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Feeding 'Fred' the News

As we reached the one-year mark of the pandemic shutdown in the United States, you probably read many pieces that looked back over the past year. From the tragic loss of loved ones to empty shelves at grocery stores to a completely new way of living our lives, COVID-19 impacted everything.

Brian Wilson, news editor of The Star News in Medford, Wisconsin, has been documenting this tumultuous last year in the pages of the weekly publication in a unique way.  I’ll let him explain:

“Last spring when the pandemic hit, I started writing columns as letters to a future reporter named ‘Fred’ (after Fred Rogers, because the world needs hope) with the concept that ‘Fred’ was a cub reporter in 2120 and was given the job of doing a story on the 100th anniversary of COVID-19,” he said.
For the first couple of months he penned his “Fred” columns weekly as coronavirus updates were fast and furious. Since then he’s done occasional dispatches for “Fred” on things like the cancellation of the county fair, the start of school and the impact on the holidays. 

Wilson said the columns aren’t just a way to document history, but also serve as a reminder to people that, no matter how they feel about it, we are living in historic times.

“Overall they have been very well received,” Wilson told me. “One reader commented to me that she especially enjoyed reading those columns because they gave her a new perspective that people in the future would care about what was going on.” 
He said he planned on writing one this month for the one-year anniversary of the local emergency declarations and see how things have changed.

“There is a lot of optimism right now in the community,” Wilson said, “which is a far cry from the fear that was there a year ago.”

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Beer Me Update (Again)

The past couple of weeks we've talked about publications trying to diversify revenue streams with breweriesliquor stores and online casinos, and we asked, "What's next?"

Well, how about Bleacher Report generating $840,000 in sales for an NFT event that it planned in a week. Not bad.

WTF is an NFT? Glad you asked. Digiday has the answer.

If NFT's aren't your speed, maybe you'd be into some more old-school merchandising, like buttons. Our friends at the Pittsburgh City Paper have picked up the pace on their merchandising efforts and were able to hire two new reporters. Congrats!

Oh, and this is a little off topic, but apparently a former Tribune-Review printing plant in the Pittsburgh area is now a grow facility for medical marijuana...

NewStart Update

If you are interested in enrolling in our online master's degree program and earning a degree in Media Solutions and Innovation, the application period is now open to everyone! We have a limited number of slots, and they are already starting to be filled.

You can find out more about the program at this link, and then you can apply by clicking/tapping on the button below and following the instructions:
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As a reminder, we started a Facebook page for the NewStart program. So feel free to like or follow our page to check out some interesting links and thoughts each and every week and join in on the discussion.
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Quick Hits

Here is a lot of informative news from around the world of local journalism. Enjoy! 

Learn: "We welcome news organizations with digital reader revenue business models and particularly those who are owned or led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and/or other communities of color to apply to join the Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator programs on Digital Subscriptions and Memberships in North America. Eligible newsrooms can apply until 3/19/2021 at 11:59 PM ET." "In the sensationalist late 19th century of yellow journalism, Joe Pulitzer hyped the news on the front pages. But he and other publishers like E.W. Scripps used their editorial pages to teach citizenship. Immigrants had reading circles. Someone who could read English would read the paper out loud to those who couldn’t. The news, even the most sensational versions, was about involving people and creating community. And isn’t community an essential antidote to chaos?" "Lowering paywalls was ethically sound. But it now raises important questions for media outlets: How long can they afford to keep their journalism free? And how will they determine which reporting is 'essential' to the public?" "New data on digital subscribers has publishers worried. They don't have to be." "As the world inches towards normalcy, publishers are seeing newsletters as a powerful tool to build engagement as well as grow revenue." For democracy, there is huge potential for gain if the news co-op model proves sustainable in places for-profit and nonprofit models have not taken root. "Many newsrooms rush to launch their membership program, skipping a critical prerequisite: developing and getting to know their loyal audience. This case study will walk you through the steps they took to first put Brief at the center of the readers experience and then aggressively grow that newsletter list, laying a strong foundation for membership." "For aspiring journalists from low-income backgrounds, systemic industry barriers compound from the start." "This is the story of a $120,300 juggling act involving human capital, dollars and sense." "It gives a framework and place to begin, recognizing that no outreach plan will work for everyone so it’s necessarily an iterative, step-by-step process." "In 2018, we first introduced the Full Coverage feature as part of Google News. With just a tap, people can see top news, local headlines, in-depth pieces, explainers, interviews and more on a developing news story. We’re now bringing Full Coverage to Search, making it easier for more people to explore all aspects of a story from a variety of perspectives." “We really heard from readers right away that they needed this coverage, and we didn’t see anyone else filling that gap,” said Lulay, who is the managing editor at Block Club. “So we got together and kind of hatched a plan — could we bring back this neighborhood coverage in a different form. And that’s how we launched Block Club.” "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." "Pension provisions in the $1.9-trillion bill give local news outlets crucial breathing room to pursue sustainable digital business models."


That's all for this week. 

You can follow NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino.

Be like the fine folks at the Knight Foundation and the Benedum Foundation! Fund a NewStart fellowship position or a scholarship in Year 2! I'd be happy to talk! Seriously, I would love to offer more fellowships and scholarships, and you can help!

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