As the coronavirus ravages local journalism outlets across America — resulting in countless layoffs, furloughs and closures — it has laid bare how much we rely on local news to inform our lives. If national media is our window into the country, then local media is our window into community. More than that, local media is an integral part of every community.

That’s why our team at API has sent advisers into U.S.-based newsrooms, ranging from nonprofits and startups to legacy newspapers and public radio stations, to support their efforts to reach or maintain sustainability in the long term. Thanks to a 2017-19 grant from the Knight Foundation, our advisers consulted 23 outlets on challenges involving analytics, listening and community engagement, digital subscriptions, social strategy, newsletters, visual journalism and much more. The advisers were professional journalists, as well as folks working in the news media business more broadly.

Amy, our vice president and senior director, spearheaded this work. She created the infrastructure for API’s adviser initiative, collaborating closely with participating newsrooms to determine their needs and skill levels, then matching them with the appropriate adviser. This process was extensive, as we chose our advisers carefully after much consultation with the newsrooms.

As a result of these adviser engagements, news organizations were able to make changes critical to their sustainability, including launching a newsletter aimed at driving digital subscriptions, reaching more community members through social media, and introducing key listening and engagement strategies into their work. We wanted to showcase the outcomes of several of the adviser matches, to share a bit of what news organizations learned along the way.

Out of the 23 outlets, we are profiling three:

  • The Pilot, a 100-year-old biweekly community newspaper that covers Moore County, North Carolina
  • the Detroit Free Press, the largest daily newspaper covering Detroit, Michigan
  • Santa Cruz Local, a new local journalism platform that reports on public policy in Santa Cruz County, California.

Amy chose these three because they’re characteristic of media outlets across the country and the types of challenges they’re experiencing. The Pilot represents long-standing local, independent papers that have strong relationships with their communities but don’t have the modern infrastructure to support a digital strategy. The Free Press represents large metropolitan dailies looking to better serve communities they’ve historically overlooked or even harmed. Santa Cruz Local represents local digital startups that are taking fresh approaches to engaging their audience(s) but are limited in terms of staffing and resources. These case studies provide a wealth of insights that other outlets can apply to their own contexts and that will help our industry at large.

API’s consultations were largely in-person, during which advisers engaged with a newsroom leader or small teams. Leading up to the visits, advisers spent time preparing by understanding API’s desired outcomes and the participating outlets’ needs. Post-visit, the API team conducted exit interviews and surveys with both the newsrooms and advisers. Anita then conducted more in-depth interviews with the three featured outlets — The Pilot, the Free Press and Santa Cruz Local — about their experiences before writing the following profiles.

With our team’s expertise and proven success in identifying newsrooms’ needs and matching them with the most appropriate adviser, resulting in real outcomes, API’s next steps include seeking additional partners who value how this work leads to stronger local news and information. We are grateful for pilot support from the NC Local News Lab Fund to make similar adviser matches in North Carolina, where we have shifted to virtual advising engagements due to the coronavirus. We welcome opportunities for new partners and funding sources to help us provide more of these types of valuable consultations. We hope you’ll support our work. For more information, please contact Amy.

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