New York City News Corps

A proposal for a local news wire

In mid-September of 2017, Google News Lab and the The GroundTruth Project announced a new project, Report for America, “that aims to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms in the next five years.” The announcement, reported for Poynter by Kristen Hare, mentions nationally and internationally focused service organizations like the Peace Corps, Americorps and Teach for America as influences on the project.

Report for America’s goal of “developing and sustaining a new wave of journalists to serve local news organizations in under-covered corners of America” deserves support and encouragement. How could we learn from and adapt this kind of program on a citywide level?

This year, in CUNY J-School’s Social Journalism program I’ve been studying New York City’s local news landscape. Through the help of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media I’ve attended workshops, panels and awards shows designed to serve the needs of local publishers in New York. New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, is served by hundreds of local news organizations. 37% of New Yorkers are foreign born and rely on local news organizations (radio, television, print and digital) published in over 30 languages. These local papers are not immune from the fiscal and staffing challenges faced by local papers nationwide.

My proposal: A local news wire

New York City News Corps

The New York City news corps will be a citywide collaborative of reporters and citizen journalists. Reporters at local publications are stretched thin. Many are also publishers, editors, ad sales teams and translators.

A local news corps would be comprised of paid reporters and citizens interested in documenting local events and civic meetings. Smartphones and social media enable anyone to become a watchdog for local issues. Businesses like Storyful and Fresco News are built around connecting videos and photos shared socially with news organizations worldwide. A locally focused program would train aspiring journalists to document, bringing transparency and trust to the news-gathering process

Interested local news organizations would pay a membership fee to use the service. There would be membership levels to participate in public events, discussions and screenings. Local businesses could be brought in to advertise, knowing that their message would get to people who live and shop in their community. I can imagine a news translation service where bilingual community members could get paid to use tools like Meedan’s Bridge to help news organizations provide information to community members previously separated by language. Geolocation news tools like Stephen Jefferson’s Bloom can help readers and news organizations connect efficiently to information that they need.

I wrote previously about the Johari Window (the known knowns, the unknown unknowns, etc). This participatory journalism project will help community members share what they know and will make it easier for publishers to recognize gaps in understanding and information.

New York has an abundance of journalism schools and community media centers that would be natural initial partners for a project like this. The News Inequality Project has already begun constructing maps of the news deserts in New York (areas with limited coverage, or where stories focus on specific topics, crime for example, at the expense of information about other subjects). That information will help determine areas where services like this would be especially helpful. In a separate project (that I’ll be detailing in an upcoming post) I’m going to describe a project with The Mott Haven Herald that will serve as an test of some of these ideas.

Coordination will be a major complication especially as the project grows. Some solutions may be more technical in nature (collaborative journalism tools like Meedan’s Check for example) and others will need to be improvised.

Next steps for the project will be setting up some initial trainings for interested community members and to start compiling lists of meetings and events that could benefit from coverage in neighborhoods where community reporters could go.

This project is by no means an original idea. Huge inspiration comes from City Bureau, the Listening Post Collective and Vermont’s Front Porch Forum. If this sounds like an idea you would want to be a part of, please reach out and let’s build something great together for New Yorkers.