With tight budgets and newsrooms getting smaller, news coverage in communities suffers. That’s driving RJI Fellow Simon Galperin, founder and director of the Community Information Cooperative, to launch community information district campaigns during a 2018-19 RJI Fellowship. Info districts fund local news and information projects through an already existing news outlet or by launching separate civic dialogue projects, text messaging services or e-newsletters. The districts would be funded like other special service districts that provide fire protection, water, or sanitation services. Residents and businesses in a geographic area elect to each pay a small amount towards a public service. With everyone contributing, there could be enough funds to support effective local news providers.
During the project Galperin plans to publish info district dispatches (brief, public updates).
TL;DR Many local news deserts are “missing markets.” They have the resources to support local news and information production but lack the information, trust, and coordination to do so. Info districts provide all three to communities in order to create effective local news markets where there are none.
Info District dispatches are brief, public updates on community information districts, an initiative of The Community Information Cooperative. Also known as info districts, they are hyperlocal public funding mechanisms for local news and information. You can read more about them at infodistricts.org.
A University of North Carolina census of local news deserts puts the number of counties without a single local daily newspaper at 2,000. Digital outlets have emerged but face the same economic challenges as newspapers do. What local news communities do receive is sparse. A Duke University study found that only 17 percent of the local news a municipality received was about itself.
In many places, it’s not for want of a good local news source that this is the case. These local news deserts are missing markets, places where a lack of information, trust, and coordination keep a market from emerging and sustaining itself. It is a common occurrence with public goods.
In the case of missing local news markets, folks may not know how they’d benefit from better news; they may not trust each other enough to allay free rider concerns; and, even if they did, setting up a local news market requires upfront, well-intentioned financing, something few places can find.
Info districts aim to create conditions that jumpstart and maintain effective local news markets.
Info districts are set up by local stakeholders who understand the local news and civic engagement crisis and can communicate it to their neighbors. They use a participatory process that builds trust and involves their community in designing and implementing solutions to the crisis. And the public financing and accountability structure ensures that local news, information, and communication needs can begin being met swiftly and for the benefit of the public.
The Community Information Cooperative was launched thanks to the generosity of 63 backers on Kickstarter. It receives operating support from Reynolds Journalism Institute and pro bono legal support from Pro Bono Partnership. Learn more at infodistricts.org.