How does this kind of journalism work?

Outlier is pushing a new approach to journalism. We are service journalism on demand. We use data journalism to report differently. We are more inclusive of those usually devalued by news media. We more responsive to the community we aim to serve. Outlier’s model was featured recently in NiemanLab. It is a good summary of what we’re doing and why but if you’d like more, here are the FAQ’s:

Outlier doesn’t do articles, so how does it deliver the news

Outlier wants to deliver valuable information to busy people. We strip our news down to the basics. We deliver information over text message directly to our news consumers. We cover housing and utilities because Detroiters say those are their biggest information and accountability gaps. Our information is as personalized as possible, drawing on our own reporting and data we’ve found in the public domain or through Freedom of Information Act or public records requests. To see how Outlier works text DEMO to 63735.

How does Outlier engage with and stay accountable to its readership?

Every Outlier reader has the ability to easily get in touch with a reporter over text message. A reader simply texts “FOLLOW UP” and a reporter will reach out to them within 48 hours. We encourage readers to ask for a follow up if the information we provide doesn’t fit their needs, if they have insight they want to share with us, or if they have an question or problem they think deserves some news coverage. We chase down those leads or work with other local newsrooms to get answers.

How do you decide what to cover?

We use publicly available data and data from social service agencies to inform us about which issues Detroiters ask for help with and complain about most. We think this is most likely to lead to the kind of reports our news consumers will find valuable. 

How do people find Outlier’s stories?

Outlier doesn’t wait for news consumers to find us, we find them. We buy lists of Detroit cell phone numbers from a data broker. We text an introduction to Outlier and our news consumers can use the service right away. Anybody can opt-out, we never sell our lists and we don’t text users unless something important related to our coverage has changed.

Are you sure what Outlier does is journalism?


Where do you work? 

We cover Detroit, the community where we live and work. We proudly seek to put the information needs of low-income news consumers first as this is an overlooked and undervalued news market.

Who pays for this? 

We were funded as a pilot project by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and our utility reporting is funded by a joint grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation. We are so thankful for their support and are experimenting with ways to make our work more self-sustaining.

Can I bring an Outlier project to my newsroom or area?

Of course! Get in touch and we would be happy to talk through options or ideas. Contact Sarah Alvarez at

Author: alvarez

Journalist and founder of Outlier Media.