5 Pieces of Good News About the News

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My great predecessor in this column, David Carr, wrote at a time when conventional wisdom was destroying journalism by the Internet.

But David’s eye is drawn to what’s interesting and new, like Gawker and The Huffington Post or Twitter and WikiLeaks. Those of us working in the exciting new world of online journalism were delighted to receive the grumpy visitor head down as we tackle the exploding media world.

This is a very different time in the news business, where giant corporations like the New York Times are leading a wave of consolidation, and many of the startups Mr. Carr loves are gone long ago. Around the world, from Manila to Moscow, digital news outlets that shatter the status quo are waiting for their lives. Yet there is also a generation of startups in the United States growing in the cracks of the pavement, fueled by a new sense of mission in American journalism and large sums of private and nonprofit money floating around.

I’ve been writing this column for a pretty dark year, and even before I started I had a long Google docs full of story ideas. Now, 16 months later and going out for my first weeks off, I realize that I erred on the side of bringing up messy conflicts and undermining decisions. I’ve only occasionally highlighted people and companies that do things that are really new and interesting – but that you may not have heard of – in some of the most difficult parts of media: local news, investigative journalism, and even finding common ground. To me it is an inspiring list and a suggestion that there is a lot of open space to fill.

Sarah Alvarez, a former public radio reporter and producer in Detroit, argues that local news needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with simple text messages telling residents how to get help with their gas bills. The idea is compelling in theory, but incredibly hard work. until the epidemic Offensive Media The nonprofit sparked some curiosity in media circles and said he was stepping down to find a larger organization to merge with.

But when the coronavirus hit, Candice Fortman, Outlier’s executive director, and two other colleagues suddenly found themselves drowning in texts, responding directly to nearly 200 Detroit residents a day on everything from unemployment benefits to vaccinations. This is not what most of us think of as journalism – Ms. Alvarez calls it “pre-news”. And his theory is that a new public media — with no interest in the for-profit media business — can rebuild trust and connection. He says it could turn from a text service that tells you where to find government programs to a digital outlet that tries to answer bigger civic questions.

The idea clings. non-profit news sources URL Environment and City in New York Oakland In Oakland, California, they began to think about the “information needs” of residents. Outlier finds big donors and takes small steps into the more traditional news business and receives a newsletter covering developments in Detroit. Excavation.

Outlier’s text-based service still reaches thousands, not millions, and the challenge with Ms. Alvarez’s theory is whether a city can scale to reach a meaningful share of its residents. He is optimistic. In manifest Writing in March, he sued “to make sure the bottom of the pyramid is solid”.

Media moneymen sometimes complain about how expensive investigative journalism is. But viewed through another lens, it’s incredibly cheap. Critics of America’s illegal gun culture have spent decades and millions of dollars trying to break the National Rifle Association’s hold on American politics.

Next, The Trace, a small investigative news team focused on weapons, assigned a single reporter, Mike Spies, to the story. After years of reporting on the sidelines, he developed sources close to the organization, which led him from his sarcastic policies and accounting practices. Mr Spies explained in a series blockbuster hits The New Yorker published with The Trace that the executives of the NRA made millions of dollars illegally from an unconventional relationship with their PR firm. He wasn’t the only reporter in the spotlight – The Wall Street Journal’s Mark Maremont and Danny Judge He also gave big, early news in The Times. But the small nonprofit played a central role in the story.

“It’s a tough goal, and being part of a small start-up newsroom and trying to cover an organization like the NRA is tough,” said Tali Woodward, editor-in-chief of The Trace. “It just kept going.”

Reporting by Mr Spies and others about the NRA’s alleged abuse of its nonprofit status led to a lawsuit being filed by the New York attorney general, who was essentially trying to shut down the organization. The NRA recently petitioned to be allowed to relocate to Texas, although a Texas judge declared bankruptcy and his petition was subsequently denied. denied. Its downfall is a testament to the power of focused, diligent investigative reporting.

The urgency of climate change and the new focus of big corporations on marketing themselves as forces for social good have spawned a new “carbon offset” industry. The idea is that companies offset their greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting emissions elsewhere in the world.

The problem is for journalists Bloomberg Green found that most of these movements were meaningless. There was no standardized accounting and liability for companies’ claims regarding what reporters refer to as “an ethereal token known as carbon credit.” And so the giant financial news organization took a precaution and began checking the claims of companies like BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, and Disney.

Bloomberg is not a small start-up but a billion-dollar giant, and the effort has used the company’s well-developed muscles to parse data to pressure companies to make their own claims. A particularly rigorous investigation He discovered that Nature Conservancy, the environmental partner of many top companies, sells hundreds of millions of dollars of carbon offsets that do almost nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

“We will ‘track emissions’ just as journalists ‘follow the money’ in the climate age,” Aaron Rutkoff, editor of Bloomberg Green, said in an email. “Eventually, reporting on corporate emissions will become as standard as reporting on earnings – and the lack of investor expectations will have the same sorts of disadvantages for CEOs.”

You’ve read a million articles about media initiatives aimed at attracting youth and bringing people together across partisan divides. And if you have a business like mine, you might be shy to read well-meaning speeches on these topics – even because the most successful media formats often divide Americans. The first time I spoke to the extremely serious founder of Jubilee Media, Jason Y. Lee, I had the same reaction – there’s no way you’re going viral on YouTube with all that empathy talk and bullshit. young mothers or between Israelis and Palestinians.

The difference, however, is that Jubilee has 6.5 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.4 billion views according to the company’s figures. And he says about half of his viewers are under 25. The company says it has raised $2.25 million from investors, including the Korean conglomerate that produces “Parasite”; Aaron Samuels, co-founder of the black millennial media site Blavity; and NBA player Jeremy Lin.

Leaving his job as a management consultant at Bain in 2012 to start a premise of the Jubilee, Mr. Lee has a Christian-inspired kind of business sense. The company got its name from the biblical Jubilee, the year in which debts were forgiven. The general approach reminds me a bit of right-wing video supplier PragerU, which is a bit of a hotbed – but if you’re trying to fix America, don’t set it on fire.

“We’re not all about Pollyanna subtleties, but I believe this younger generation embodies the selective optimism we desperately need right now,” Mr. Lee told me in an email.

The deepest crisis in the country remains, if not always widely read, the accelerating collapse of local newspapers covering the City Council, for example. With the advertising business of newspapers in ruins, there is no real way to rebuild newsrooms for the digital age. And the real problem is money. A generation of nonprofit newsrooms have begun to take up the vacuum, which is often seeded by national organizations like the Knight Foundation, which have some sort of broad interest in journalism.

But big national donors cannot and probably shouldn’t fund media everywhere. One of the good news is that local philanthropists who donate to operas or museums now see local journalism as a worthy cause on a path sponsored by the American Journalism Project. In Wichita, Kan., the Wichita Community Foundation is set to commit more than $1 million over three years to a new project called The Wichita Beacon (an extension of the Kansas City Beacon), which is in the process of hiring an editor. “This is part of the evolution of journalism, and if its philanthropic support makes sense for opera, why not for an informed community?” He asked Shelly Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation.

Another innovation in funding local media continues in Colorado. There, Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro of Harvard Business School, Ph.D., recently called it a leveraged buyout—“the good kind backed by foundations”—to buy a chain of local newspapers the owner put up for sale. Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the National Trust for Local News, later hired The Colorado Sun, a small Denver-based digital outlet, to run the newspaper group. The sun is paid as a debt.

Leveraged buyout, better known for its use by Wall Street raiders, in this case allows local foundations and corporate donors to guarantee loans to purchase independent community newspapers. Ms. Shapiro also began suing for a “local news bond” that anyone could buy to help them invest in their local newspaper.

In an email, he said about $300 million in the United States would be “enough to protect nearly any independent community newspaper at risk.”

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