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Northwestern Project to Study What Local News Readers Want


The last six months have been challenging for local news outlets in Chicago. The hyperlocal news website DNAinfo shut down in November and Chicago Tribune reporters are currently locked in a fierce battle over unionization.

There might be a saving grace in all of this.

Last week, Northwestern University announced its Local News Initiative, which is headed by Tim Franklin, senior associate dean at the Medill School of Journalism. Three news organizations – the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Indianapolis Star – have partnered with Northwestern on the two-year endeavor, and each newsroom will serve as a testing ground. Faculty and students from Northwestern’s Knight Lab, Medill’s digital innovation lab, will interview people in each city about their needs and expectations surrounding local news.

The project is entirely funded by individual donors and grants. 

Franklin joined Medill last June and previously served as president of the Poynter Institute, the largest school in the world for professional journalists. He worked with local news organizations at Poynter and says he came to realize the crisis local news is in.

When he got to Medill, he took stock of the journalism school’s resources.

“I just said, holy cow, we can really have a true impact and R&D work that local news organizations just don’t have the bandwidth or resources to do,” Franklin said.

Other Northwestern institutions will have a part in the project too.

The Spiegel Research Center, the first ever research center at Medill, will examine data that used to exist in siloes: readership and financial information. By simultaneously analyzing this data, the center hopes to discover why people become digital news subscribers.

Northwestern will make the project’s findings openly available online.

But you don’t have to be part of a local news organization to take an interest in this news initiative.

“Local news is at the heart of our Democracy … what happens in our society if we have fewer journalists covering important issues in our communities?” Franklin said.

Franklin joins us in conversation.


Related stories:

Chicago Tribune Staffers Move to Unionize

How Some News Outlets Let Readers ‘Take Action’ With a Click

Virtual Reality and the Future of Journalism

DNAinfo Alumni to Launch New Hyperlocal Website