My name is Allison Levine. Sometime soon, you might receive a text message from me, asking you to take a survey.
[caption id="attachment_219859" align="alignright" width="300"] ALLISON LEVINE | PHOTO COURTESY OF DCF[/caption]
I hope you’ll respond. Your answers will help shape the future of news and information about our communities in Delaware.Why does it matter?Let me start with a little personal history: I started working in journalism right out of college. My first job took me to sleepy little Ashland, Mass. Every council meeting, every school board meeting – even zoning committee meetings – I was there.Public officials knew who I was, knew I was watching, and knew the community paid attention. One story about an undisclosed contract extension for the town manager even cost someone an election.That was 20 years ago, when nearly every small town in America had a local newspaper keeping watch on public officials and holding them accountable, in addition to covering parades and arts festivals, providing updates about local businesses, and sharing the occasional feature that helped us understand our neighbors a little better.Today, local news is in crisis. And that’s bad news for all of us. This survey, sponsored by the Delaware Community Foundation and a new organization called the Local Journalism Initiative, seeks to address this problem. Research tells us that the loss of strong, independent, local journalism results in higher taxes, lower voter turnout, more unsolved crimes, fewer people running for office, and the loss of connection and empathy for our neighbors. Data shows that this phenomenon is hitting communities of color particularly hard.There’s no silver bullet, no magic trick to reviving the news industry as it was. We need to find a new path forward.So, last year, a group of former journalists, community leaders and funders in Delaware came together to launch the Local Journalism Initiative, an effort to find new ways to rebuild some of what has been lost.The text message survey, in addition to focus groups and interviews with people all over Delaware, is part of our research. We’ll share results in the spring.In the meantime, we’re working on a few projects we believe will help.It starts with strengthening the local news that outlets we already have.Last summer, we embedded four young journalists with media organizations around the state to help cover underserved communities, in partnership with the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association. This summer, we’re doing it again.But we have more to do to ensure that Delawareans have access to high-quality, independent, trustworthy local news and information – about everything from where to vote, how to enroll a child in school, what’s going on with the Interstate 95 construction, when that new restaurant is opening, how the state senators voted on the budget bill, and more.But what news and information do Delawareans need most, and how do they want to get it?These are the questions our research will help us answer, and the text survey is an important part of that. If you don’t receive a text directly and want to participate, you can text the word DELAWARE to 73224. And if you’d like to learn more about the Local Journalism Initiative, find us online at ljidelaware.org.Allison Taylor Levine is president and founder of the Local Journalism Initiative and vice president for marketing and communications at the Delaware Community Foundation.