The American Press Institute’s Local News Ideas-to-Action Series aims to help news organizations center audiences in local government and accountability reporting.
To launch, we heard how Outlier Media, Documented, and the Philadelphia Inquirer are orienting their coverage around the information needs of their communities in new ways. A big thanks to our speakers — Jimmy Gutierrez of Outlier Media in Detroit, Megan Griffith-Greene of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Nicolás Ríos of Documented in New York City.
If you missed the June 17 conversation, you can watch the 60-minute recording on YouTube.
Here are a few quick takeaways from the discussion:
Outlier Media uses text messaging to meet community information needs and expose ‘accountability gaps.’
- To identify information needs, Outlier mass texted local cell phones asking questions of their potential audience, sought data from the local 211 call center run by United Way, and connected with community groups around issues residents were asking about. This initial information needs survey identified housing and utilities as priority issues. However, understanding information needs is an ongoing process; during the pandemic, employment and health issues have been especially important.
- Questions, issues, and trends identified through ongoing relationships with their audience help to identify “accountability gaps,” or areas where public services are failing constituents.
- To see what Outlier’s SMS model looks like in practice, text “Detroit” to 73224.
- Outlier uses “Reach” for its SMS system, but other newsrooms have used Groundsource and Subtext, among other tools. Read more on Outlier’s approach here.
Documented conducts deep audience research to identify local information needs and the best ways to meet them for specific audiences.
- Initial audience research revealed that Documented’s target audiences communicated principally through WhatsApp, leading the newsroom to launch a WhatsApp channel instead of a newsletter product.
- Documented provides critical basic information based on the issues its audiences identify. These exchanges also reveal issues for deeper investigative reporting, like this recent feature on delays immigrants in NYC face with processing or renewing passports.
Philadelphia Inquirer deploys service journalism to help Philadelphians navigate public systems.
- Engaging with audiences is critical to the Inquirer’s service approach, both in understanding what issues to cover but also how to cover them in terms of tone, format, and the level of detail.
- For more, check out our Q&A with Megan Griffith-Greene on the Inquirer’s service approach and their evergreen Tenants’ Rights Guide.
In a follow-up discussion on July 14, our three speakers answered questions about the practical considerations for doing this work effectively. You can watch the recording of the conversation on YouTube.
Other Approaches for Inspiration
- El Tímpano’s 2021 Impact Report: El Tímpano, a community-driven journalism effort in Oakland, CA, describes its mission as working “in collaboration with Oakland residents and community partners to create empowering, two-way channels of information.” Their 2021 Impact Report offers ways to think about and measure the impact journalism centered around the information needs of communities can have. Also check out Nieman Lab’s exploration into El Tímpano’s systems-thinking approach.
- Listening Post Collective Playbook: This playbook offers a step-by-step guide for identifying the information needs of a given audience or community.
- Lessons Learned from Community Listening During a Pandemic: Fiona Morgan offers lessons and strategies for engaging with and serving audiences, drawing on approaches used by journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Documenters: The Documenters model, developed by City Bureau, trains and supports community members to document public meetings in what co-founder Darryl Holliday describes as an act of “collective journalism.”
- Gather’s Ethics of Engagement: Involving audiences and communities in new ways in the reporting process can raise ethical questions, both to maintain journalistic standards and ensure audiences are respected and supported in the process. The Gather community, focused on building the practice of quality engagement in journalism, offers practical advice for undertaking audience and community engagement efforts.
- KPCC-LAist Help Desk: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, KPCC and LAist solicited and directly responded to thousands of community questions through email and text messages. More than 1,000 question askers opted into newsletter products.
- Block Club Chicago Coronavirus Hotline: Block Club Chicago launched a hotline to complement their pandemic reporting, responding to community inquiries via phone, email, and text.
- Akron Media Collaborative, Home in Akron: The Akron Media Collaborative and Your Voice Ohio hosted a series of community conversations across the city, identifying housing as a priority issue for residents. The collaborative launched “Home in Akron” in response, tying reporting and ongoing community conversations to explore challenges and solutions.
- A Journalist’s Guide to Using Zoom for Community Engagement: Max Resnik offers guidance for hosting accessible community conversations online.
- Community Advisory Boards for Newsrooms: This API report details how newsrooms are implementing advisory boards of community members to more closely listen to their audiences and strengthen their reporting.