The media today: 8 strategies for saving local newsrooms

Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe, fellows at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, are on a mission to breathe some optimism into the narrative about local news. While the industry as a whole is already mourning the death of hometown papers, interviews from around the country tell a different story.

In “8 strategies for saving local news,” Ali and Radcliffe find ways in which local news outlets can actually be more resilient than their national peers. The key, they argue, is for smaller newsrooms to spend time honing their missions, and to structure staff and resources around those core tenets. For instance, local newsrooms can more easily focus on original reporting relevant to their readers than national newsrooms. In turn, it’s often a waste for them to spend resources covering what national newsrooms already have on lock.

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Sometimes, this refocusing can mean dramatic changes. The Dallas Morning News reorganized 50 percent of its newsroom last year to focus on verticals. “We eliminated whole departments that we had. We added new ones. For instance, we did not previously have an audience team,” said Robyn Tomlin, vice president and managing editor. The Coloradoan, in Fort Collins, restructured its 30- to 40-person newsroom to include a 10-person engagement team.

Even the slower pace of local publishing can work to outlets’ advantage. “Newspaper companies were never really thought of as spending a lot of time and effort on R&D,” Willamette Week Editor and Publisher Mark Zusman told the authors. “And yet, that’s exactly what companies like ours need to do….There are a lot of opportunities to shift the business model. They take a little bit of time and a little bit of runway.”

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But the main strategy for local newsrooms, Ali and Radcliffe argue, is to shift the narrative and stop crying the death of the industry. “If local newspapers keep talking about themselves as a dying industry,” they write, “they risk creating this reality.”

More on local news innovation:

Other notable stories

  • The Department of Justice is asking AT&T to sell Turner Broadcasting—including CNN—or DirecTV in negotiations over the AT&T–Time Warner merger.
  • The trailer is out for The Post, a coming attraction about the Pentagon Papers story, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.
  • Apparently, Alex Jones’s site InfoWars has been copying articles, including content about US politics, from Russian state outlet RT—at least 1,014 since May 2014, according to BuzzFeed News. They also reportedly plagiarized, less extensively, from “CNN, Sputnik, Breitbart, CNS News, the Blaze, CBC, BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New York Post, LA Times, BuzzFeed, and others.”
  • A useful, basic guide to doxxing, and how to shore yourself against it, from ProPublica.

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Nausicaa Renner is editor of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s vertical at Columbia Journalism Review. She tweets at @nausjcaa.