How The Lenfest Local Lab @ The Inquirer launches hyperlocal newsletters

The city of Philadelphia announced last week that the federal government planned to open a mass COVID vaccination site in a community center serving Philadelphia’s Hispanic communities. The city chose the location for the vaccination clinic because the zip code, which encompasses several neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, is in the lower-third of vaccination rates in the city, and Esperanza, the community organization that’s hosting the clinic, is trusted by residents. 

My colleagues at The Lenfest Local Lab @ The Inquirer, an experimental product development team, have spent the past few months conducting audience research in preparation to launch a hyperlocal email newsletter for West Kensington and Fairhill residents.

The team is currently wrapping up its research, but as the vaccine clinic opens today, the Lab plans to leverage its insights and collaborate with community organizations to launch an English and Spanish-language SMS text messaging service to share essential, actionable information about the neighborhood vaccine site to nearby residents.

We’ll be sure to share more about the lessons the Lab team is learning as it rolls out the texting service, but today in Solution Set we’re going to share posts about the research process that informs the Lab’s work: 

Also in this week’s issue:

  • The Lenfest News Philanthropy Network has a couple of deadlines coming up for courses and workshops to support both first-time fundraisers and experienced development professionals.
  • Our friends at Blue Engine Collaborative are conducting a survey on newsroom CMS usage. Learn more about how you can help out.

As always, please feel free to email me at [email protected] with any questions. 


How The Lenfest Lab @ The Inquirer prepared to launch a neighborhood newsletter

By Kelly Brennan

In August of last year, the Lenfest Local Lab and The Philadelphia Inquirer launched the first in a series of hyperlocal newsletters. The project, supported by Google’s GNI Innovation Challenge, is a collaborative experiment exploring smart ways that a publisher could scale hyperlocal newsletters across a region by using elements of curation, automation, collaboration and monetization at a neighborhood level.

Today many regional local news organizations, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, tend to focus coverage on citywide issues, often leaving locals without a good way to find consistent and in-depth coverage on things like neighborhood street closures, construction and services. Armed with data showing that Inquirer.com visitors from the Philly area are four times more likely to subscribe than those from outside the area, the Inquirer was interested in seeing if readers would value more hyperlocal information and if it would increase their likelihood to subscribe and read the Inquirer.

The first newsletter — The Hook — is a weekly newsletter for Fishtown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia. Before we launched we undertook the same series of steps we do for each experiment, which is a period of research and analysis followed by development and design. We started with a framework for choosing a neighborhood and then moved into interviewing residents about how they currently got news about the community and if they were satisfied. From there we gathered content sources and reached out to potential collaborators. Finally we applied our research and analysis to the design and development of the newsletter, and planned out how we would let residents know how to sign up. 

Here’s a look back at the work we did before it hit inboxes.


Continued Iteration: A step-by-step guide to using UX research for local news product development

By Faye Teng

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of posts outlining the Lenfest Lab’s step-by-step approach to UX research. through the lens of our project with The Philadelphia Inquirer testing scalable and reliable hyperlocal coverage. Other parts in the series are available here:

Step 1 | Explore: A step-by-step guide to using UX research for local news product development.

Step 2 | Evaluate: A step-by-step guide to using UX research for local news product development.

Step 3 | Iterate: A step-by-step guide to using UX research for local news product development.

Before a product launches, constant iteration is needed.

In a previous post about the iteration phase of the UX research process for our new product experiment with hyperlocal newsletters, we explained how we used a technique called card sorting to help us prioritize the content that would appear in our first neighborhood newsletter based on how important news items were to residents. The card sorting exercise took place in January 2020.

Fast forward to July 2020, just before we were set to launch our first newsletter, and we realized we needed to pause and iterate again in order to take two significant events into account — the COVID-19 outbreak and the onset of civil unrest in many cities after the killing of George Floyd. We wanted to find out if the community’s news and information needs and habits had changed and so we dusted off a previous feedback survey and redeployed it with some important new questions.


Register and apply for News Philanthropy Network trainings

We have a couple of deadlines coming up for News Philanthropy Network courses and workshops to support both first-time fundraisers and experienced development professionals.

• Next Tuesday, April 13, we’re hosting Fundraising Fundamentals, an introductory one-hour workshop for those who are new to philanthropy. The session is free and open to all. Learn more and register here.

• Next Monday, April 12, is the deadline to apply for Data Analysis for Fundraising, a two-hour workshop on how to best manage and utilize your donor database. The session is limited to 20 participants. You can learn more and apply here

• Our next Community Chat, a set of small unstructured group conversations, is on April 21 at 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. We’ll have discussions on what funders are looking for from grantees, fiscal sponsorships, impact tracking, and membership. Community Chats are open to all. Register here.

Applications and registrations are also open for a couple of additional courses, and further details are below: 

• Building a Major Gift Pipeline: A four-week course on how to build relationships and develop a pipeline of gift donors. Limited to 30 participants. 

• Mid-Level Fundraising Strategies: A one-hour workshop on how to create and grow a mid-level giving program. Open to all. 

As always, all are eligible to register or apply to the Network’s free programs, so please share with your colleagues.


How do you feel about your CMS?

Are you satisfied with your CMS? How often do you consider changing providers? What is your budget for your CMS (and related support)? What features do you value the most? Blue Engine Collaborative, a group of consultants and advisers with deep experience in driving digital audience growth and monetization, would like to hear your perspective on this critical piece of the “tech stack.” Please take this survey HERE, which will take ~5 minutes to complete. Responses will be kept anonymous and will not be published. Survey respondents will be entered into a random drawing to receive a $100 Amazon gift card.


That’s it for this week in Solution Set. We’ll be back in your inbox soon. Please send any questions, thoughts, or feedback to [email protected]

Thanks!

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