The American Press Institute is continuing to help news organizations reimagine local opinion journalism to promote healthier civic discourse and to better understand its role in news business sustainability.
The landscape of local opinion is rapidly changing, with some large newspaper companies cutting resources and others ending long-standing practices like political endorsements in major races. Research, too, shows continued confusion among members of the public about what’s news and what’s opinion online, and the value of opinion sections staying local, which can even help slow polarization.
In 2019 API began convening opinion editors from across the country to explore the pressing challenges and opportunities for re-envisioning local opinion and commentary. To expand our thinking, we pulled insights from bridge-builders, civic groups and even psychologists to help opinion editors find new or refined approaches to their facilitation of a public forum.
In the four years since, promising experiments and insights have emerged. For example:
- The Coloradoan, supported by an API grant, began working with public deliberation experts at a local university to better steward its resources and facilitate discourse.
- The Tennessean, in connection to its Table Stakes work on managing change, started new newsletters and events to lift up Black and Latino “Tennessee Voices.”
- The Chattanooga Times Free Press, an API Metrics for News user, ran an experiment to publish only local editorials, and saw an increase in engagement.
- The Laconia Daily Sun gave its letter writers skills in conflict mediation to improve local discourse.
- The Desert Sun began receiving community donations to fund its opinion editor position.
But how do we build from here? Questions today include:
- How can opinion journalism effectively expand the range of voices it represents in traditional sections and other platforms?
- What can opinion editors and writers continue to learn from bridge-builders, civic groups and other experts outside of journalism about facilitating healthy civic discourse?
- In what ways can and should opinion and commentary drive revenue and business sustainability?
To gather and advance solutions, we will hold an API Local News Summit on Opinion, Civic Discourse and Sustainability on April 12-13 in Austin, Texas. This participatory gathering precedes the 24th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ 2023), which is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and where API Executive Director and CEO Michael D. Bolden will facilitate a session on the future of opinion journalism.
The API summit is invitation-based, but we are looking to grow the ranks of this movement. If you have ideas about or experience in how local opinion sections can build new products for diverse audiences, use community engagement to support civic discourse and expand its revenue opportunities, we’d like to hear from you. We are open to people with a range of responsibilities and titles from for-profit and nonprofit media of all platforms. Newspapers, independent online publishers, nonprofit news sites, public media, independent podcasters and YouTubers and others all have a stake in strengthening local opinion journalism and civic discourse for the sake of our democracy.
This is a call for people in journalism, but also outside of it. We’re grateful to have had involvement from leading nonprofits and others that help local communities facilitate or model conversation across our many lines of difference. Braver Angels, StoryCorps, More in Common, Coral by Vox and Cortico are all examples of groups involved in our convenings on this theme — and are a reminder that while journalism can lead in this regard, we are all in this together.
Request an invitation for the remaining spots at our summit via this form no later than Sunday, March 12, at 11:59 p.m. ET. API has limited travel funds to help offset costs of participation, and those invited may request up to $750 to cover travel and lodging.
In the coming months, expect more from API on this theme via our Need to Know newsletter.
Questions about participating in or supporting this work can be directed to me: Kevin Loker, director of strategic partnerships and research, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support from The New York Times, Boston Globe and other donors are helping make this event accessible to a wide range of participants. Attendance will be limited to approximately 60 people.