Bold, clear-headed thinking about the future of community journalism you’re going to love

Three really exciting ideas were presented recently that I think you should know about.

Dreaming out loud: What if these concepts cross-pollinated and had babies? The thought makes my mind starts doing backflips.

Each of them spells out ways to make lemonade out the big, fat lemon that is the decade plus decline for the American journalist.

Let’s take a look at each:

1. Report for America

Steve Waldman has studied the successes and failures of the nonprofit volunteer program AmeriCorps and he wants to design a similar program but for local journalism.

Journalists can be deployed to areas of need around the country. Part of their salary can be paid by a philanthropist or foundation and the other half can come from the community or crowdfunding. Buy in from the local community is an essential part of success so crowdfunding may play a role, he said.

Journalists can be deployed based on specific areas of expertise or cover specific topics.

Like nonprofits do for AmeriCorps, local news outlets would compete to get a Report for America journalist and they would work out of their newsroom.

Most every major city could use a ProPublica-like publication but the purpose of Report for America isn’t to compete with nonprofit news outlets but to fill the information gaps in the American media landscape,

Waldman’s report was released at Engage Local, a conference held last week by the Center for Cooperative Media and Montclair State University.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: to draw community support, journalism has to both help the community and be seen as such. And that leads to the final and perhaps most important reason for a program like this: It will improve local journalism,” Waldman said in an article published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Waldman is author of a 2011 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study about the future of journalism in America.

2. Media Deserts Project

You know food deserts? Places where local residents have little to no options for fresh produce or much beyond fast food? Well start applying the same thinking to journalism because folks are starving, said Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.

Well start applying the same thinking to journalism because folks are starving, said Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.

Media Deserts Project is a collaboration between Ohio University’s Department of Geography and the school’s Scripps College of Communication.

“There is currently no national map of the effects of newspaper cutbacks on local access to information. To satisfy the information needs of communities requires both identification of communities in need as well as targeted, locally-grown solutions,” according to a story that shares the first map. “By identifying media deserts, we can offer to audit community media assets, begin a dialogue with local stakeholders, and build the capacity for local news and information that serves local residents.”

More maps to come in the future.

3. Seed money for local startups instead of buyouts

Matt DeRenzio took a naked and necessary look at the plight of journalists in America today, who have gone through more than a decade of stagnation or decline.

His suggestion: local spinoffs.

“Progressive companies could replace the next round of layoffs with a voluntary – even competitive – buyout program that offers seed money for journalists who want to launch independent sites that might partner with their former employer.”

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.


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