The business of community

Lessons from the 2024 Local News Summit

By Jim Friedlich and Vivian Schiller

April 23, 2024

Journalists like Fernando Soto are taking a community-driven approach to news, which often goes beyond traditional reporting to help connect community members with information and resources they need to thrive. 

Soto is the editor-in-chief of Pasa La Voz Noticias, a Spanish-language news outlet serving Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., and on a recent weekend, he was at home when he received a call from a mother who recently immigrated to South Carolina from Venezuela with her two young children and had nowhere to stay. 

Even though he was off-duty, he jumped into action, finding the family a place to stay and connecting them with local service organizations. 

“We’re educating immigrants about how life in America works,” Soto said at the 2024 Local News Summit hosted by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Aspen Digital. He added that community engagement is an essential part of the outlet’s work, and why he decided to found Nuestro Estado, which merged with Pasa La Voz Noticias last year. “People didn’t understand our community. I wanted everyone to feel like it was home,” he said. 

S. Mitra Kalita, the founder of URL Media and Epicenter NYC, shared a poignant reminder that news organizations don’t exist in a vacuum. 

“News deserts are also food, transit, and broadband deserts. Does the need for news outweigh those other concerns? We need to make a crucial transition from news to community,” she said. “It’s not just a media ecosystem.”

Here are some additional ways outlets are centering community in their revenue and audience strategies: 

  • Reconsider what “advocacy” means. Some asked why we consider it journalism when The Wall Street Journal publishes a story on how to avoid capital gains taxes, but it’s advocacy when a local outlet helps individuals access social services. Publications should think of themselves in service of community. 
  • By positioning themselves as “community institutions,” news organizations may open themselves up to government funding opportunities for initiatives that support broadband access and digital literacy. These are strategies that can boost revenue while still respecting editorial independence. 
  • News organizations exist in an ecosystem with other local businesses. Publishers should think about how they can create uplift with other enterprises and connect with other arts organizations, museums, and others. “Think about how the whole organization can row in the same direction in service of community ecosystems,” Kalita said. 
  • Max Kabat, the owner of the Big Bend Sentinel in Marfa, Texas, said local news organizations should be in the “business of community.” The Sentinel built a coffee shop and event space to deepen its relationship with its community. “Coffee is a daily habit, which is important when you’re only publishing a weekly newspaper,” he said. “We need revenue streams that support daily interactions.”

Local News Solutions

The Lenfest Institute provides free tools and resources for local journalism leaders to develop sustainable strategies to serve their communities.

Find Your News Solution
news solution pattern