“Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

In 2023, I hope newsrooms understand why audiences are tuning us out and try to do something about it besides stoking another Trump bump.

Journalism today is still executed largely like the journalism of yesterday, from tone to format to process. News is defined by conflict, stories boiled down to two warring sides, presented by a distant, omniscient narrator in order of most important to least important information. The approach basically ends up telling readers: Everything sucks. Good luck to you.

It’s no wonder that news consumption is plummeting and users are left feeling confused or overwhelmed. There are better ways. I share two below from my experiences running Epicenter-NYC and URL Media — with a warning on why the problem stands to get even worse.

Who, what, when, where, why and one more question

You learned the five Ws in journalism school — the questions that every story must answer. At Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter launched to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic that has evolved into a multi-platform community media outlet, we ask one more of sources, whether they are in line at a food pantry or a multimillionaire entrepreneur on a panel: What do you need?

In turn, the stories we produce, whether in article or bullet form, a video or podcast or flyer, anticipate and preemptively address the concern of users and try to answer it: What can I do?

We don’t want you to feel helpless or depressed reading the news. These two fundamental tweaks to our reporting and editing process, searching for needs and offering actions, have made our work much more relevant, distinctive, personal and positive.

Stronger together

Journalists often compete with each other. But the last few years have seen a rise in cohorts, collaborations, and cooperation. Ever less-resourced newsrooms see the value of creating economies of scale. Already, there are many examples of this, including URL Media, the network we run of 16 high-performing Black and Brown media organizations. By sharing content, our newsrooms feel less small, sure, but we also embrace the overlaps of our audience. We know if you are a worker trying to navigate receiving unemployment benefits, you’re more likely to seek out multiple stories on the subject. In that particular scenario, after writing about the issue for each of their respective outlets, Epicenter-NYC’s reporter Andrea Pineda Salgado teamed up with Documented’s Rommel H. Ojeda to write a story based on workers’ WhatsApp messages to the latter. The collaboration was not rooted in anyone telling them to join forces but rather in the belief that their audiences could benefit from the others’ expertise, platform and distribution.

Our outlets are focused on service to our communities. And so collaboration feels less contrived than necessary. In the process of uplifting our audiences, we are uplifting each other. We feel so strongly about this that we built that mission into our name: URL stands for Uplift, Respect and Love. These actions inform every aspect of our company, and we believe they also send a signal to users on the role we hope to play in each other’s lives.

Going digital is not enough

The pace of change is faster than we can keep up with. I could have had a bot write this prediction (my lazy friend Bill Grueskin beat me to it). In the midst of AI, metaverses and 1,427 platforms claiming to be the next Twitter, legacy newsrooms are still trying to get staff to embrace being “digital first.” Mainstream media are ill prepared for what’s to come. I’ve staked my future on this: The sincere commitment to serve direct, defined audiences and the convening power of multi-platform networks acknowledging overlapping communities in order to achieve scale might give us at least a fighting chance.

S. Mitra Kalita is the co-founder and publisher of Epicenter-NYC and the co-founder and CEO of URL Media.

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