News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Local News

April 23, 2010

Philadelphia journalism collaborative effort spurred by J-Lab report

On April 21, the William Penn Foundation announced its plans to make investments to develop an independent journalism collaborative in Philadelphia. This was based on recommendations made in J-Lab’s new report, Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia (a study commissioned by the foundation).

Philly’s daily papers have fallen on hard times—in fact, today is the deadline for opening bids to buy Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which declared bankruptcy in February.

Nevertheless, J-Lab says the nation’s sixth-largest city is home to a diverse media ecosystem that could, with some coordination, help local residents stay informed about (and participate in) city life.

According to J-Lab, Philadelphia is “ripe for a networked journalism collaborative.” This could be “anchored by an independent news site that would both curate and aggregate some of the excellent reporting originating in many of the city’s new media sites as well as provide original reporting on a half-dozen key topics and serve as the connective tissue for the partners. This should be a supplemental, rather than comprehensive, news enterprise.”

Under the umbrella of a collaborative with a central web site, Philly-area independent journalists could generate original news and issues coverage on six to eight key issues where coverage currently lags. It also would enable city officials, agencies, community organizations, nonprofits, and others to share their information.

Read the full report.

August 12, 2010

Fund Seeks Grant Proposals for Local and Ethnic Media Investigative Reporting

If you’re a reporter investigating issues in your state or local community, or are working on investigative stories for ethnic media, you could be eligible for a boost from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The Fund is currently seeking grant proposals and is keen to support precisely those kinds of projects, thanks to a new $100,000 grant from Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Grants range from $500 to $10,000, and the organization can also provide guidance on reporting and advice on placement, as well as mentoring with veteran journalists through a partnership with Investigative Reporters and Editors.

The Fund has a Sept. 8 deadline for its next round of grant proposals. It’s accepting applications through its website at

Learn more and apply now
Application deadline: Sept. 8



September 10, 2010

Upcoming events: Community news in Chicago, media law in Atlanta and Web 2.0 in New York

Three notable events come up later this month - from an intimate get-together for community news publishers to the crowds in the sprawling halls of Web 2.0 Expo, with a meeting of media legal minds in between.

(HT to Webb Media Group)

September 13, 2010

19 communities win Knight grants for local news, information

Local news and information will get a big boost in 19 communities thanks to $3.14 million in new grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge initiative.

These grants are matching funds in partnership with locally focused foundations in each community.

More about this year’s winning projects…

Among the winners and projects are:

Other winning communities and regions include Pittsburgh (PA), Dubuque (IA), the Black Hills region (SD), San Antonio (TX), El Paso (TX), Austin (TX), Seattle (WA), Alaska, Tulsa (OK), south Florida, Youngstown (OH), Boston (MA), Cleveland (OH), and West Anniston (AL). See project summaries.

Bring home one of these grants. The Knight Foundation will again accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge from Jan. 17 to March 7, 2011. So start talking now to local community foundations—you might find a partner foundation willing to contribute funds, and Knight will match their contribution.

In addition, foundation leaders can register for Knight’s fourth annual Media Learning Seminar—a gathering to discuss how foundations can support local news and information needs and opportunities. Feb. 28 - March 1, 2011, Miami.

January 11, 2011

Study: Community Papers Have Loyal - But Few - Online Readers

Community newspaper readership is often said to be a bastion for print publishers amid newspaper readership declines overall, and a year-end survey of weeklies shows this reader loyalty extends online - to a point.

The study, conducted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute for the National Newspaper Association, found that when the readers of small town weeklies go online for local news they turn overwhelming to community papers’ sites rather than national online news outlets. More than half of community newspaper readers find local news on the local paper’s website, three times more than those who go to sites like Yahoo, MSN or Google, and double the number of visitors to local TV station sites.

This apparent strength might be an obstacle to competing new hyperlocal outlets like AOL’s Patch (read more) were it not for the flip side. Community papers’ audience, the survey found, are largely older and with little overall interest in getting their local news online.

A large majority of community news readers have Internet access at home, and nine of 10 of those have broadband. Yet they are nearly seven times more likely to get their local news from the community newspapers themselves than from the Internet. More than half say never read local news online, while fewer than one in 10 visit sites very often. By contrast, 62 percent say they read local news very often in their community newspapers, and half call it their primary source for information. That dwarves the percent who say they rely for local info on friends and relatives (18 percent) or local radio (6 percent).

Nor is this audience attracted online by school news, local sports or opinion. Two thirds said they never read local education news or sports news online, and nearly three quarters never read editorials or letters to the editor online. That despite the fact around a third of them say they read that content in local newspapers.  Perhaps not surprisingly, two thirds also never visit local government websites.

Read a writeup of the report by one local paper. The full study is available only to members of the National Newspaper Association.

[HT to the Summer Harlow, blogging for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.]

January 18, 2011

CJR Launches Digital News Database

The challenge of keeping tabs on hundreds of digital news sites around the country just got a bit easier - Columbia Journalism Review has launched a tracking service for online news outlets it is calling the News Frontier Database.

The magazine says it expects the bulk of the entries ultimately to be the many local new operations cropping up around the United States. At launch, however, the listing is populated with 50 “prominent” sites, among them well-known national outlets like Politico (see its entry) and Huffington Post (entry), as well as niche sites like transportation project Streetsblog (entry) and hyperlocals like Baristanet (entry). See a full list of all current sites.

The database has original reported profiles and data sets on each site, and allows you to search by location, type of coverage, how long the site has been publishing, its staff size, whether it’s profit or non-profit, and its revenue sources and institutional support.  CJR says more advanced search options are in development.

Criteria for inclusion in the database have sparked some interesting discussion. CJR says for sites to be included in the database they must be primarily devoted to original reporting and content, have at least one full-time employee, not be the web arm of a legacy media, and be working to become financially sustainable. Some commenters, however, challenged the notion of excluding local sites that include large quantities of user-generated content. CJR responded that the criteria are “open to interpretation.”

For more, see CJR’s detailed writeup on the launch of the new database, including a link to submit your own site.

March 08, 2011

Knight Community Info Toolkit: Help make your community stronger with better info

News organizations have always helped local communities function. Now they have new tools for understanding their role in the local information ecosystem, and for helping to make their communities stronger…

Last week the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released the first draft of its Community Information Toolkit. This document outlines steps that news organizations and other community leaders can take to gauge the health of their local media ecology, create a local “information scorecard,” identify opportunities for using local information more effectively, and to start to address local challenges through more robust information.

This toolkit is a joint project of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and The Monitor Institute, with support from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

While the toolkit wasn’t specifically created for local news organizations, it’s clear that news organizations can help muster local support for this project and take an active role in both putting this toolkit to work and being part of the solutions it generates.

The toolkit includes:

  • Getting Started Template: This helps you identify a set of local issues and brainstorm how information influences them.
  • Community Information Checklist: This research tool evaluates your local information supply and infrastructure. It assesses local Internet access, information about government services and activities, digital support in libraries and schools, and civic intermediaries.
  • Community Information Scavenger Hunt: This form lists several tasks that ask community volunteers to access, find, use, and share certain pieces of information. Volunteers must record whether they were able to complete these tasks, which sources they used, how difficult they found this process, and what they learned.
  • Community Information Scorecard: This visualization tool helps you understand, interpret, see, and communicate the responses to the Checklist and Scavenger Hunt. It converts the raw data into color-coded tiles rating the strength of each part of your community’s information system.
  • Planning for Action Template: This planning frame helps transform the lessons from the other parts of the toolkit into an actionable plan to work toward specific local solutions.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

March 11, 2011

Texas Tribune, Bay Citizen win Knight grant to build open-source news platform

Two leading new nonprofit news organizations have just received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop a free open-source publishing platform. The goal of this software, to be jointly developed by the Texas Tribune and the Bay Citizen, is to help other online news organizations engage readers, manage content, and earn revenue…

Knight announced this $975,000 grant today at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, TX.

According to Knight: “At the first Knight Foundation gathering of news startups in Austin last spring, organizations revealed their struggles to find a publishing platform that is low-cost to implement, while flexible enough to allow constant innovation in content delivery, audience engagement and fundraising.”

Matt Waite, principle developer of Politifact and now a journalism instructor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, tweeted this reaction: “The Knight announcement today is a real opportunity. It’s a CMS with the benefits of a framework. ...It has a generic content model you can inherit and extend all you want, seamlessly integrated.”

The platform, which includes a content management system, will:

  • Manage an integrated library of text, video and audio files.
  • Maximize search engine optimization by improving the way articles are linked, aggregated and tagged.
  • Better integrate sites with social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as bloggers.
  • Offer membership tools and integration with advertising networks to help online news organizations cultivate new revenue streams.

It will be interesting to see whether this effort will draw upon the large code base and developer networks for existing popular free open-source content management systems such as Drupal and WordPress. Those platforms are already widely used by many news startups, and they’ve attracted substantial module collections and developer communities. New platforms that are built completely from scratch sometimes languish due to a small developer pool and sparse module offerings.

Also, it’ll be interesting to see how easy it might be for existing news sites that have already committed to other platforms to integrate with, or switch to, this new one.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 23, 2011

Google News changes: Good and bad for local news startups

This month Google News unveiled some changes that are a mixed bag for local news sites struggling for search visibility…

First the good news: Android and iPhone smartphone users now have the option to see news stories relevant to their current location via the Google News mobile News Near You feature.

When visiting Google News from one of these devices, you are prompted via popup whether you want to see news near you. If you choose yes, then this section will be added to your standard Google News layout on that device. (Note: This feature does not appear to be compatible with the FireFox browser for Android.)

Google assesses the local relevance of news via semantic analysis. According to the Google blog: “We analyze every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located.”

This service surfaces local news from a variety of local venues. For instance, right now I’m at the Burbank, CA airport. Under “news near you” I’m seeing stories from mostly from local newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, the Ventura County Star, and the Burbank Leader—but also from Eater LA (a local food blog), LAist (a local multi-contributor blog), and the Hollywood Reporter (news for the entertainment industry).

From the perspective of a local news startup, News Near You is good news. The mobile market is booming, and news/information is one of the most popular activities for mobile users.

So as long as your site gets indexed by Google News (apply here)—and your site’s name, headlines, and content routinely offer enough semantic clues for Google to establish the “where” of your content—chances are good that Google News will serve up your stories to local mobile users.

This is likely to broaden the audiences for local news sites and grow their traffic—which is valuable, because otherwise generally can’t compete well with long-established legacy news brands for search visibility.

The (possible) bad news: Option to drop blogs from Google News. Google News has quietly introduced an option that allows all users (on any device type) to remove blogs and press releases from the stories they see in Google News. Search Engine Land explains how this works.

From the user’s perspective, this is generally good news—Google News users have long complained especially about seeing press releases listed as “news”.

However, often small local news startups get indexed as “blogs” by Google News, regardless of how they present themselves to Google. This could render them invisible to Google News users who choose not to see blogs in Google News.

Google makes its own decisions about which sites to index in Google News, and how to categorize them. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote:

“Back in September 2009, Google started classifying some news sources as blogs. It was never really clear how Google determined this. Looking today, I still see nothing within Google News that explains what it considers to be a blog versus a news source.

“Blog? News source? It [used to have] no impact on how you were listed in Google News. But now, blogs definitely get to be second-class citizens within Google News, with an option to filter them out entirely.”

If your news site has been misclassified as a blog in Google News, you can request that Google change your category via this form. But the decision is entirely up to Google, and it’s not clear what criteria Google considers in this decision.

Further complicating this issue is that many local news sites also feature commentary and blog posts by community members. It’s not clear whether Google News could or would index a site’s news content as “news”, while indexing blog content as “blogs.” It may be that housing your blog content under a “blogs” subdomain (such as might help. But so far there are no clear answers from Google on this.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 28, 2011

Chicago sites too isolated for a healthy news ecosystem, report finds

Links make the web go round—and they also define (and can make or break) an emerging news ecosystem. A new report has found that the components of Chicago’s news ecosystem may be too isolated to keep local communities adequately informed…

Linking Audiences to News: A Network Analysis of Chicago Websites was just released by the Chicago Community Trust. It’s the outcome of an effort to understand a local news ecosystem by using webcrawler software to analyze how over 400 Chicago-area local news and info sites interconnect via hyperlinks.

CCT found that “almost 80% of the sites studied received few if any links from other sites—so that no matter how good their content, they are unlikely to be found by users unfamiliar with those sites.”

Furthermore: “Websites operated by traditional media, in particular, are unlikely to link to content on other local websites.”

How to encourage more links between sites to improve the health of the local news ecosystem? The report suggests that CCT or other orgs could:

  • Offer incentives to encourage cross-links
  • Promote link-sharing initiatives between legacy news orgs and local sites
  • Support sites in the network that are especially good at linking
  • Aggregate and distribute headlines across the ecosystem

Update: In her June 30 News Leadership 3.0 post Michele McLellan of [email protected] offered her analysis and insight on this study and its findings.

This research project is part of CCT’s Community News Matters initiative. The network study was funded jointly by CCT, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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