Sustaining journalism, engaging citizens

With local journalism in crisis, Northwestern University has assembled a team of experts in digital innovation, audience understanding and business strategy. The goal: reinvent the relationship between news organizations and audiences to elevate enterprises that empower citizens.

Local news is critical to our self-governed democracy

Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean, Medill

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The Problem

Changing business models and shrinking coverage

  • Local news coverage across America is shrinking.

    Without robust local news, citizens will not have the information they need for their everyday lives about their community’s government institutions, schools, businesses and neighbors.

  • The business model that has supported local news reporting in cities across the United States has been greatly disrupted.

    Steep revenue losses have led to cuts that hinder local news outlets’ ability to provide information about local government, civic institutions, businesses, schools and residents. Northwestern and Medill are uniquely positioned for this project because of our nationally recognized, leading-edge data mining, research and development expertise.

  • The crisis in journalism has turned into a crisis of democracy... The reporter shortage means residents don’t have the information to make decisions for their families or to hold institutions accountable.

    Steve Waldman, President, Report for America

The Plan

Understanding audiences and exploring new approaches

Roadmap timeline

Medill’s Spiegel Research Center (SRC), a leader in consumer and audience-based research that drives financial outcomes, will analyze anonymous data about readers and their engagement with news content and media services at the three Learning Labs. For example, faculty and student researchers from SRC will help identify which behaviors—reading particular types of articles, purchasing a digital subscription, clicking on an advertisement, or calling a customer service center—lead to certain financial outcomes for the media outlets. They also will study behavior across different devices and media platforms.

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The Northwestern Knight Lab, a leader in developing digital storytelling tools and platforms, will conduct additional human-centered design research through interviewing residents in the local markets about their news needs and expectations. The Knight Lab faculty and students also will research news consumption data of all local news outlets in the Chicago, San Francisco and Indianapolis markets.

Using the research conducted this year by SRC and Knight Lab, the product development and experimentation phase will begin in early 2019. The Knight Lab team will work with the Learning Lab partners to create new products, tools and approaches that are designed to improve reader engagement, bolster financial sustainability and better inform citizens—all based on the research findings.

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The People

The Local News Initiative is led by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Medill, a leader in education since 1921, is conducting groundbreaking research and training a new generation of multimedia journalists and marketing professionals to thrive in an increasingly challenging atmosphere.

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