Q&A: Gabe Schneider on collaborating with Los Angeles communities to improve civic media
Gabe Schneider is the editorial director for LA Public Press, a nonprofit journalism organization in Los Angeles.
Schneider has worked for several news nonprofits, including in a collaborations manager role. When LA Public Press launched in 2022, he jumped at the opportunity to help build a new publication in his hometown.
We caught up with Schneider to hear about LA Public Press is working to make an impact by collaborating with communities across LA.
WF: How did you get involved in journalism?
GS: I got my start in college at UC San Diego. I wanted to apply for the student paper, but I thought it did a bad job covering a campus that looked like ours, and a campus that spent hundreds of millions of dollars. I ended up starting a blog with a couple of folks covering the campus, focusing on topics like student fee spending, and how one of the student councils spent $30,000 of student fees on a plaque without telling students. It rapidly evolved into a student paper called The Triton with about 40 people by the time I left, kind of rivaling the original campus paper.
What clicked for me was watching students print out our articles about spending and bring them to campus town halls. Administrators would say something and students would respond, backing it up with an article from The Triton, proving what they were saying was wrong. Our campus had a reputation that students weren’t politically active or engaged, but I think the actual problem was that students lacked information on how to make their campus better. For me, working on the student newspaper proved that, and I’ve carried that lesson with me.
WF: You’ve held a few different roles at nonprofit journalism outlets, including as a collaborations manger. What made you interested in those positions and how did you learn about collaboration?
GS: I think how I got to collaborative journalism was just being fascinated with nonprofit news. Being in college in San Diego, I followed Voices of San Diego for a long time. I worked at MinnPost and Texas Tribune early in my career. Over the years, I’ve grown a lot of respect for people that are challenging the traditional newsroom model itself and are building the field of civic media. Examples like Documented in New York, El Tímpano in Oakland, Outlier Media in Detroit — it’s really cool to be existing in the field at this time and I draw a lot of inspiration from those folks. I did also end up being the collaborations manager at Grist and started to pick up a lot more direct experience from that point.
But even before that, I was the assistant managing editor at Votebeat and a huge part of my job was managing the distribution and collaboration with other newsrooms. That experience prepared me for working at Grist. I think it’s a really interesting place to be in a national newsroom focused on climate, as there are a ton of opportunities to partner with other newsrooms and experiment. One inspiration I think about a lot is Adam Mahoney, who was at Grist and is a fantastic reporter at Capital B now — he did a piece looking at Wilmington in the South Bay of Los Angeles and interviewed residents about environmental justice and public health concerns, using postcards as an additional survey device. That type of reporting especially inspired me in the role.
I had also interacted with Rachel Glickhouse, who now has my old job at Grist. In college, our newspaper joined the Documenting Hate collaboration at ProPublica, which Rachel was managing, and I learned from her and those experiences. Looking at contemporary examples of what newsrooms are doing, as well as a ton of guides and resources from places like the Center for Cooperative Media, was how I really learned about collaborations.
WF: What made you want to work at LA Public Press and how do you approach collaboration there?
GS: A dream of mine has always been to work in my hometown on a news outlet, and do it differently. LA Public Press was a very unique opportunity. It’s especially cool to be in a nonprofit newsroom in LA, as there aren’t very many. For a county of 10 million people, there just really aren’t enough newsrooms. I can appreciate the focus on the Midwest and East Coast, but when it comes to the West Coast, I really think that foundations and major donors have not invested the resources that need to be in places like Los Angeles county.
With LA Public Press, we are coming to things with explicit values. We believe that everybody should have access to clean water and housing. And we are also trying to center folks that are most impacted by policy. When you say those things, it might sound obvious. But I don’t really think there are many newsrooms that are comfortable saying those things, which I find strange and counterintuitive. That’s brought a certain kind of order to us, and all of our reporters are doing excellent work covering the abuse that renters face in LA county, and how we cover unhoused folks and center their experiences.
We’ve started with a lot of investment and collaborating with community. One of the projects that our audience director Mariah Castañeda has been working on is a renter zine that is going to be distributed around groups through LA county and handed out to renters, so that they can understand what they should be doing if they’re in a bad situation with their landlord. Mariah has also gone to a ton of events in Southeast LA, interviewing folks and talking to them about what news they want to see. Our editorial coverage will be driven through that type of engagement, and we’ve learned that folks want more news about housing and renters, so that’s what we’re doing. Growing up in LA county, I don’t remember newsrooms asking me what to cover, or really even covering my experiences at all.
WF: What types of collaborations would you like to pursue as LA Public Press continues to grow?
GS: I think there are a lot of misconceptions about LA that I would love to see national publications partner with us on. But we are fairly new, so we haven’t really done that yet. I’m really interested in collaborating with other issue-area focused newsrooms, like The Appeal or Grist. I’d love to have a reporter from our newsroom collaborate with issue area experts there to really drive some local city-level or county-level changes. Outside of that, we’re interested in experimenting with new modes of directly communicating with audiences, whether it’s text messages or direct mail.
We’re also experimenting with audio, and we have our podcast Smogland Radio that we’re developing with our audio director Carla Green. We have a correspondents program where we are paying folks to talk about their experiences. A lot of it is centered around unhoused folks talking about their experiences on the podcast — not through the filter or prism of us saying we know how to tell your story, but just tell us your story and we’ll put it on the air. We’ve done a lot of our audience interviews in Spanish and English. What we’d like to do with more investment is taking a look at how we can incorporate Korean communities, Chinese communities, Armenian communities, and more. LA has a huge number of communities that are left undercovered in mainstream media but might have historic ethnic media that is underfunded and kind of strapped. There are a lot of opportunities for collaboration there, too.
There needs to be more investment in all of our newsrooms and there needs to be more newsrooms. I don’t think that LA Public Press can fill this need alone and I really don’t see the investment that needs to exist given the 10 million people that live in LA county. We have 88 cities in LA county — it’s not just LA city — and I would say most of them are extremely undercovered. There are a lot of local funders that have been focused on the arts or environmental justice, and what I’d love to see in the future is local funders investing in more journalism. And I think national funders need to take LA seriously. It’s diverse and it’s complicated, but more money will make a significant difference.
WF: Why do you think collaboration is important in journalism?
GS: Assuming that you can do things singularly and by yourself is a huge mistake. Reporters don’t know everything, and often, they don’t know more than a community knows about their own community. Ideally, the reporters we have are from that community. But still, people are bringing a wealth of expertise to things and any way that we can collaborate with communities about stories that are relevant to them makes the most sense. When we are talking about a national level, sharing methods of collaboration and collaborating together pushes us forward to having a better civic media. I think a lot of the older structures of journalism are quite harmful and toxic, and the more that we can get together, work on projects, and push boundaries towards coverage that is actually equitable and representative, the better job we are doing.
Will Fischer is a journalist covering the intersection of technology and media. He’s worked for Business Insider and New York magazine and conducted local news research for City Bureau. Follow Will on Twitter @willfisch15 or email him at email@example.com.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.