Story Exchange and new models for local news

The latest report from the FCC on The Information Needs of Local Communities paints a grim picture about the state of local news.

Local TV news is pretty thin and getting thinner. And while there is some praise for the ambition of local public radio, the report makes clear that resources don’t match the vision.

PRX, with the help of the Knight News Challenge, is stepping in to do its part to change the situation.

We have partnered with Spot.us, a real pioneer in the area of crowd funding, and Louisville Public Media, to launch Story Exchange.

This modest idea shows some early promise:

What if local public radio stations with loyal news audiences were able to pitch ambitious story and project ideas directly to listeners? Say a station wanted to propose a documentary, or a series about a pollution issue; maybe a special and a talk show about an area of education reform.

But, money was the barrier: Not enough staff to fill in on a long project, no money for a researcher to do necessary leg work, or simply no staff reporter capable of doing the production?

Story Exchange helps solve the problem. Here’s how:

  • The station creates a series of story pitches and makes them directly to the audience. And each pitch has a modest price attached to complete the assignment.
  • Those pitches appear on the station website, and they get promoted on air, in emails to listeners and on the local talk show.
  • The station website is a doorway for listeners to pledge micro-amounts ($5, $10 at a time, for example).
  • Once the goal is reached, the money goes to the station.
  • And, the station completes the project and makes it available on the web.

Who benefits?

  • Listeners do – the ones who showed interest in that area of coverage get to directly support and hear the impact of their commitment.
  • The station does – it gets the nominal additional resources to do something it might otherwise not be able to accomplish
  • The community does – communities of interest act individually to show their support for a KEY station activity. If the journalism is good, everyone benefits.
  • And this sometimes ethereal notion of engagement becomes tangible.

Does it work?

Yes. PRX watched Spot.us for some time and saw that freelance print reporters and some small public stations were able to raise money for local reporting.

We figured, let’s turn loose the power of stations as centers of local journalism and give listeners the incentives to easily make a difference by supporting stories and issues they cared about.

Station editors and managers are always in control of the pitches and which stories are completed. Best of all, the donors are identified and their contributions small enough that no one person has the power to influence coverage.

And, it IS working in our first test market of Louisville.

Within a few days of posting the pitch for coverage about the health risks of coal dust exposure, enough listeners pledged a total of $250 to get that series completed.

There are more pitches out there from Louisville Public Media on a bridge controversy, school management problems and more.

PRX is looking for more stations that want to engage in this experiment.

What’s it take?

  • A commitment by the station to local programming and promotion.
  • An engaged audience.
  • A strong news department with fresh ideas.
  • A willingness to talk about the pitches, how the process works, and why this project is important for local journalism.

Interested?

Contact John Barth at john – at – prx – dot – org and we can help you get started.

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