The Return to Local

A local focus can bring water to a news desert
By Kate Krosschell ,

A live storytelling event in New Orleans produced in conjunction with Localore.

Kate Krosschell is the marketing and communications manager at AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio. AIR commentaries are featured regularly at www.radioworld.com.

Radio stations in public and commercial media alike know the importance of place. Local journalists, radio hosts, and volunteers ground the station in their communities and bring their personalities and passions to the studio.

Yet if you subscribe to national journalism newsletters like Nieman Lab, American Press Institute, or Solution Set from the Lenfest Institute, you might see a different story. Your inbox is flooded with thought leadership — and some fretting — about how quickly audience interactions with news are changing, and how the consolidation of media is leading to local “news deserts.” Facebook algorithms fluctuate, the “pivot to video” seems doomed, and newspapers are urgently tinkering with their subscription models to stay in business. This onslaught of information comes as we simultaneously grapple with questions of “fake news” and trust in journalism. All the while, many local communities find themselves sparsely represented on the national map. You may find yourself wondering, as I have: Where do we go from here?

Public media may hold some answers, thanks to experimentation and innovation in community-driven storytelling. ProPublica’s engagement team, for example, taps audiences through crowdsourcing to uncover groundbreaking stories. Hearken helps newsrooms source questions directly from their audiences for people-powered journalism.

Even more powerful, though, is the push towards local storytelling. AIR (The Association of Independents in Radio), where I work, has been championing the power of local for almost a decade with its national talent incubator and media series, Localore. By embedding independent journalists at radio and television stations for up to a year, Localore productions cultivate an ethos of “repose” — of reporters entering spaces and underrepresented communities as people first, without recorders or cameras — to connect and enable them to tell their own, more authentic stories away from the frantic, “if it bleeds, it leads” 24-hour news cycle.

This model, we’ve found, is starting to take hold. “Report For America,” from Groundtruth and Google News Labs, will train emerging journalists for civically important journalism in local newsrooms. ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network will bring investigative journalism to communities with fewer than one million people. As we see these waves fan out to more and more journalism outlets, I feel encouraged that more Americans in communities nationwide will finally see and hear themselves represented in the news, and thus feel the effects of the true mandate of public media: to serve all the people of the United States.

AIR is continuing to iterate with local storytelling in the live, physical space of community, as close as our backyards. Localore has given independent talent the tools to head to the “far corners” of America, where people tell their own stories for public radio; now we’re spreading those tools far and wide in the pursuit of community engagement through live events centered around places where people naturally gather. To do this, we’re on the hunt for talented independent producers to share ideas. Want to learn more and be a part of the initiative? Sign up to learn more here.