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Redefining Local News: Community Centered Models
Wednesday, September 16th, 12PM ET

Many of the discussions and analyses about the crises facing local news have looked at the challenges from a national perspective, an industry perspective, or in the context of legacy state and metro-area daily news organizations. In many cases, that vantage point (and the sorts of metaphors evoked in the first panel in this “Redefining the Local News Crisis” series) doesn’t give visibility to the complex factors at play on the ground in many communities. The quantity and quality of coverage may differ dramatically by neighborhood, by community, or by coverage type (the “socially distant but geographically near” communities Letrell Crittenden and Andrea Wenzel have written about).

Which communities are/aren’t imagined as part of what is evoked as the “local place” being covered? Who is the imagined audience? And what constitutes the work of local journalism? The panelists for this session will draw on their research, hyperlocal reporting experience, and experimentation. They will highlight the distinctions of reporting on a community versus for a community, insights from communities who feel ignored in coverage completely, and what they’ve learned about what might work to sustain inclusive, comprehensive coverage of a community.


Sam Ford, Director of Cultural Intelligence for Simon & Schuster


Letrell Crittenden, Program Director and Assistant Professor of Communication, Jefferson University

Andrea Wenzel, Assistant Professor, Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communication

Michael Romain, Editor, Austin Weekly News

Maleka Fruean, Community Organizer, Germantown Info Hub

Find more information and register here.
Introducing the COVID-19 Cutback Tracker
By Lauren Harris

Since March of 2020, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism has been collecting data on cutbacks to US newsrooms happening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic; last week, they published the sum of their findings for the first time.

Over the past six months, researchers at the Tow Center have aggregated and vetted reports of layoffs, furloughs, closures, print reductions, and a wide range of cutbacks—depending upon news reports, Twitter announcements, press releases, and Google Form responses. “COVID came along and accelerated what was already an incredibly awful time for local news,” says Pete Brown, research director at the Tow Center. He hopes the project can bear witness, cataloguing losses in a critical moment for journalism, tracking trends and patterns that can be studied as the industry and its supporters look for solutions to the crisis. “Here is as clear a picture as we can provide on how it happened, the rate at which it happened, how many people have been laid off in a given day, how layoffs affected different regions,” Brown says. “Down the line, to be able to systematically track what disappeared will be a useful resource in comparing the past to what eventually emerges in its place.”

The published map is a bleak sight—the United States news landscape riddled with a mess of holes: lost jobs, stilled printers, newspaper nameplates retired forever. And the startling image only hints at the true cost of the crisis: the gaps in knowledge that grow in the wake of the cutbacks, made particularly consequential in a year in which good and clear information can mark the difference between life and death. 

The searchable database tracks the date on which a cutback was reported, the type of outlet, type of cutback, and—as much as possible—the number of staff affected and the geographic location of the outlet at which the cutback occurred. (Whenever a large media chain announced cutbacks, Tow researchers made note of every news outlet owned by the chain and added each to the database, labeling such entries as outlets “potentially affected” by cutbacks.)  

The cutback tracker paints a grim picture, but it goes beyond that, providing contextual data points and interactive filters that turn a startling graphic into a searchable story. “We’re at the point in this crisis in which we need to start digging into what those dots on the map actually mean,” says Gabby Miller, a research fellow with the Journalism Crisis Project. “Because the crisis is happening, whether we’re paying attention or not.”

Miller hopes that projects like this can both underline the need for solutions and provide a path to them. “People are starting to wake up to how bad this crisis is,” Miller says. “We need to know why the crisis is bad, how, and what we can do—to understand how it’s shaping our future.” It’s her hope—and ours—that this database can provide some keys to unlocking the answers.

The Journalism Crisis Project aims to train our focus on the present crisis, tallying lost jobs and outlets and fostering a conversation about what comes next. We hope you’ll join us (click to subscribe).

CONTRIBUTE TO OUR DATABASE: If you’re aware of a newsroom experiencing layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs, print reductions, or any fundamental change as a result of covid-19, let us know by submitting information here. (Personal information will be kept secure by the Tow Center and will not be shared.)

ATTEND OUR SYMPOSIUM: Join us on September 15 and 16 for a series of online conversations aimed at fostering fresh thinking about the media—considering how to rebuild the news industry after this season of loss. We’ll hear from some of the most urgent voices in the profession to talk about where journalism goes next. You can register here.

Read more on changes in newsrooms across the world on CJR. 

  • A 6,600-word memo from a recently fired Facebook employee sent to BuzzFeed News reveals that “Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world.” “A manager on Strategic Response mused to myself that most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with myself as the part-time dictator – he meant the statement as a compliment, but it illustrated the immense pressures upon me,” the former employee writes.

  • In other platform news, Facebook announced a $5 million investment in “diversity and entrepreneurship in US local news,” and 400,000 people registered to vote via Snapchat

  • According to a new Pew Research Center survey, “while most Americans believe [social media platforms] are an effective tool for raising awareness and creating sustained movements, majorities also believe they are a distraction and lull people into believing they are making a difference when they’re not.” 

Copyright © 2020 Tow Center for Digital Journalism, All rights reserved.

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