“Ways to set up a news operation whose structure makes engagement easy and safe”

Sessions Hosts: Tom Glaisyer, Michelle Ferrier, Tom Stites

Participants:
Clair Lorell (reporter)
Miro Merrill
Samantha Shotzbarger
Vanessa Vancour
Amala Alarcon Morris
Michal Wilde
Elissa Adair
Jana Thrift
Mike Fancher
John Spady
Talia Stroud

Notes:
Tom Glaisyer
Democracy Fund Informed Participation Systems Map
What we care about in this session: feedback loops, structures and total community engagement:
Internet adoption and evolution led to user-generated and shared content which led to a wider range of available media perspective, which led to increased quality and quantity
The other story: this range of available media perspective led to a shift and diversification in audience attention, which led to lower economic stability for outlets. This is because the shift in audience attention led to a restructuring of advertising pricing and drop in local advertising revenue. Also contributing to decline in economic stability of local and state media is megasite growth. This leads to a decrease in quantity, quality, and relevance of local and state journalism.
Two other things going on outside of this: loop of disruption and loop of adaptation
As economic stability for locals is declining, the ability to connect with the community and audience declines, which leads to a decrease in diversity of sources, stories and staff, a fall in quantity and quality, leading to a shift in audience attention, leading to a negative impact on the economic health of the community. You now have a newsroom now unable to engage with and inform their communities.
Community perspective: as diversity of sources stories and staff falls, the quality falls, engagement with the public falls, and therefore the role of the newsroom community connection declines. *Engagement may be a way to reverse the economics at play*
*OR*: is it the disintermediation of topics leading to the shift in audience attention – and not the decline of resources and therefore quality reporting. I.e., people don’t have to go to a local outlet to find the news they want (like sports). Does that mean that we need to care about creating platforms that cater to specific topics instead of for specific outlets? (-jo ellen)
Tom Stites: decline in readership in newspapers and tv news viewership was in decline before the cliff. Secular phenomenon that may have been separate from decline in quality resulting from attention shift/diversification
Sydette: the engagement of art and music and artistic critique as a way of creating relationships between subjects, could lessons be learned in policy news for locals?
Carol: focusing not just on the network, but the fabric. making connections between existing networks
Should we be separating event reporting from issue reporting that involves follow-up? Is there enough focus on issue reporting?
Engagement hadn’t previously been a function of economic vitality; but engagement is now a survival reflex.

Michelle Ferrier
Discussing media deserts and the maps to make visible this system
There ar some communities who have never had fresh access to immediate information – how do we create entrepreneurship in this situations?
Map shows a concentration of news media serving the most highly populated areas on the coasts, particularly east coast.
Can we use mapping and feedback loops to understand not only the losses to journalism (jobs, advertising, etc) but what has been the impact on the actual communities? What communities are suffering because of media deserts and this evolution/pattern?
Important to understand at the deep level which communities have always had access and which have always lacked in order to best approach the current landscape
The majority of our country has less than 25% market penetration of local news into their communities (i.e., 25% is engaging through some type of model or subscription)
Change map: shows 120+ newspapers that have died
New jersey map: hyperlocal, patch, and newspapers. Significant overlap with independents in those communities
Using this data to tell a better story at the local level to try and lead to better policy decisions, etc. attempting to develop a report card based on the proportion of zip codes trending towards media deserts, etc.
How can we truly think about what we’re doing as engagement when there have always been underserved communities who’ve lacked access, and not targeted for any engagement by media. This fact disenfranchises communities, and we want to make this visible so that people are aware and active to combat that disenfranchisement and lack of access to fresh, quality relevant information.
Feedback loops: use questions about consumption that help us better serve the community
Future maps will look at income, ethnicity, and education level – often indicators of news deserts, which contributes to the lack of improvement of things like income and education levels, maintaining disempowered communities.
How can we build mechanisms that might help news organizations know their affect, expand their vision, and improve their overall work ?

Tom Stites
Discussing Banyan Project
The goal can no longer be to have every household subscribing to the newspaper because they only serve a certain segment of the population based on advertising needs and structures. There is no enduring change without structural change. we’ve tried to find new models for the sake of democracy, built off of old models, and there are few spots of true success. The decline of existing media is quicker than the growth of new models. So how do we take all of this into account, and where does engagement fit? How do we make the most of digital possibilities to make news better than its ever been? The only change that matters is structural change.
Banyan: aims to strengthen democracy with a replicable model for Web journalism: creating independent news co-ops in underserved communities.
If advertising has always shaped journalism and led to a focus on a specific segment of the population, what can we do to get it back to the goal of 100% market penetration and include as many people as you can? How could we fix accountability problems?
The convergence of values and interests, historically, morphed into large corporate ownership, leading to a decline in accountability to the community. LA Times publisher editor firing perfect example. Even when newsrooms recognize value of engagement, business often won’t allow it.
Creating a true 4th estate: cooperative ownership of news organizations owned the community they’re working with: circulation penetration height was 80%, they’re hoping for 20%.
Cooperative idea is engagement at the deepest level – monetizing engagement and the ability to be part of the conversation. Gatekeeper is now answering to readers instead of advertisers, because readers are owners.
Michelle – what about poor residents who can’t afford to buy in? Doesn’t it create the same problem?
Tom: There are scholarships and financial structures in place to combat this problem
Content creation: small professional staff, freelancers, and community correspondence. proactively seek out a neighborhood correspondent, crowdsourcing, question of the week, engagement forms i.e. using comments to create a story
Michelle: are we tackling the problem of the fact that in media deserts, it does come down to time, money and privilege to engage in this?
Participant Brainstorms:
Establishing/fostering connection to news at very young ages in schools. Do we need to be approaching this from an education/media literacy standpoint? How do we build those consumption habits and connection to journalism from a young age? Newzilla – makes news digestible for different age levels
Do we need a tax system that support journalism that is based not only on an advertising model but is approached like a utility? Would that ever get traction with the general public?
Should there be a subscription model that is also more like a utility (but optional) that provides blanket access to certain content not specific to certain outlets?