Outlier Media is preparing for some major changes as we look to the future. We are broadening our focus a bit, but we remain dedicated to filling local information and accountability gaps.
When Outlier Media started five years ago, we wanted to build a news service for people who are undervalued by most newsrooms – low-income communities and people of color. Too often, legacy news organizations write only about – but not for – these communities and focus instead on an ideal reader that already has the information and resources they need. That focus makes information and accountability gaps worse for communities that can least afford them.
We wanted to take the basics of good reporting – rigor, clarity, accessibility, and public service – and discard almost everything else about how the news is delivered and to whom. We believed it was possible to deliver good information to the people who need it most – and hold institutions accountable to those communities.
We have been successful in creating Outlier Media as you know it today: A source of news in Detroit tackling critical issues: tax foreclosure, blight, eviction, utilities, and now even COVID-19 and voting. We get the information directly to those who need it with our SMS-based distribution. But in our work, we haven’t been able to tackle the second part of our mission: the accountability gap.
That’s the gap we want to focus on next.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Democracy Fund, we will spend the next few months reporting about how newsrooms can truly hold those in power to account for their actions. Our team wants to better understand what makes accountability reporting successful — and what causes it to fall short. We want to make these practices replicable even by smaller newsrooms driven to do this important work. We think this is a reporting project we simply have to undertake so the work that comes after can have a more likely impact.
That doesn’t mean that Outlier Media is changing the fundamentals. We are keeping our SMS-based information services in Detroit active, and we are developing a new platform that will allow local newsrooms to connect with that pipeline. We also plan to finally get around to building our own publishing platform.
This is not an ideal time to shift from our existing work, but we feel compelled. Our democracy and our communities depend on journalists being able to do high-impact reporting that holds institutions – including media – accountable to their communities. But, we are also seeing a tremendous amount of harm over the past few years that needs to be addressed if we want a future where that harm is lessened. And so, we here at Outlier Media think it’s our job to try to meet this moment.
As we change our focus, our team is also changing. Our beloved data reporter, Katlyn Alo, is joining the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle as a newsroom developer. There, she will continue to work on ambitious reporting projects and grow her skill set. But she isn’t leaving us entirely: Katlyn will be joining our Board of Advisors.
Additionally, we decided not to finalize a merger with the MuckRock Foundation that was announced earlier this year. We are moving forward as an independent organization. MuckRock has moved to a fiscal sponsor support role for Outlier and they remain an important collaborator.
We want to work with a community of practice with aligned values. If you are interested in collaboration, advising us or creating meaningful partnerships we want to hear from you. Send us an email and let’s work together towards a future of accountability for communities who have suffered in its absence.
We expect more change will come. But our dedication to building inclusive, collaborative, public service journalism has not wavered. We look forward to what we can do together.