Local Journalism Versus Parachute Journalism

created on Feb 13, 2017

Here we go again with yet another story, post-2016-election, about how the media needs to "cover" America between the coasts.

And once again, the people advocating for this must be unaware of all the local newspapers and other local media orgs that already exist.

http://niemanreports.org/articles/the-road-to-better-national-journalism-starts-in-small-towns/

The Road to Better National Journalism Starts in Small - Towns The media would be better off with more journalists working outside the major cities

Is this a new idea? It's February 2017. How can this be a new idea? Why didn't someone consider this 50 to 100 years ago?

Wait, people did consider the idea long ago. Hence the reason that the Toledo Blade newspaper has existed since 1835. It primarily covers northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Local. Since 1835.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from covering the 2016 presidential election, it’s that the best stories can and should come from unexpected places.

That's probably been true for hundreds of years.

I’m one of several NPR staff reporters living and working outside not only the D.C. Beltway, but also outside of other major media hubs like New York or Los Angeles.

A lot of journalists do the same.

I’d argue that to really understand this country and cover it well, the national media would benefit from more full-time journalists living and working outside the obvious places.

Why should the national media place journalists in towns where those journalists probably don't want to live and work? Maybe they left small town america to work in NYC or D.C. I guess if those journalists are fresh out of college and paid well, they might work anywhere.

Maybe the national media should partner with the local daily and weekly newspapers and local radio and TV stations. If a NY Times or WaPo reporter was "stationed" in Toledo for a one-year tour of duty, what could that person write that the Blade and other local media orgs would not cover?

In times like these, we could benefit from more journalists with a fluency in communicating between urban and rural, secular and religious, white-collar and blue-collar, and all the other shades in between.

The Toledo Blade has that ability, and it would be easy to do in the Toledo area. In presidential elections, heavily-populated Lucas County, which is home to Toledo, always goes blue. The surrounding counties contain a mix of suburbs, exurbs, bedroom communities, small towns, and rural areas, and these areas nearly always go red.

One only needs to travel 15 to 20 minutes in about any direction from central Toledo to arrive in rural farm country or a small community.

I don't even need to leave Lucas County to see a different perspective. Life in West Toledo is different than East Toledo which is different than downtown Toledo which is different than the Old South end part of South Toledo which is different than the Old West End area, located a little north of downtown. Same for other areas and neighborhoods within Toledo. The city contains over 80 square miles of area, and a wide variety of cultures and businesses exist.

If I leave Toledo and stay within Lucas County, I can encounter different livelihoods in Sylvania compared to Rheno Beach and Maumee compared to Berkey or Whitehouse and on and on. Within the county.

Now include the communities in counties that border Lucas County. Then branch out a little further, two counties away in all directions.

Toledo's population is about 280,000. The MSA is over 660,000.

Rather than one or two journalists from national media orgs getting stationed or embedded in the Toledo area, maybe the Blade needs to cover the outlying areas more, telling stories. But some of these other communities have their own weekly papers or they used to.

Across the line in Michigan near the border, Bedford has a newspaper, weekly, I think, that covers that community and maybe some other communities near the border. Perrysburg has a weekly newspaper.

The Blade could partner with these small, weekly community media orgs, and the national media can partner with the Blade. Maybe a story in the Bedford paper bubbles up to WaPo or NPR through these layers of partnerships.

Not everything is breaking news. A story told a month ago can still be applicable six months from now.

That fluency is best learned and maintained through time spent meeting and talking with people from a range of perspectives.

Just as journalists embed ourselves in wars or political campaigns, we should be “embedding” ourselves in communities that revolve around agriculture, or insurance, or the military – rather than media or government."

A NY Times reporter embedded in Toledo. That sounds strange.

Some of the things found in the Toledo area include: manufacturing, farming, health tech, computer tech, universities, shipping, rail, water recreation, and art.

Maybe the national media should pick communities or counties that have no local media coverage. Does that exist in Ohio? I suppose that it's possible that Williams County, located in the northwest corner of Ohio receives less local media coverage than Wood County, located along Lucas County's southern border. Wood County is home to communities that border or are located near Toledo, as well as Bowling Green located in the southern part of the county.

I don't know if Williams County has a local newspaper. That county might be beyond the Blade's coverage. Maybe Fort Wayne, IN covers Williams County.

National debates over issues like school choice, or pipelines, or water rights, or eminent domain tend to start small, in city councils and county zoning boards, before they ever make big headlines; to understand why they matter, you have to know the people they matter to.

As the old saying goes, all politics is local ... and all national issues begin somewhere—in real places, where real people live, and where real journalists might want to consider living, too.

But journalists already live in or near those areas. Local media orgs exist.

Instead of national media orgs embedding journalists into the "Middle West", maybe what we need are enterprising journalists launching new media startups in the Middle West.

New media startups in small to mid-sized regions would provide competition against established local media orgs, or maybe a startup simply provides a different way of reporting on stories.

Instead of being concerned about so-called breaking news stories and reporting on every incident that occurs, maybe it would make more sense to publish less often but produce longer, more in-depth stories. Analyze a subject or current story.

And hopefully, crack the nut of finding a sustainable business model for local news.

Maybe a local media startup would function like a local version of theinformation.com that covers local topics, such as politics, business, science and technology, health, arts, and recreation. If that's too broad, then limit the topics to politics, business, and technology, and then add more topics if the media org's business grows.

theinformation.com is small, narrowly-focused, and subscription-based. It posts infrequently. It's not a content mill.

Here's a December 2016 story referenced by the NPR journalist who created the niemanreports.org story: http://www.poynter.org/2016/there-are-huge-advantages-to-moving-to-a-smaller-city/443367

More links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/politico-expansion-states-capitals-2020_us_56058da0e4b0768126fd652f

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/iowas-nasty-water-war-213551

Feb 15, 2017 Update

http://www.niemanlab.org/2017/02/local-news-lab-relaunches-its-site-with-new-guides-for-local-newsrooms-on-newsletters-events-and-more

http://localnewslab.org/2017/01/31/welcome-to-the-new-local-news-lab

Fantastic January 2017 post. Best yet that I have seen on the subject.
http://localnewslab.org/2017/01/18/in-2017-journalists-have-to-partner-not-parachute/

It might be tempting for national newsrooms, most of which are headquartered on the coasts, to boost their travel budget in the wake of the 2016 elections. A common refrain in the media post-mortems that followed the elections was that national journalists and political reporters need to spend more time in small, rural communities the middle of the country. It’s true, we do need a wider diversity of stories and perspectives in media, but parachuting into “flyover country” isn’t going to solve anything.

In 2017, editors who are committed to telling more diverse stories about American communities across should partner with talented journalists on the ground who know the history, culture and context of the places they work. National newsrooms should approach these partnerships with humility and a spirit of reciprocity. Both national and local journalists have a lot to bring to the table.

Plus, at a time of limited and dwindling resources, collaboration can help outlets strengthen both the stories they tell and the newsrooms that tell them.

Heather Bryant, a Knight Fellow at Stanford University, wrote about this in the wake of the election. Rather than flying in national staff or setting up new newsrooms locally, she argues, “journalism as a whole would be better served by supporting and improving the newsrooms that might already be in these places.”

http://mediashift.org/2016/11/journalism-lost-big-picture-ignoring-small-stories/

https://medium.com/@HBCompass

more from localnewslab.org:

Strengthening local newsrooms is not just about creating a runway for stories to bubble up to the national level or creating a training ground for journalists who aspire to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Creating healthier local news ecosystems that better serve local communities is critical to people living in those communities, and to democracy itself.

In a prescient post from March of 2016 Josh Benton of the Nieman Lab pointed out how digital journalism has become concentrated “more firmly than ever in New York and a few other major cities.” There is no beat where that is more true than in political and campaign reporting. And that, Benton notes, has had “real impacts on the kind of news we get.”

In the most recent Nieman Reports, Nicco Mele calls for the rethinking of newsrooms as “civic reactors.” He calls on us to imagine a role for newsrooms that can begin to build new kinds of institutions to replace some of what Benton notes has been lost. He writes: “A possible future for journalism is more in the mold of grassroots organizing, where the newsroom becomes a sort of 21st century VFW hall, the hub of local activity.”

http://niemanreports.org/articles/all-journalism-is-local

localnewslab.org:

For national outlets, supporting community-driven news is an opportunity to reinvigorate the profession from the ground up and build new pathways for audience recruitment in the process. Rather than parachuting in, they can subsidize springboards for new talent and practice, and invite local newsrooms and communities to enrich national stories in the process.

Nov 2016 tweet referenced in the localnewslab.org post:
https://twitter.com/mjenkins/status/803898403650502656

In Ohio, I saw big city media parachute in for "local color" every 4 years as our local newspapers were cut. This is "out of touch"

Other links from the story:

http://www.cjr.org/first_person/local_investigative_reporting_networked_future.php

https://www.revealnews.org/article/introducing-reveal-labs-a-new-engine-for-local-investigative-reporting/

http://current.org/2015/02/new-regional-journalism-centers-will-feed-national-public-media-news-programs/

Jan 2018

"Prosecutor credits Indianapolis Star probe for prompting victims of Larry Nassar to speak up: “We as a society need investigative journalists more than ever”"
http://www.apnews.com/a14ec4963945411abb6d10b54a75ac1d