News and Information Ecosystems 101
Local News Lab, Democracy Fund
The post “What is a news ecosystem?” for the Local News Lab by Nancy Watzman for the Democracy Fund is a straightforward primer on local news ecosystems. It shares definitions for ecosystem, information on where Democracy Fund is funding ecosystems, and more. It is good for sharing with colleagues, stakeholders, and others who are new to this work.
Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age
The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy released “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age” in October 2009, launching much of the current efforts of ecosystem-funding. This report broadened the scope of the conversation about the future of journalism by exploring the ways broadband access, libraries, and government transparency efforts relate to the flow of information and the impact on local democracy.
Media Deserts Project
Michelle Ferrier, dean of the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University, has blazed trails in the field with the Media Deserts Project. She defines a “media desert” as a geographic area “lacking access to fresh, local news and information,” a concept distinct from a news desert in that it accounts for “code, conduits, content and geography.” Get inspired by Ferrier’s work that combined this method with engagement and collaboration with the Jefferson Center and Journalism that Matters to create Your Voice Ohio.
News Measures Research Project
Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy
Philip M. Napoli created a scalable, multimodal assessment of the health of local news including a scan of local outlets, focus groups, and content analysis. His research team began by looking comparatively at three communities in New Jersey in 2015. The team expanded it to include 100 American communities, and have produced various analyses that could be useful in your ecosystem funding work.
Knight Foundation Community Information Toolkit
Knight Foundation developed a Community Information Toolkit in 2011 that inspired much of Democracy Fund and other funders’ methodology around local news ecosystems. It continues to be a useful set of processes and resources, including a “community information scavenger hunt” that can be used to supplement
The Expanding News Desert
UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media
Penny Muse Abernathy’s work on news deserts at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media looks specifically at the closure and consolidation of newspapers, especially smaller circulation papers, and the role of hedge-fund ownership. You can explore an interactive map or download the 2018 report, “The Expanding News Desert.”
Webinar: Funding and Mapping Local News Ecosystems
Watch this webinar to learn more about Democracy Fund’s guide to assessing your local news ecosystem from guide author Fiona Morgan, and case study interviewees Molly de Aguiar of the Independence Public Media Foundation and LaMonte Guillory of the LOR Foundation.
Chicago is full of ecosystem funding efforts and assessments, including from Democracy Fund. Here are just a sample.
City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab, worked with the Center for Media Engagement at University of Texas-Austin to inform a survey that shows people living on the South and West Sides of Chicago feel underrepresented or poorly represented by local news media, funded by the McCormick Foundation.
The Field Foundation convened community members and journalists to ask what journalists of color need and what funders need to understand to help create a local media landscape that amplifies voices in communities that are marginalized. They launched the Media and Storytelling program, with funding from MacArthur Foundation and Democracy Fund, in response.
In Colorado, several foundations, organizations, and projects have commissioned landscape analysis that cover various angles and topics. The Colorado Media Project’s website is a useful repository to find several studies the Gates Family Foundation and its partners have gathered, including a large-scale survey of Coloradans’ media habits, a scan of local digital outlets, and a report on local nonprofits news outlets.
For example, in October 2019, CMP released “Local News for the Public Good” which explores different options for public policies to strengthen and transform civic media and local reporting across the state. Read more about CMP in this case study.
Colorado also benefits from the work of Corey Hutchins, who reports on the local news ecosystem in the state in a weekly email newsletter.
The 2017 assessment of the Detroit journalism landscape by Debra Adams Simmons informed the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan collaboration with the Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation to launch the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund. Read more about Detroit in this case study.
A comparative study by Andrea Wenzel and Sam Ford used focus groups, diaries, and interviews to look at media trust and political polarization in the college town of Bowling Green and in rural Ohio County for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism in 2017. They went on to document experiments in rural journalism that came out of that research at the digital outlet The Ohio County Monitor.
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s groundbreaking work in New Jersey is well documented in Molly de Aguiar and Josh Stearns’ “Lessons Learned from the Local News Lab” report from February 2016. Read more about the work in New Jersey in this case study.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy organization New Mexico First worked with the Rio Grande Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists to host focus groups in Portales, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, with support from the Thornburg Foundation and Democracy Fund. “Advancing Sustainable, Reliable Journalism in New Mexico” (2018) provides findings from those focus groups and a vision for journalism in the state. As a result, Thornburg and Democracy Fund launched the New Mexico Local News Lab Fund to support the ecosystem.
“Learning from North Carolina: Exploring the News and Information Ecosystem” (2018) is a statewide ecosystem study by Fiona Morgan and Melanie Sill that informed Democracy Fund’s decision to establish the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation in partnership with local funders.
The local news ecosystem is also connected by several other national and local efforts, which are documented weekly in Melanie Sill’s NC Local email newsletter.
Madeleine Bair’s work with the Listening Post Collective, documented in “Más InformacÍon: An Information Needs Assessment of Latino Immigrants in Oakland California” (2018), was the foundation for El TÍmpano, a local reporting lab.
The Lenfest Institute for Journalism used focus groups to better understand the context in which Philadelphians experience daily news. “Being Informed: A Study of the Information Needs and Habits of Philadelphia residents,” co-authored by Michael X Delli Carpini, Mariela Morales Suarez, and Bert Herman in 2018, reports that many people feel overwhelmed by the news. This and other research helped inform many different areas of grantmaking by Lenfest and others in the city.
The Wyncote Foundation’s 2019 report “Building Stronger Communities Through Media: Innovations in Local Journalism, Public Media, and Storytelling” is part of the foundation’s effort to build the field of public media and journalism philanthropy. It profiles nine innovative local and regional projects in film, storytelling, engaged journalism, and more. It also includes resources of particular relevance to funders looking to research grantmaking in the field.
Local news survey research – Pew
Pew Research Center is a vital source for ongoing survey research on news media. Its 2015 report “Local News in a Digital Age” offers an exceptional comparative deep-dive into the local news ecosystems of three American cities: Denver, Colorado; Macon, Georgia; and Sioux City, Iowa. More recently, Pew released a national survey in 2019 of local news attitudes and behaviors that includes an interactive map with data specific to 99 different cities (core-based statistical areas) across the United States.
Guide to people-centered, listen-first approach – Listening Post Collective
“The Listening Post Collective Playbook” offers an accessible guide to the people-centered, listen-first approach the Listening Post Collective uses in their assessments and media projects. Listening Post Collective is a U.S.-based project of Internews, an international nongovernmental organization that’s been working on freedom of expression in more than 100 countries over 35 years. The playbook is a scaled-down, simplified version of the framework and methodology on information ecosystems that Internews laid out in much greater depth in a 2015 report for the Rockefeller Foundation, “Why Information Matters: A Foundation for Resilience.” That report, which includes case studies from multiple international projects and a pilot in Jakarta, Indonesia, will be of particular interest to organizations doing work internationally.
Survey tool – Outlier Media
Pulse, a tool developed by Sarah Alvarez of Outlier Media and Andrew Haeg of Groundsource, is a simple survey conducted with communities via text message to assess residents’ information needs. The tool is inexpensive and effective and can be conducted on a regular basis to get continuous updates about shifting information priorities in your community. Alvarez has led assessments for Chalkbeat Detroit and San Francisco-based KQED. Read more about Pulse here: “What Kind of Information — Not Just Content — Do You Need as a News Consumer?” and “Beyond Raccoons: Understanding the News Needs of a Community Can Be a Hard Climb (But We’re Making It Easier).”
Guide to conducting focus groups – Local News Lab
Local News Lab’s “Focus Group Guide: Conducting Focus Groups to Understand Local News Audiences” by Jessica Crowell and Kathleen McCollough describes the focus group methodology that Napoli et al. used for the New Jersey study.