Service journalism from the INN Network

Originally posted on Medium

Over the past year, INN has watched as the independent and nonprofit news organizations in our network produce incredible service journalism for their audiences (readers, viewers and listeners).

What is service journalism, you might ask? We like this definition from Pete Pachal:

“Service journalism, of course, is a new term for an old idea: giving readers good, practical advice — what to buy, where to go, how to do a certain thing — to make their lives easier. While service journalism shares the same standards of truth and fact-finding as regular reporting, it requires a different approach. The biggest shift: The reporter’s lens moves from the subject to the reader.”

We all know how this past year unearthed several urgent needs for high-quality, practical information and advice. From navigating changing COVID public-health guidance to casting a vote in an election, INN member newsrooms rose to the occasion by providing actionable resources for their audiences.

Today INN released a new piece, Service journalism during a year of crisis: How INN members provide crucial information to communities. Here’s a brief summary of the newsrooms profiled in this piece, along with other examples from our members.

El Tímpano developed a community-driven reporting flow that goes beyond “information needs”, which involved launching a text-message reporting pilot that allows audiences to let them know when resources the organization has written about haven’t worked.

Wisconsin Watch and the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) are working with Outlier Media on a text-messaging initiative — dubbed News414 — to send Milwaukee residents useful information during the pandemic.

inewsource created a digestible election guide to help local voters cast their ballots by mail or in-person — in addition to how-to videos in English and Spanish for the mail and in-person voting options in English and Spanish.

Planet Detroit started a “Ask Planet Detroit” tool that invites readers to ask health and environment-related questions that the newsroom could then investigate.

CalMatters created an unemployment explainer that answers questions about how to apply for unemployment in California, how much it pays and how the pandemic has impacted government assistance programs, and a financial help explainer. Both resources are available in Spanish.

Block Club Chicago launched a hotline phone number and email address for their readers’ coronavirus questions. After a reader calls, texts or emails they are connected with a member of the Block Club team who helps track down an answer to the question. They offer this service in Spanish as well.

Sahan Journal created a COVID-19 vaccine video series, providing information on the vaccine in Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and English. The videos aim to make complex vaccine information more accessible for immigrant communities

The Texas Tribune launched a texting service for their readers to use to get updates on the February 2021 power outage and ensuing crisis. The texting service also allowed readers to text Texas Tribune their most urgent questions.

The City provided this explainer for tenants in New York City on what to do once the eviction moratorium pause ended in late February.

City Bureau produced this Chicago COVID Resource Finder, which curates resources for health care, legal help, money and food. The tracker is filterable by what is offered, who is eligible (immigrants, families, business owners), languages spoken and location.

Some similarities we notice across the examples above: experiments with platform and format (e.g., text-based services), new feedback loops with audiences, and considerations around the language in which resources should be provided. More importantly and consistently, these newsroom products are focused on serving audience needs.

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