Solution Set: The Dallas Morning News expands hyperlocal coverage, strategies for source tracking, and more

Hey there, 

It’s been awhile since we’ve been in your inbox with a new issue of Solution Set. We’re working on some new original projects, but in the meantime I wanted to share a few case studies and resources from some friends that I know you’ll find interesting.

Keep scrolling for excerpts from: 

  • A Better News case study on how The Dallas Morning News expanded its hyperlocal coverage through new newsletters and a web hub
  • A new report from INN on how nonprofit newsrooms track sources to ensure coverage reflects community
  • A series of essays about the future of community-centered journalism from the fellows in the Constellation News Leadership program, a Lenfest Institute program supporting mid-career journalists of color in Philadelphia
  • A new grant opportunity from CrowdTangle to support use of its API to better cover the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath

Thanks, as always, for reading Solution Set, and please reply to this email with any questions, feedback, or story ideas. 

– Joseph Lichterman


How The Dallas Morning News expanded its hyperlocal journalism through a web hub and newsletter initiative

By Nicole Stockdale, The Dallas Morning News

This was originally published by The American Press Institute’s Better News.

Q: What problem were you trying to solve, and why was solving the problem strategically important for your organization?

A: Years of cutbacks in our suburban coverage meant that the vast majority of our daily news report was focused on either Dallas-specific coverage or big-picture regional issues, despite the fact that the majority of our subscribers live outside the city limits. Without the kind of consistent utility journalism that can attract loyal readers to our website, we also feared that much of our suburban audience wasn’t aware of the journalism we were publishing about their communities.

We needed a way to expand our hyperlocal journalism and package it with the in-depth coverage our newsroom was already publishing about those communities, thereby deepening their relationship with The Dallas Morning News and making them more likely to start — or retain — a subscription. And we needed to find a way for the effort to, at the very least, pay for itself.

The answer was DMN Local — an initiative to expand news coverage of 10 communities with a team of freelancers, creating digital hubs and newsletters to organize and promote coverage.

Q: How did you go about solving the problem?

A: Mark Francescutti (formerly director of engagement and operations on The News’ marketing team, now director of new product development at Lee Enterprises) and I combined our marketing and newsroom goals and experience to develop a plan that would both expand our community coverage and our top-of-funnel readership:

We hired freelance journalists in 10 communities to publish a handful of quick-hit hyperlocal articles — through original reporting or aggregation — that would supplement what the full-time newsroom staff could cover. Topics included restaurant openings and closings, city and school district news, crime, elections, things to do, real estate, retail and city rankings.

We also needed to make it easier for readers to find their community news. We handled that in two ways: by creating a newsletter and a web hub for each community. We tag the related hyperlocal content and the in-depth journalism the newsroom was already publishing and use those tags to feed the community newsletters and websites automatically. The websites also display events specific to that community, filtered from our main events-listing page, as well as links to community-specific content hosted elsewhere in the site, like real estate and high school sports. We also used social media and desktop push notifications to help geo-target audiences.

The project needed a full-time editor to manage the freelancers, coordinate the content and sending of the newsletters, and cultivate relationships internally (with colleagues in the newsroom, and in product, subscriptions, advertising and marketing) and externally (public officials, universities and community leaders) to pull off the project.

Mark and I also took a mini-publisher approach to ensure that this expansion of journalism would also be profitable. We estimated the page views and subscriptions the effort would generate. We worked with colleagues in advertising to estimate revenue from sponsorships, direct-sold ads and programmatic on the website and in newsletters. We got updated figures on the value of a digital subscription and churn rates to estimate the digital subscription revenue.

And we weighed all of that against the expected operating expenses — over three years’ time — to show that we expected the effort to be profitable by the second year. After the project launched in January 2020, we convened the same cross-functional group every quarter to review performance against goals and discuss any necessary changes.


How nonprofit newsrooms track sources to ensure coverage reflects community

By Vignesh Ramachandran for the Institute for Nonprofit News

This case study was originally published by INN as part of a series on how nonprofit newsrooms are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Source tracking, or the practice of tracking the demographics of sources for stories, has emerged as one way newsrooms create awareness around whom they interview, quote and in some cases deem as experts in their coverage.

Across INN’s 300+ nonprofit media organizations, our research team noticed several newsrooms using different kinds of source tracking to see where they stand in featuring a diverse mix of voices in their journalism. In this study, we highlight source tracking efforts within WABE News in Atlanta, The Beacon (a news startup in Kansas City), and WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Before we dig into these examples, let’s acknowledge that source tracking is not a fix-all solution or a fail-proof indicator of a newsroom taking diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seriously. Indeed, some of the more diverse organizations within INN’s network (those with 40% or more employees of color) engage underserved communities without source tracking.

Memphis-based MLK50, which focuses on poverty, power and public policy, has always had diversity baked into everything it does. As editor and publisher Wendi Thomas said in INN’s DEI report, “Equity is so core to our identity that I honestly never thought about stating it explicitly.” In an informal survey of recent stories, Thomas found a majority of the people quoted are Black, reflecting the majority Black city and county the newsroom is based in. “Racial and gender parity isn’t limited to sources, of course. With every staff, freelancer or contractor hire, I track whether we’re matching the racial demographics of the community we cover.”

This study examines how these newsrooms have approached source tracking and the logistics of carrying out surveys and data analysis. The newsrooms also provided reflections and advice for other newsrooms hoping to start or refine source tracking initiatives.


Lessons from The Constellation News Leadership Initiative

By Cheryl Thompson-Morton, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism

We created The Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative last year as an experiment. The program, which I developed and led, was designed to provide career development support to mid-career media professionals of color.

The seven-month Constellation program included graduate school-level classes, one-on-one career coaching, and peer support. In December, at the halfway mark, I checked in with each of the fellows and executive advisors, who were mentoring the fellows. I wanted their feedback on the experience and to understand what they were learning from the program. 

We named this program Constellation because we believed in the brilliance these journalists and leaders of color possessed to light up our industry, our city, and our world. We also believed that if we could create a space where more of Philadelphia’s stars could connect, those connections would help each of us shine brighter than we ever could alone. That promise was realized in this first Constellation cohort, and this group proved to be a beacon of light for our industry during a dark time. 

As the inaugural Constellation class completed its fellowship this spring, we asked each fellow to write an essay reflecting on their experience by answering the following questions: Based on what you have learned and seen in journalism, how do you think the field will evolve in the future? What role do you want to play in that transformation?

The essays focused on the importance of product thinking, the importance of diverse and equitable newsrooms, and how to center communities in coverage. They each share a vision for a better future for local journalism. 


A new grant opportunity from CrowdTangle

COVID-19 has been one of the biggest stories of our lifetimes, and the recovery from the pandemic will be a story journalists cover for years to come. 

To help newsrooms better cover the pandemic and its aftermath, CrowdTangle is offering a new opportunity to use the CrowdTangle API to produce new data journalism projects or products to help journalists and newsrooms cover this evolving story. Here are more details: 

“To encourage even more innovative reporting, and help audiences get a better understanding of the far-reaching impact of COVID-19, we’re granting $20,000, plus support from our team, to two partners who dream up interesting ways they would use the CrowdTangle API to cover the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.” 

Applications close June 13 at 11 p.m. EDT.


That’s it for us in Solution Set this week. If you’re in the U.S., we hope you have a nice long holiday weekend — I’ll be staying busy listening to the Linda Lindas

Please reply to this email with any questions or concerns, and we’ll see you soon! 

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