Illustration of four people holding up large jigsaw puzzle pieces to form a sign tht says "San Fernando Valley High School Sports News."

Illustration: Arjuna Soriano

Rebuilding local sports journalism by partnering with community members

The hidden cost of the pandemic on small local news outlets

In March 2020, sports at all levels ceased. And while much has been written on how the pandemic shut downs affected professional leagues and participants, the fallout for local journalism has yet to be explored thoroughly.

For many legacy outlets, high school sports coverage consistently garnered both high engagement and readership. This is no surprise as high school sports are a community institution with a passionate built-in audience. Despite the lack of sports to cover, audience numbers spiked during the pandemic with worried community members looking for reliable information on COVID-19. We are now well past the pandemic surge in audience and outlets need to find more ways to engage with their audience.

A second problem is a lack of resources to rebuild or expand coverage. Small news organizations often don’t have dedicated sports reporters they can send to games. My organization, Media in Color, was formed to help sustain outlets after discovering that advertising dollars for local ethnic media evaporated at the beginning of the pandemic. Local sports coverage represents a revenue-generating opportunity as local businesses have historically supported local sports coverage.

A technical solution

Mainstream efforts to fill this gap have focused largely on technical solutions, such as AI. This shouldn’t be surprising as the AP has successfully incorporated AI into its sports and quarterly earning coverage for almost a decade and there are many other examples.

A community-based alternative

While automated summaries are in themselves not inherently a bad idea, they are not a stand-alone solution and miss the opportunity to more deeply engage with our communities.

We are partnering with the San Fernando Valley Sun and Calo News to test a pilot program in the upcoming year. We are partnering with invested community members to engage them in the reporting process to cover local high school sports. This pilot project is focusing on fall sports that don’t typically get a lot of coverage.

We are currently building a network of athletic directors, coaches, parents, and high school journalism programs. From within this network, we are identifying individuals that will be trained to report on game scores and provide photos and/or descriptions of the games they attend. 

The main hub for the project is Airtable. This will store contact information for our network, team information, and team schedules. Once the season has started, Airtable’s integration with Twilio will allow us to text reminders and links to google forms making it easy for participants to report the scores of the game and upload media to send back to us. These forms are linked to WordPress and automatically generate draft posts to be reviewed by editors or reporters before publishing.

Next steps

Fall season is upon us and we are busy getting our network in place and training participants. We are using this training process to test and work out the kinks in our workflow and tools. This is an exciting month and we will be able to talk about the first few weeks of the program in action in the next article.

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