How independent outlets are building up their communities

News deserts leave people behind, but indie outlets are lifting them back up.

Many independent news outlets launched in response to their founder’s desire to better serve their community. Because news deserts leave people behind, independent outlets must find a way to lift up readers in a direct, responsible and relatable way.

For many publishers, creative reader engagement efforts help build trust through reporting initiatives that add value to the communities they serve. This week, we gathered a couple examples of active Indiegraf partner outlets that are empowering readers and using their platforms as a means for community building.

Meeting readers where they are | The Kansas City Defender

The Kansas City Defender covers news for a particularly underserved community: millennials and Gen Z in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Keeping that audience in mind, social media has been central to the outlet’s journalistic process since its start. 

And Instagram is much more than a marketing tool for sharing long-form stories, interviews and investigations, it is an open channel for The Defender’s readers — particularly students — to reach out and share their stories, raise alerts and demand accountability. The publication uses this platform to amplify the voices of Kansas City students and young residents as they report on instances of racism, harassment and abuse. 

Using social media to engage with their audience allows the outlet to switch the power dynamics at play in most media outlets, a stated goal of founder Ryan Sorrell upon recently receiving an Indie Capital grant: “A lot of people didn’t (and still don’t) understand how a real news platform can exist primarily on social media. They didn’t see the value in our influence and ability to communicate with Gen Z and capture a Black audience that has forever been neglected in mainstream media outlets.”

Covering the local basics | The Independent

What Odds At City Hall is a briefing series by The Independent that provides hyperlocal government reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador. In order to keep citizens informed about their local government’s decision-making process, the outlet regularly reports on what was discussed and decided at recent City Hall meetings. The reports include details of each agenda item covered at the meeting along with input shared by council members and attending citizens.

By simplifying the basics of their local government, The Independent gives some agency back to N&L readers, allowing them to stay informed on each decision made and propose follow-ups on local issues that may be at odds with the community.

Keeping transparent mid-reporting | Shasta Scout

Open Notebooks is an initiative by Shasta Scout that bets on a more open, vulnerable and relatable journalism. Through it, the Redding, California-based outlet shares its journalism process with readers: what motivates them to write, what questions they ask, what they learn in the process of digging into stories. They also include where they’re coming from, what paradigms are shaping their understanding.

“We want to be honest with our readers that, like everyone, we have a worldview, opinions and perspectives that influence our work. We also want to be clear that our personal perspectives won’t keep us from fairly and accurately reporting the news in a way you can trust,” says Shasta Scout about the initiative.

Open Notebooks rewards Shasta Scout’s supporting members by providing a behind-the-scenes peek while opening the space to provide feedback and converse with the journalists covering their local news. “We believe this kind of collaboration between reporters and readers leads to stronger journalism and a stronger democracy.”

Turning readers into writers | The Land and IndigiNews

To build new models for journalism, we need to change not only what stories get to be told but also who gets to tell them. That is why opening up the writer roster is a basic practice for many independent news outlets: it allows for a greater variety of opinions, voices and perspectives, and levels the playing field for representation. Some outlets, however, take it one step further by equipping citizens for storytelling. 

Wanting to “tap into the deep knowledge people already have about their own communities,” The Land offers a Community Journalism Course for Cleveland residents with a desire to write about their neighborhoods, civic issues, local politics and more. This capacity-building exercise intends to improve representation of Cleveland neighborhoods, as well as to encourage community involvement in their local news coverage. 

And as part of their efforts for decolonizing media, IndigiNews continually offers training on decolonial journalistic practices for journalists and citizens alike. The latest learning circle, for example, included training on land-connected storytelling and trauma-informed reporting.

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