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The 10 most popular Better News case studies of 2022

Here are 10 ideas to steal and adapt: From audience-focused initiatives to changing internal systems, these original case studies are the most-viewed in 2022 on BetterNews.org.

In 2022, Better News featured lessons and successes from local new organizations growing audiences and revenue, deepening engagement with their communities and driving sustainability. These case studies, written by alumni of the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program, are helping accelerate the work of journalists and news organizations across the industry. The case studies featured on this list are our top 10 most-viewed stories in 2022.

In a special year-end episode, Better News podcast host Michael O’Connell talked to Kamaria Roberts, the deputy director of local news transformation at the American Press Institute, about her 2022 highlights. Listen to the podcast here.

1. How the Arizona Daily Star created a solutions beat to build reader engagement and better serve its community

In response to community members perceiving their hard-hitting investigative coverage as too negative, the Arizona Daily Star embraced solutions journalism, which focuses not just on the problem, but also on how others have solved it. Caitlin Schmidt, the Star’s solutions reporter and newsroom people and culture coordinator, learned about solutions reporting in 2018 at a newsroom training with the Solutions Journalism Network and later made the case for the beat to be a mainstay at the Star. She coaches her colleagues to find solutions on their beats, too.

2. How local Gannett sites embraced a whole-community approach to public safety stories

Traditional crime stories have a history of harming the very communities they’re intended to serve. Gannett recognized this in its own local newsrooms and developed a public safety mission statement that shared its commitment to rebuilding trust in marginalized communities they’d long underserved or harmed. In 2021, they provided their journalists across the organization with training on how to be less reactive and more community-based when covering public safety issues. The transition has proven to be a big driver in subscriptions.

3. How a 1-pound bag of coffee helped the Keene Sentinel reduce its digital subscriber churn

As The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire began to focus on growing reader revenue and engaging new audiences, it had to think of new ways to grow digital subscriptions. The Sentinel partnered with local businesses, offering readers subscription deals bundled with local products such as olive oils and coffee. Not only did the effort grow subscriptions, the company also saw some of its lowest numbers of subscriber churn.

4. How The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reaching Black audiences through its Unapologetically ATL newsletter

When the team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution realized its coverage didn’t include a lot of offerings specific to Black readers, they wanted to fix that. Their solution: the Unapologetically ATL newsletter. The low-link weekly newsletter covers Black culture, news and trends in the metro Atlanta area. By collaborating with local talent and influencers, covering topics that resonate with Atlanta’s Black community and working across teams in the newsroom, Unapologetically ATL is now one of the AJC’s top performing newsletters and its signups are responsible for about 30% of all new AJC.com users.

5. How Gannett’s Knoxville News Sentinel got a wakeup call and shifted its coverage for Black communities

For generations, the Knoxville News Sentinel had obscured the experiences of the Black community, distorting and misreporting their accomplishments and challenges. A phone call from state Rep. Sam McKenzie, whose district includes parts of Knoxville, was the final straw to make the newsroom realize it needed to change — urgently. With a focus on broadening its sourcing and creating a digital advisory group to help shape its reporting and hold itself accountable, the newsroom is slowly but surely rebuilding its relationships in the Black community.

6. How The Oklahoman changed its newsroom’s mindset to focus on digital growth

Before The Oklahoman could engage with new residents through its digital platforms, it needed change within; the newsroom workflows and mindsets were still print-centric. Business editor David Dishman showed reporters the importance of having their stories perform well online and how to track their own success using tools like Parse.ly. Aligning content with audience interests and using positive reinforcement resulted in reporters successfully learning new digital habits and letting go of old ones.

7. Protect your staff from online abuse with a formal policy and a response plan

In online spaces, women journalists and journalists of color face harassment and abuse more than their white and male counterparts. After several incidents, the team at The Seattle Times decided it needed to provide staff with better online security training. That included creating a formal policy and response plan for online abuse. The team worked closely with digital security trainers from the International Women’s Media Foundation to ensure they created a detailed plan that would work for their newsroom. They also created a system to file incidents of abuse so that repeat offenders could be easily identified.

8. How 100 Days in Appalachia seeks sustainability while staying true to its mission

When working to become a self-sustaining news organization, 100 Days in Appalachia realized it needed to become a revenue-generating organization. Using data and its mission to prioritize how the newsroom spent its time and what it published ended up being the key to success. This precision in determining its identity helped 100 Days find stories that it knew would resonate with its community and drive and grow its audience. With data collection, the team learned that original content had higher engagement than republished content when it came to loyalty and sustainability.

9. How the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel focused on prioritizing with a “Stop Doing” list

Though this piece was first published in 2018, its advice still resonates with news organizations today and remains the most-read piece of Better News content. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wanted to solve the capacity issue that holds so many organizations back. To get started, a team created a list of newsroom activities that didn’t contribute to its audience-centric strategy. Having a list was key — it helped them remember their commitment, track progress and celebrate wins. Reviewing the list on a consistent basis was a must, too.

10. How a Southern California Public Radio task force drove systemic change in diversity, equity and inclusion

To assess where the organization was in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, Southern California Public Radio formed an internal task force to identify opportunities for change. The team used performance-driven change tools developed by Douglas K. Smith to decide on actions that would lead to meaningful change. By reflecting a range of experiences at the organization, the team was able to make recommendations to executive leadership to move the organization forward.