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5 good news about current events


My great predecessor in this column, David Carr, wrote at a time when conventional wisdom was that the internet was destroying journalism.

But David’s eye was drawn to the interesting and the new, like Gawker and The Huffington Post or Twitter and WikiLeaks. Those of us working in the exciting new world of online journalism were delighted to receive the surly visitor with his head tilted as he discovered the exploding world of media.

It’s a very different time in the news business, with giant corporations like the New York Times leading a wave of consolidation and many start-ups Mr. Carr has long loved. All over the world, digital media that broke the status quo, from Manila to Moscow, are hanging on for life. And yet, in the United States, there is also a generation of businesses growing up in the cracks of the sidewalk, fueled by a new sense of mission in American journalism and the huge amounts of money, private and for purpose. non-profit, which circulate.

I wrote this column for a pretty dark year, and even before I started I had a long Google Docs full of story ideas. Now, after 16 months off and heading off for my first few weeks off, I realize that I made a mistake in revealing messy conflicts and damaging decisions. I’ve only occasionally highlighted people and companies doing really new and interesting things – but that you might not have heard of – in some of the more difficult areas of media: local news, journalism. investigation and even find common ground. This is, for me, an inspiring list and a suggestion that there is a lot of open space to fill.

Sarah Alvarez, a former reporter and public radio producer in Detroit, argues local news needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with simple text messages to residents telling them how to get help with their gas bills. The idea is compelling in theory, but it’s incredibly hard work. Until the pandemic, she Aberrant media was a bit of a curiosity in nonprofit media circles and she said she had resigned herself to finding a bigger organization to merge with.

But when the coronavirus hit, she, Outlier executive director Candice Fortman, and two other colleagues suddenly found themselves drowned in texts, responding directly to about 200 Detroit residents a day, on everything from unemployment benefits. vaccines. It’s not what most of us think of as journalism – Ms. Alvarez calls it “pre-news”. And her theory is that a new public medium – she has no interest in the for-profit media business – can restore trust and connection. She says it can go from a text service that tells you where to find government programs to a digital outlet that seeks to answer more important civic questions.

The idea is gaining ground. The non-profit media outlets of Media URL and The city in New York for The Oakland Side in Oakland, Calif., have also started to think about the “information needs” of residents. And Outlier has found big donors and taken small steps into the more traditional news business, acquiring a newsletter that covers development in Detroit called Excavation.

Outlier’s textual service still grows in the thousands, not millions, and the challenge for Ms. Alvarez’s theory is whether it can ever scale to reach a significant portion of a city’s inhabitants. She is optimistic. In one manifesto she wrote in March, she pleaded for “making sure the bottom of the pyramid is solid”.

Money men in the media sometimes complain about the high price of investigative journalism. But seen through another lens, it’s insanely inexpensive. Critics of American gun culture have spent decades and millions of dollars trying, unsuccessfully, to break the National Rifle Association’s grip on American politics.

Then a small investigative news agency that focuses on guns, The Trace, assigned a single reporter, Mike Spies, to the story. After years of reporting on the edges, he developed sources close to the organization who distanced him from his vitriolic politics and towards his accounting practices. Mr. Spies revealed, in a series of hit songs that The New Yorker posted with The Trace, that NRA executives had illegally earned millions of dollars through an unconventional relationship with his PR firm. He wasn’t the only reporter on the beat – The Wall Street Journal’s Marc Marremont and Danny Hakim of The Times also announced important and early news. But the small nonprofit has played a central role in the story.

“It’s a tough target, and being part of a small startup newsroom and trying to cover an organization like the NRA is tough,” said The Trace editor-in-chief Tali Woodward. “He just persevered.”

Reports by Mr Spies and others on allegations that the NRA abused its status as a nonprofit has sparked a lawsuit from the New York attorney general, which is essentially seeking to shut down the organization . The NRA recently asked a Texas judge for permission to file for bankruptcy and then move to Texas, although his request was denied. His downfall is testament to the power of focused and diligent investigative reporting.

The urgency of climate change and the new focus of large corporations on their marketing as forces of social good have produced a new industry of “carbon offsets”. The idea is that companies offset their greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting emissions elsewhere in the world.

The problem, journalists from Bloomberg Green found, was that many of these movements made no sense. There was no standard accounting for corporate claims on what reporters called “an ethereal token known as a carbon credit,” and no liability. This is how the financial information giant created a measure and began verifying claims from companies including BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase and Disney.

Bloomberg is a multibillion-dollar giant, not a small start-up, and this effort used the company’s well-developed muscles to analyze the data in order to put pressure on companies to live up to the challenge. their own claims. A particularly scathing investigation found that Nature Conservancy, the environmental partner of many leading companies, had sold hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon offsets that did next to nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

“Just like reporters ‘follow the money’, in the climate age we are going to ‘follow the shows’,” Bloomberg Green editor-in-chief Aaron Rutkoff said in an email. “Ultimately, corporate issuance reports will be as standard as earnings reports – and missing investor expectations will have the same kind of downside for CEOs.”

You’ve read a million articles about media ventures aimed at engaging young people and bringing people together across partisan lines. And if you’ve got a job like mine, you’ve cringed at reading well-meaning arguments on these topics – even though the most successful forms of media primarily divide Americans. When I first spoke to Jason Lee, the intensely serious founder of Jubilee Media, I had the same reaction – there’s no way you’re going viral on YouTube with all this empathy talk. and the crazy conversations between teenage mothers or between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the difference is that Jubilee works, with 6.5 million YouTube subscribers and 1.4 billion views, according to company figures. And he says about half of his audience is under 25. The company claims to have raised $ 2.25 million from investors, including the Korean conglomerate that produced “Parasite”; the co-founder of black millennial media site Blavity, Aaron Samuels; and NBA player Jeremy Lin.

Mr. Lee, who quit a management consulting job at Bain in 2012 to launch a predecessor to Jubilee, has a sort of Christianity-inflected business sense. He took the name of the business from the biblical jubilee, the year in which debts are canceled. The general approach reminds me a bit of right-wing fire-breathing video provider PragerU – but if you’re trying to fix America, don’t set it on fire.

“We’re not talking about the finer points of Pollyanna, but believe this generation of young people embody a perceptive optimism that we desperately need right now,” Lee told me in an email.

The deepest crisis in the country remains the accelerated collapse of local newspapers that covered the city council, for example, imperfectly holding the government to account even though the coverage was not always widely read. With newspaper advertising activities in ruins, there is no real path to rebuild their newsrooms in the digital age. And the real problem is the money. A generation of nonprofit newsrooms has begun to take over, often seeded by national organizations like the Knight Foundation with a keen interest in journalism.

But large national donors cannot – and probably should not – fund media everywhere. The good news is that the types of local philanthropists who donated to the opera or museums now see local journalism as a worthy cause in a path promoted by the American Journalism Project. In Wichita, Kansas, the Wichita Community Foundation is set to devote more than $ 1 million over three years to a new project called The Wichita Beacon (an outgrowth of The Kansas City Beacon), which is in the process of hiring. an editor. “It’s part of the evolution of journalism and if charitable support makes sense for opera, why wouldn’t it make sense for an informed community?” Asked Shelly Prichard, President and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation.

Another innovation in local media funding is underway in Colorado. There, recent Harvard Business School doctoral student Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro used a leveraged buyout – “the good guy, backed by foundations,” she said – to buy a chain of local newspapers whose the owner had put it up for sale. Ms Hansen Shapiro, chief executive and co-founder of the National Trust for Local News, then recruited a small Denver-based digital outlet, The Colorado Sun, to lead the news group, in a deal that will cede control. to The Sun as the debt is paid off.

The LBO, best known for its use by Wall Street raiders, in this case allows local foundations and institutional donors to guarantee loans to buy independent community newspapers. Ms. Shapiro has also started advocating for a “local information bond” that anyone can buy to help invest in their own local newspaper.

She said in an email that about $ 300 million “would be enough to keep nearly every independent community newspaper at risk” in the United States.

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