Experts determined to save local news launched a year-long process to research and publish “The Roadmap for Local News: An Emergent Approach to Meeting Civic Information Needs” on February 2nd.
“I really felt like this was the moment for us to transition from a crisis mindset to an opportunity mindset around local news because I think we’ve all seen a lot of headlines and reports come out saying ... ‘We have a big problem. We're in a crisis … and here’s why it’s bad for democracy,’” said Co-Author Elizabeth Green of Chalkbeat. “But I think it’s also true that there’s been a lot of good work happening for over a decade to do something about that.”
She wrote the roadmap with co-authors Darryl Holliday of City Bureau and Mike Rispoli of Free Press.
“In 2022, a team of local news leaders, philanthropists and local news support organizations committed to the development of a process to create a set of recommendations — a ‘roadmap’ — to revitalize and reimagine the local news ecosystems in this country, so communities get the news and information they need to thrive,” the report’s background says, in part.
The year of research involved newsroom leaders, journalists and local news innovators who “share a vision of a world in which people everywhere are equipped to improve their communities through abundant access to high-quality information on urgent health and safety emergencies, the environment, the people and processes of local government and daily social services like healthcare, education and transportation,” it says.
Green said they gathered a small group of contributors to be “a field engagement team,” interviewing others about their vision for local news and opportunities they saw.
They asked, “What would it take in 10 years to have a thriving sector where communities’ information needs are met?” Green said. The team conducted about 51 individual interviews with people from diverse roles, backgrounds and locations. They later held small group sessions until they boiled the conversations down into commonalities, a vision and themes.
She summarized the findings in four key points:
“No. 1: We know that the dominant system of producing and distributing local news and information is collapsing … No. 2: What we believe is that we are moving from that collapsing system to something better. It’s a better, more diverse and more collaborative system that is in the process of emerging from the ashes of the decaying system. 3: We now have 10-plus years of evidence that this emergent system is working and is ready to receive catalytic support to scale. And No. 4: … We recommend that we need to act now. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t act now. We must act now to improve and expand civic information for all people in this country. And we need to work collectively to do that.”
The legacy institutions are a part of the new system. Instead of being a monopoly, the new system is an ecosystem. She said collaboration with communities is a vital part of that ecosystem, especially with communities historically marginalized from many American life institutions, including the press.
“We have a news culture that has prioritized only white rich people as warranting service journalism,” she said. “Everybody needs service journalism.”
Chalkbeat’s parent company, Civic News Company, led the development of the roadmap with support from the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and American Journalism Project. The project was built on Lenfest Institute and Aspen Digital’s 2022 Local News Summit.
Contributors include Andrew Golis, Hala Harik Hayes, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Kary Perez, Sierra Sangetti-Daniels and Matt Thompson.
Alyssa Choiniere is an Editor & Publisher contributor. She is a journalist based in southwestern Pennsylvania covering a variety of topics including industry news and criminal justice.
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