By Frank Mungeam • LMA Chief Innovation Officer
Journalists take for granted that our work – holding the powerful accountable, giving voice to the voiceless – is a civic good that makes our communities better places to live. We tend to assume everyone else knows the value of this work, and how much of it we do.
A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that four in five Americans surveyed said it was important that journalists understand the history of their community, and that they be personally engaged in the community. Barely one in five respondents, however, had ever had contact with a local journalist. The irony is that while journalists generally do a great job telling the stories of others, we have, as an industry, done a poor job telling our own story of the value we add to our community.
The importance of documenting the ways our reporting strengthens community – an impact report – has emerged as one of the many lessons learned in LMA’s Lab for Journalism Funding. Potential funders want to see a track record of impact before they support future reporting efforts. So media companies need to be strategic about identifying the impacts and outcomes of their best journalism.
The Tampa Bay Times, one of the participants in the funding lab, recently published its 2020 Community Impact Report. The report includes key elements like the Times’ mission statement, its leadership team, and multiple case studies of outstanding local reporting and the impact on the community. The report concludes with information about the different options for supporting the publisher’s efforts. The Times report is a model other newsrooms would do well to emulate.
Annica Keeler, director of development and community relations, who was responsible for creating the Tampa Bay Times report, agreed to share the thinking behind the report, and the lessons they’ve learned, in this Q&A.
What’s the value, as you see it, of doing the Community Impact Report? Why is it ‘worth the time’?
The value in creating a community impact report is to demonstrate the impact of our journalism on the everyday lives of people in the community. The importance of journalism in a society is easier to reflect upon after the fact – if you will – once we’ve had an opportunity to witness the impact of the work, the positive changes in the lives of our neighbors. It gives us the chance to show people why local journalism matters and what their hard-earned dollars have done to make our neighborhoods stronger, healthier and safer. It’s an opportunity to connect with donors to also celebrate them without making an ask. The community impact report is really dedicated to the community. Think of it as a great big “thank you” hug.
What is the goal you’re hoping to accomplish by producing and sharing this?
Trust is the heart of any newsroom’s relationship with their community — readers, donors, business partners. In a time where trust is being eroded and journalism is under attack, where people are operating under the acceptance of disinformation and misinformation, the report gives us the opportunity to reveal our people and processes. This helps us to continue to earn the trust of the community. Trust is a necessary and important quality in the relationship our newsroom has with Tampa Bay.
Who are the audiences you hope to reach with the report?
It starts with the donors and funders who have supported our work. It’s also a terrific touchpoint for so many others who have a relationship with our news organization: our readers, advertisers, sponsors, people who attend our events or receive our emails. The impact of our newsroom belongs to Tampa Bay. Our hope is to share the report widely so that more people will identify value with our work.
What kinds of feedback have you received in response?
People are happy to see that their local news organization is operating with their best interest at heart. It has inspired existing donors to want to give recurring donations. It has connected our work as something worthy of supporting for a crop of new donors. And our advertisers, sponsors and corporate partners have expressed gratitude.
Any lessons to share with other publishers thinking about pursuing philanthropy as funding and considering doing an impact report?
The impact report belongs to the organization. It’s not often that newsrooms talk about themselves. The impact report gives the organization the opportunity to look collectively at what it meant to your community that you were there doing the work that year. Transparency, connection, and impact – the community will celebrate you when they see what you mean to them and the impact you made on the people and place.
Another amazing audience is your own staffers. Let’s face it — newsgathering is hard. In 2020, we asked our newsroom to put themselves in harm’s way to keep our community safe. Reporters went out to tell stories of the pandemic and of civil unrest. They’ve done so as many local news organizations were faced with difficult financial decisions. Simply put, the impact report is important for staffers to read, too. It helps them connect back to the importance of their work. It gives them something to show – to be proud of – to see their role in. It lifts spirits, builds morale, and gets our teams ready to keep doing this important work. Because our community is counting on us.