In tragedy, local journalism serves as an antidote to misinformation

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore this week simultaneously put a spotlight on two contradictory phenomena in today’s media environment: How local journalists rise to the occasion on a big story, and the flurry of misinformation surrounding the disaster.

The startup Baltimore Banner, less than two years old, is “absolutely knocking it out of the park,” The Atlantic’s deputy executive editor, Yoni Appelbaum, wrote on X. ProPublica journalist Alec MacGillis noted the Banner’s eight stories on its homepage. “Among many other local reporters rising to the moment,” he tweeted.

Washington Post reporter Scott Dance, meanwhile, called the work of the Baltimore Sun “tremendous, rising as always.

The importance of local — and fact-based — reporting was especially important given that people who spread misinformation tend to feed off breaking news events. The public is hungry for information and eager to click on things. With the bridge collapse, Wired reported, the online conspiracy theories were “out of control” — some falling back on the typical framing of just “asking questions.”

Axios, too, wrote about the misinformation surge surrounding the bridge collapse, noting that Americans’ low trust in media is contributing to an environment that allows falsehoods to proliferate.

News In Focus
Headlines, resources and events aligned with API’s four areas of focus.

Civic Discourse & Democracy

+ How Latinos became a key target for misinformation in the U.S. election (Reuters Institute)

U.S. Latinos, many who live in battleground states such as Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, are and have been a target for political mis- and disinformation campaigns. Gretel Kahn spoke with experts in fact-checking and misinformation to understand how false narratives are created, who spreads them and what to expect in 2024.

+ Asheville journalists seek to have trespassing convictions overturned (NC Newsline)

Two reporters for the Asheville Blade were arrested in 2021, and later convicted, for trespassing as they were covering a police breakup of protestors in a local park. In a brief recently filed with the state Court of Appeals, the director of Duke University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic called the convictions “a dangerous step toward the evisceration of freedom of the press in North Carolina.”

Culture & Inclusion

+ New from API: 5 tips for starting a mentorship program, from The Seattle Times

Newsroom mentorship programs can be an attractive strategy for local news organizations looking to increase staff engagement, support professional development and retain talented journalists. API’s Emily Ristow lays out five steps to getting it right. One of them: Make it fun!

+ Military Veterans in Journalism and the USA TODAY Network launch paid fellowships  (Military Veterans in Journalism)

The program offers four paid fellowships designed to employ more veterans as journalists within the national USA TODAY Network. The program is aimed at helping them grow their skills and connections.

Community Engagement & Trust

+ Every Voice, Every Vote initiative returns to Philly for another year with focus on solutions journalism and civic engagement (WHYY)

An initiative in which more than 50 news organizations joined with local groups to spotlight voices in the community is continuing this year with $2.85 million in grant money to support journalism and civic engagement in Philadelphia.

+ A tough season, but not a news apocalypse (Substack, Richard Tofel’s Second Rough Draft)

Dick Tofel hears talk of a news apocalypse and suggests putting it into perspective. One of his views is that news avoidance won’t last. “At some point, likely no later than next year, the news cycle will fundamentally shift, and I believe readers will re-engage,” he writes.

Revenue & Resilience

+ Local journalism is in the wrong business (Max Kabat, LinkedIn)

The Big Bend Sentinel in far-west Texas is a case study in how to build a news business that also supports its community, writes Max Kabat, the organization’s publisher and co-owner. The cafe/news approach rests on the idea that “people want to pay for the experience of being part of something,” he says.

+ The Atlantic tops 1 million subscriptions (Nieman Lab)

The Atlantic has surpassed one million paid subscriptions and is profitable, the company said. The success represents a turnaround from four years ago when the company had laid off 68 employees, writes Hanaa’ Tameez. “Profitability is also perilous in the media industry, and we are going to continue to be highly disciplined in how we run our operations,” said Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg and CEO Nicholas Thompson.

+ ICYMI: Marketing for local news

API’s senior communications manager Kamila Jambulatova this week wrapped up a four-part series on best practices and innovations in marketing your news organization and its journalism — from building out marketing and outreach plans to mapping your audience journey.

What else you need to know

Weekend reads