Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

After asking nearly 300 Delaware residents what they wanted and needed from their news, Allison Taylor Levine and her small but mighty team got to work, building the nonprofit, collaborative news organization, Spotlight Delaware, to improve the health of the news ecosystem in their state. 

“The environment, the industry for local news and information is so dramatically different today than it was 20 years ago,” says Taylor Levine, the CEO and co-founder of the Local Journalism Initiative, Spotlight Delaware’s parent organization. “The revenue streams for local news and information have been completely gutted and collapsed and turned upside down with the internet. Obviously, for a long time, we were talking about the death of local news. I think, within the past five years even, we’ve seen a real shift toward optimism. Folks are realizing and even embracing that this isn’t the death of local news; this is the evolution of local news.” 

At the heart of many models is a sense of collaboration, working together and finding better ways to utilize resources across newsrooms to provide a better, more useful and informative piece of journalistic work. 

In talking with Delaware residents, Taylor Levine was impressed by how often she was asked why journalists didn’t just work together.

“There are always a bunch of journalists covering the same story.,” she says. “What they’re really saying is collaboration. They want to know why you can’t play nice and do better serving the community. People said we get it, it costs money, journalists need to get paid, they need to eat too. Is there a nonprofit possibility out there? There is and that’s what we’re exploring right now.” 

Competition has its role in local news and community journalism, according to Taylor Levine.

“If there’s a shooting and 17 reporters go and cover that shooting live on the scene and then there’s no follow-up, no analysis of public policy, no analysis of things that led to that because we’re all on to the next juicy headline, that doesn’t fully serve the community either,” she says. “It’s the same with profitability and nonprofit. The model I’m building happens to be a nonprofit, but there’s room for both.” 

Spotlight Delaware is a collaboration between Taylor Levine’s team and the community. “They want more local news and information, specifically in three subject areas,” she says. “They want more government accountability reporting. They want more education reporting and, the one that kind of blew me away, they want more on land use, which to me sounded really boring but what they were getting at wasn’t go cover the planning and zoning commission, it was more what is the impact when our community allows a new 500 house development to be built?”

Taylor Levine finds this kind of focus and those types of questions inspiring and encouraging.

“It means people are looking for civic engagement opportunities. They’re looking to be part of the democracy,” she says. “I think that’s fabulous, that’s exciting. They’re feeling disempowered, so how can we provide people information that’s not advocating for a specific point of view, but it’s providing them with information about current issues so they can form their own opinions and giving them the tools so they know how to engage in democratic processes.” 

The collaborative spirit goes into the relationships Spotlight Delaware is building with the handful of newsrooms that have signed on as partners. There’s a monthly editorial meeting led by Spotlight’s editor in chief to discuss story ideas and ways to work together to share finalized pieces as well as resources. 

“A lot of these (partners) are smaller newsrooms that might only have one or two people in their newsroom. Maybe they’re hearing about a great story idea, or they know their community needs information about a specific issue, but they don’t have the capacity to do that. We talk in those editorial meetings about how we can work together.” 

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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