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Photo: Richland Source
As part of its effort to engage community members, an online news startup in Mansfield, Ohio, holds free Newsroom After Hours concerts that feature local bands — and free beer and food.

Local journalism is in trouble as giant organizations like GateHouse Media buy up papers and cut staff. That’s a problem not only because of the jobs lost but because so much important news is first revealed thanks to investigations at the local level.

Still, there are always people who will find find opportunity when everything looks bleak.

Doug Struck writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Noah Jones is working. The young reporter for the Richland Source, a local news startup in the heart of Ohio’s Rust Belt, listens to the jazz quartet warm up and eyes the crowd. Then he takes the mic.

“ ‘Thank you for coming out tonight,’ Mr. Jones intones, in his best master-of-ceremonies voice. ‘Now let’s welcome the Mansfield Jazz Orchestra quartet!’

“The small concert, with free beer and food for the public, is in the middle of the shared-space newsroom of the Richland Source, an online site started by a businessman who thought his city needed more news.

“The monthly Newsroom After Hours concert – from jazz to pop to hip-hop – is just one of the unfamiliar roles for some journalists and publishers trying bold experiments to buck the wholesale die-off of local news sources around the country. Like mad inventors, they are furiously writing and rewriting plans to find what works, often in small-scale, community efforts. …

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year found that in the past 14 years, 1,800 newspapers have closed – 1 in every 5 across the country – creating a U.S. map spotted with ‘news deserts.’

“A Pew Research Center analysis in July showed newspaper circulation since 1990 dropping by half, to 31 million last year. Pew noted jobs in all newsrooms plunged by one-quarter in the past decade. A Wall Street Journal study published in May said Google and Facebook have sucked up 77% of digital advertising revenues from local markets. …

“For years, observers have warned of the effects of this loss of news coverage: paralyzing partisanship, lower voting rates, government corruption, little accountability among public officials, less civic engagement. … Equity firms have bought up many local news outlets at fire-sale prices, often slashing staffs and coverage to drain the last bit of profits. …

“[Carl Fernyak, founder of the Richland Source,] says he knew ‘zero, nothing’ about news publishing when he began the Richland Source six years ago, but predicts the organization is now within 18 months of breaking even. …

“In 2013, Mr. Fernyak joined a Chamber of Commerce study of the sagging Rust Belt town. ‘Without fail, each one of the businesses said we have an image problem, a self-esteem problem,’ he says. ‘Ninety-five percent of the coverage was crime.’

“Mr. Fernyak was in the office equipment business, but within six months he had hired a president, a veteran managing editor, and a few journalists, and started the Richland Source. … The site, which Mr. Fernyak adamantly keeps free to readers, offers up a smorgasbord of hard news and homespun stories. A recent front page included a shooting-suicide next to news that Barb Weaver had once again won the county fair’s lemon meringue pie contest. The site has local sports, summer parades, short features on business owners, and occasionally a deep dive into a social problem.

“To support this, and to bond with readers, the Richland Source and its owner do some decidedly untraditional things. There are the newsroom concerts, trivia nights at a local brewery, movie nights, and roundtable discussions with high school students – all staffed in part by Richland Source employees.

“The Source has a marketing arm that crafts social media strategies and ads for businesses, the editors are trying to sell an artificial intelligence program they use to generate short stories on high school games, and the staff solicited $70,000 from businesses and community groups to pay for two extensive reporting projects. Reporters are expected to make an ‘ask,’ through email and social media appeals, for readers to sign up for memberships at $5 to $20 a month. …

“ ‘I like it,’ says Cheryl Moore, a clerk at the 111-year-old Hursh Pharmacy. ‘It’s current, it’s true, and it’s factual.’

“The mayor of the town concurs. ‘They’ve been a breath of fresh air,’ says Timothy Theaker, who was first elected in 2011. ‘If the news is always negative, it starts tearing down the community.’ …

“Mr. Fernyak thinks newsrooms and owners are figuring out models that will work. ‘We’ve had a crazy amount of support from our community for this,’ he says. ‘I had people saying, “It’s about time.” ‘ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: theCramm
Olivia Seltzer is the 15-year-old founder and sole writer of
theCramm. She started theCramm after the 2016 presidential election to help young people keep abreast of news they care about. 

I am dazzled by the young people who are making themselves heard above the din of these trying times: environmentalists such as Greta Thunberg and ThisIsZeroHour, gun-safety-advocates such as David Hogg and Emma González, who both survived the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida — and many others. Now from TeenVogue, a remarkably mature truth-telling magazine, comes this story about a teen who saw a void and started her own news outlet. And she’s not the only one.

Rainesford Stauffer writes at Teen Vogue, “In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Olivia Seltzer, now 15, noticed a shift at school.

” ‘Basically overnight, all we could talk about was politics and what was going on in the world,’ she tells Teen Vogue. Many of her peers in Santa Barbara, California, had parents who were undocumented immigrants, so the issues in the news hit close to home. Suddenly the personal felt very much political. ‘This massive interest in the news and politics came with an equally massive gap in the media,’ Seltzer continues. ‘Traditional news sources are primarily written by and geared toward an older demographic, and unfortunately, they don’t always connect to my generation.’

“That’s a problem, and an urgent one. Though a free press is crucial to democracy, more than one in four local newspapers have closed since 2004, and more Americans are getting their news from social media than traditional print media. Keeping young people engaged is necessary to foster civic engagement, and Seltzer wants to help close the gap.

“In February 2017, she launched theCramm, which offers a daily look at major stories from around the world, distilled into a newsletter that lands in email and text inboxes each weekday. Every day, she rises at 5 AM to read the news before school, poring over outlets, including the BBC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, Politico, and Reuters, among others, to ensure readers are receiving an ‘unbiased point of view with the news.’

“Seltzer works with an editorial team that helps research stories and finds inspiring individuals to interview for the newsletter, an advisory board comprised of ‘trusted adults,’ and ‘theCramm Fam,’ ambassadors from around the world who promote theCramm. …

“A recent survey by Common Sense Media found that 78% of American teens ages 13 to 17 say it’s important to them to follow current events. Young adults are more likely to consume news through social media sites than they are traditional news organizations, online or in print, but that isn’t necessarily a negative when it comes to news. Teens who use social media are more likely to be civically engaged, and smartphone users who engage with social media report they’re more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds, and feel like they have more diverse networks. …

“Instead of staring at cable news, they’re pioneering new ways to engage with the stories that meet them where they are. This isn’t just a matter of style, like how theCramm breaks down big stories into witty, need-to-know facts; it’s medium too. Seltzer … decided to create an option for people to receive theCramm via text. ‘I don’t think other news sources or a lot of people are aware that young people don’t really use email addresses,’ she says. …

“Sofia Frazer, a 16-year-old activist, runs the account @dailydoseofwokeness, which has over 30,000 followers and features story highlights on Sudan, mental health, and the 2020 presidential candidates, among others. After reading about the murder of Virginia teen Nabra Hassanen and the livestreamed police killing of Philando Castile, Frazer realized important stories weren’t being discussed with the depth they deserved. ‘In this day and age, the news is more inflammatory than it is informative,’ she tells Teen Vogue. …

“Frazer feels that Instagram makes it possible to get young people thinking about current issues. … She says, ‘If we want to continue the global conversation about young people taking the lead, people need to know how to access these kids and how to grab their attention.’…

“Within Instagram, there are different ways of reaching audiences and starting conversations. [Sixteen-year-old Anjali Kanda, an admin for the Instagram account @brown.politics,] engages followers via polls on Instagram stories and records videos, like the one she recently posted explaining the scandal surrounding financier and accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. ‘People also tend to reply back to stories with questions or actually wanting to start an open discussion,’ she says. ‘I’ve gotten some really thoughtful insights from people replying to stories.’ …

“Seltzer points out that textbooks exist for math, science, English, and history — areas of study and focus from kindergarten onward. Media literacy doesn’t receive the same kind of attention in school. ‘We don’t have any source to learn about politics and what’s going on in the world,’ she says. ‘We’re just expected, when we turn 18, to all of a sudden be able to vote and know who we’re going to vote for. It takes time to actually cultivate a political knowledge and standing.’ ”

More here.

 

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No sooner had I posted yesterday about the NY Times story on how a high school parent’s complaint to the Humans of New York went viral, than I opened a link in twitter that was unexpectedly relevant.

A blog called NewsWhip was showing the real front page of numerous newspapers and then, “using NewsWhip Spike’s publisher view, which breaks out stories by social shares, place of publication and other details,” it showed what each front page would have looked like if the layout had been based on the articles most popular with online readers.

And the lead NY Times article for that day (below) would have been the one I blogged about last night.

If you go to NewsWhip, here, you can see similar reworkings of front pages. Lots of fun. I felt quite reassured that the most popular stories were not all about movie stars or gruesome accidents. When I go to online news, I make a point of refusing to click on those. I don’t want the content generator to keep featuring them, and maybe if no one clicks on junk news, they will stop highlighting it.

 Right, people-powered front page from the NewsWhip blog.

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