re a woman, and especially if you’re a woman of color. And it’s a tough problem to address with the community, because writing about abuse of reporters will inspire more of it. Gary Harki of The Virginian-Pilot talked to his colleagues about their experiences for this report for Poynter on those no-win situations.

Margaret Sullivan, in her Washington Post column this past Sunday, tells more stories of abuse against female reporters and the "unhinged rage that women dare to have a voice." 
Support and help

As Sullivan mentions in her column, the International Women’s Media Foundation, leading a gathering of journalism support groups called the Coalition Against Online Violence, is building a site to provide support and resources for abused female journalists. The Online Violence Response Hub will go live this summer, but you can go here now to learn more and sign up for email updates.

    ➵ The coalition mentioned above already has a site that offers other support, including safety consultations, training in dealing with trolls, and protective measures.
    ➵ Trollbusters is a support and rescue service for female writers and journalists who are victims of online violence. 
    ➵ The IWMF offers other resources to help with self-care and trauma response and safety training.
    ➵ Two online courses from IWMF and Totem: Know Your Trolls, which helps you identify online abuse and who's behind it; and Keep It Private, which can help you guard your online privacy.
    ➵ Here's the Reporters Without Borders Safety Guide for Journalists
    ➵ A while back, the Dart Center asked nine female journalists to share their experiences of threats and abuse, and their best practices. Here's what they said.

Well done

Nobody does Twitter better than Joe Bruno, an Elon grad who covers government and breaking news at WSOC-TV in Charlotte. His account is a great way to keep up with the Queen City, but in the past week he’s stepped up his service to his audience.

"The biggest story right now is vaccines — so many people want them, but supply is incredibly limited," Bruno told me on Tuesday. "It can be discouraging for people to spend their time trying to find an open slot.

"So whenever I have a spare moment, I rotate between about a dozen websites to see if I can find any open vaccine appointments, and I just post what I find. It's a little bit luck and little bit knowing where to look. Finding a vaccine has turned into a mixture of The Amazing Race and Hunger Games ... So if I can help one person get a shot, then I consider it a success." Thanks for this, Joe.

👏 “McCollum and Brown were sentenced to death on the basis of a police narrative that crumbled under the weight of facts and time. Their ongoing civil case has reinforced one truth: Those who’ve faced miscarried justice by police face a punishing road to hold investigators to account.” A story that Andrew Carter of the McClatchy newsrooms calls “as important a story as anything I’ve done, ever”: Sentenced to death after being convicted by a lie, NC brothers still wait for justice.

👏 The Daily Tar Heel team is featured in “It makes us better storytellers,” Sara Catania's celebration of "a banner year for student solutions journalism," in The Whole Story from the Solutions Journalism Network.
Bulletin board

News about the news
📌 WUNC has redesigned its website and is promoting a better, more mobile-friendly user experience. It has also disabled online comments on story pages. “While comments have offered a small, loyal core of our audience a place to engage with stories, most of those conversations are now happening on our social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as through live and virtual events,” Digital News Editor Elizabeth Baier and Digital Assets Manager Shirley Yu say in a note to readers.

📌 Flipboard is expanding its place-based content curation to more than 1,000 locales, from the previous 60, TechCrunch reports. Because so much news content is now subscriber-only, this change might be of most help to TV stations and membership-model newsrooms. But it also might create a sort of central news source in communities where there is none. Details are here. As of last March, Flipboard had about 145 million users, according to DMR, a service that collects stats on random things.

Job posting
📌 Education reporter, The Charlotte Observer.

Free help
📌 "How any journalist can earn trust" is a self-paced course from Poynter and Trusting News, funded by the Knight Foundation, that offers guidance on transparency and engagement, defining your mission and values, talking about ethics, improving your community's media literacy and defending your integrity. You can pick topics to focus on, and get feedback on your ideas at the end. [Register and get started.] 
📌 A process called "network mapping" can help you include more diverse voices in any important story. It's not a cure-all, but it's a start. Elise Stolte lays out how it works in this Nieman Lab piece.

📌 Last week I told you how you could sign up for early access to lessons learned about public-centered journalism in the Election SOS project. You can now register for a free Election SOS virtual summit that will lay out those lessons and help you build a roadmap for engaged democracy. It's at noon ET April 7. [Do it.]

📌 The National Association of Science Writers will award another round of Peggy Girshman Idea Grants (up to $15,000) for projects that help science writers in their careers and benefit the field of science writing. [Make a proposal by March 31.]

For your consideration

➡️ How Newsrooms Are Building Better Paywalls. Hannah Farrow, Medill Local News Initiative.

➡️ 6 key takeaways from Knight Media Forum 2021. Mark Glaser, Knight Foundation.

➡️ Anne Helen Petersen on how student journalists can guard against burnout as they start their careers. An interview with Taylor Blatchford, Poynter. (Petersen wrote the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, and her tips could apply to all young journalists.)
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 

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