What local journalism does best: telling stories for the community, by the community

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Illustration by Greg Storey

The distrust in media and the biased perspectives found in stories are issues that likely won’t ever go away—or at least not overnight. A nonprofit news outlet called Canopy Atlanta is seeking to “super-charge what a really good reporter does.”

Local journalism is perhaps the most beneficial to a community as it revolves around their involvement, their needs and caters directly to them. 

It’s also one of the most under-funded sources of media.

Hanaa’ Tameez wrote about Canopy’s approach to journalism and their dissent with the city’s current media landscape. Via Nieman Lab:

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

The group thought local media wasn’t diverse enough and it wasn’t always responsive to the people it was supposed to serve, said Sonam Vashi, one of Canopy’s six co-founders and its operations director…‘A lot of us were reporters who felt like we were not doing what we came into this business to do,’ Vashi said. ‘Community engagement can still be like a checkbox for a lot of media outlets, rather than the framing through which we look at everything. The biggest difference with Canopy is that we’re participatory and collaborative with the people that we cover.’

Canopy has an innovative approach. Each of their issues focuses on a different community in Atlanta and takes a three-stage process to rally community involvement in the reporting of news.

  1. Canopy looks to the community on what stories to share, collecting ideas through phone calls, social media, conversation and other methods
  2. Cofounders and guest mentors involved with Canopy train a class of fellows over a six-week period to teach them “that anyone can be a journalist, and that their experiences are an asset, not a hindrance”
  3. When the stories are published they are also shared through live events, partnerships and printed materials

Currently, the nonprofit is funded through foundations, gifts, sponsorships and individual donations.

Imagine what an approach like this could do—what it could change—with more funding behind it.

It’s so valuable to have reporters in a community also be members of it. Don’t get me wrong, national news is valuable and important, but the stories told by those who represent the group they’re writing on cannot be replicated the same.

Vashi goes on to emphasize the importance of Canopy’s mission and writing for their community:

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

Our audience is really Metro Atlanta for the stories that we tell. In terms of the communities that we’re specifically training to access information to be journalists, we serve Black, brown, working class Atlanta or the specific community that we’re working in…Our theory about how you build trust in information is to help people access it on their own. 

Blogging has the ability to achieve this same goal. When legal bloggers adopt a niche—one they live and breathe and are more familiar with than just about anyone else—the stories and information that get produced are truly invaluable.

I’ve said this same sentiment before in another piece on the importance of storytelling but it bears repeating. The majority will always have a voice, but certain topics, groups and areas lack that same representation. When you’re a blogger, you have an opportunity to fill that empty role.

In many ways, legal blogging draws parallels to local journalism—especially when plaintiff-side lawyers step up to the plate. More on that from Colin O’Keefe. 

Michelle works on LexBlog’s Publishing team as the Editor and assists in managing and creating the company’s editorial and social content, as well as working with clients to ensure the overall success of their blogs. She has experience working in all different realms of publishing—including newspapers, magazines and research journals. 

Photo of Michelle Newblom
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