Better News is a project of the American Press Institute and the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a joint initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
It is designed to serve three purposes: (1) to collect, curate and operate as a central repository of best practices in the craft of journalism and the challenge of journalism sustainability; (2) to provide strategic guidance on the most important issues facing news organizations, particularly local, regional and metropolitan newspapers; and (3) to share important lessons from participants of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative.
There’s no shortage of reporting out there — much of it excellent — on the craft of journalism and the challenge of journalism sustainability. And you can learn a great deal from such reporting: Tips, tools, and tactics to make better products, grow audiences, generate revenue, or tell better stories. But there are two problems we hear from folks in the news business: (1) Unless you’re actively looking (and even if you are), great resources can be difficult to find. And more importantly (2) without strategic framework, these tips become noise — more things to try, more random and uncoordinated “stuff.”
The Local News Transformation Program was built on the concept of “table stakes” — a term derived from poker (that is, what is required to have a seat at the table). For local/regional/metro newspapers, or any legacy news organization, the question is: What do you have to do to survive and thrive — to “get in the game”?
Learn, Plan and Do
A key premise of the initiative is the distinction between vision, strategy, and tactics.
To visualize this we often use the metaphor of a “snowman.” Imagine the three balls of a snowman — the top ball is vision, the middle ball is strategy and the bottom ball is tactics. Tips, tools, and even “best practices” are tactics. Without the first aligning a vision and strategic approach, tactics are often fleeting or useless. So you’ll notice an organizing principle here on Better News is to organize the resources on a given topic by these three stages: Learn, Plan, and Do.
- The “Learn” section is a short primer. It’s a good idea to start here. These primers answer the basics: What do you need to know before moving forward? What are the big-picture issues to consider? Why does this topic matter? Think of this as the top of the snowman.
- The “Plan” section provides the middle of the snowman — that is, strategy advice or strategic decisions to make.
- The “Do” section is the bottom of the snowman. Tips, tactics, case studies. In each, we’ve tried to summarize the most important elements and what you might learn from them.
How to move forward
What you see today is a starting point for Better News. It will stay updated over time with new topics and fresh material. Each topic will be curated by an expert — adding new “do” resources and refreshing the “learn” and “plan” sections as the marketplace evolves, as new platforms emerge, as new research is released.
Remember, though: Nothing you read here beats the experience of doing it yourself and experimenting — in the context of your own organizational strategy.
People who confront serious change – which all local, regional and metro newspaper staffs are doing — must learn and practice new skills, attitudes and ways of working with colleagues. You will succeed only when you know why and how your effort and risk-taking matters. That means you need to connect the changes you’re considering to the overall direction of your organization. Absent that, you’ll spin your wheels. You’ll continue to read blog posts, go to conferences, and pick and choose tips but fail to make any sustainable difference. Focus on doing, but within a big-picture strategic context.
Our hope is that Better News answers many of your pressing questions in real time. But when it doesn’t, contact us. The team at the American Press Institute can connect you to experts who can give you a more personal coaching and guidance depending on your needs — a quick phone call, an in-person visit, or an elaborate consulting engagement.
And if something is missing – an important topic, a helpful resource, a replicable best practice – let us know.
Tom Huang is assistant managing editor for Journalism Initiatives at The Dallas Morning News and editing fellow at The Poynter Institute. At The News, he is leading an effort to develop funding for local news and community engagement projects. In 2013, he was a Sulzberger Fellow at Columbia University, where he studied executive leadership and journalism innovation. For the past 17 years, he has organized and taught Poynter seminars on reporting, writing, editing, ethics, diversity and leadership. He has worked at The News since 1993 as a reporter, features editor, Sunday & enterprise editor and assistant managing editor for features. He is a former president of the Society for Features Journalism and served on the governing board of the Asian American Journalists Association. He has successfully launched two Knight Foundation-funded projects – the Hispanic Families Network and Storytellers Without Borders, and is a co-organizer of the Dallas Festival of Books and Ideas. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and engineering.
Ashley Alvarado is director of community engagement at Southern California Public Radio (KPCC + LAist). She works to develop strategies and opportunities to engage new and existing audiences across platforms. She is focused on engagement and source development as a means to diversify the sourcing in news coverage and on shows, help enrich programming and grow audience. Among her efforts is the engagement-driven “Unheard LA” live storytelling series, leading human-centered design projects, and Feeding the Conversation, an ongoing series of engagement-sourcing gatherings that bring together members of the community with KPCC journalists around specific themes or coverage areas. She also serves as board president of Journalism That Matters.
P. Kim Bui is director of audience innovation at the Arizona Republic. She’s focused her career on leading real-time news initiatives and creating new storytelling forms for digital, print and broadcast companies catering to local, national and global audiences. Prior, she was editor-at-large for NowThis News, focusing on original, social reporting and breaking news. She was also deputy managing editor for reported.ly, a digital media startup specializing in social journalism. She’s been a speaker, trainer and teacher on digital and social journalism at universities, conferences and gatherings worldwide. She writes a syndicated newsletter for emerging leaders and managers, The Middles: http://themiddl.es.
Charo Henríquez is a digital journalist with two decades of experience working at the intersection of journalism and technology, as well as training and coaching journalists. She is an advocate for the inclusion of traditionally underrepresented people in media leadership. She leads the newsroom development and support team at The New York Times. Prior to joining the Times, Charo was the digital executive editor for People en Español at Time, Inc. Before that, she worked at GFR Media, in Puerto Rico, where she led digital product efforts as their innovation editor for their news platforms, El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora.
Lizzy Hazeltine has helped early-stage companies raise millions of dollars, launched an award-winning SaaS product, grown revenue and audiences in Southern non-profit and business media, and designed programs that teach others to do the same.
The following people have played a role in helping curate resources for Better News: Will Drabold, Corinne Chin, CJ Sinner, Sam Ford, Ann Grimes, Josh Hatch, and Tom Negrete.