The Herald News, Fall River, Massachusetts
In a very competitive field of smaller newspapers with big ambitions, of local community leadership, excellent print presentation and creative digital storytelling, The Herald News stands out. The newspaper’s project for Women’s History Month solicited interviews with more than 50 local women serving in positions of leadership, or doing jobs traditionally handled by men. The resulting Q&As, along with background information on their schooling, community involvement and other activities, ran each day during the month as an inspiration to young girls and a reminder to readers of a key source of local strength. Another project, more directly tied to ongoing news concerns and the national opioid epidemic, created a forum to foster collaboration among first responders, treatment agencies and public health workers — an impressive demonstration of a newspaper’s ability to not only set a news agenda, but foster solutions-based community engagement. Elsewhere, the newspaper has done a good job growing its digital presence and growing the staff’s competence with a range of tools.
What new initiatives or projects did your newspaper launch in 2016?
- Women Making History
For Women’s History Month in March, we solicited over 50 women (for both Herald News and Taunton Gazette) in different positions of power, or women doing jobs that might have traditionally been done mostly by men, to answer five questions as well as provide some background information on their schooling, community involvement, etc. We published one Q&A per day, for the entire month of March. The intent was twofold: We wanted young girls in our community to be inspired by these women and feel empowered to follow their dreams; and we wanted readers to recognize just how lucky we are, as a community, to have such dedicated, groundbreaking, accomplished and caring women helping to move us forward.
- Braga Bridge Anniversary
We continue to be an active partner with AHA! Fall River, an arts and culture organization. Together we planned a series of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Braga Bridge. We hosted a kick-off to the celebration on-site at the Herald News, complete with an “art exhibit” old Herald News photos of bridge construction, and participated in off-site events as well – for instance, creating a “bridge” themed giant crossword puzzle for the “fun and games”-themed AHA! Night in June. Of course, we paired all this with a six-day series of stories about the bridge’s past, present and future, complete with timelines, old photo galleries, a quiz and a print/online/Facebook reader callout (through which we were able to connect with some folks who had built the bridge and even the woman who was featured as a 3-year-old in a now-iconic photo of residents walking over the bridge the day it opened, on Easter Sunday 1966.)
What did you do to engage audience, through social media or community involvement in 2016?
- Opioid ProviderGroup/Forum
Fall River is among the hardest hit communities in Massachusetts when it comes to the opioid epidemic. Nearly 1,000 people overdosed in Fall River in 2016, and 72 died; as well, Fall River police officers administered more than 180 doses of Narcan.With a state rep and a the prevention services director of a local treatment facility, I gathered an initial planning group made up of an addiction nurse, a hospital administrator, the fire chief, a police captain, the city’s anti-drug grants coordinator and the city’s EMS coordinator where we determined a gap in services: Many of the groups on the front lines of the opioid battle did not know what other groups were doing. So we decided to host a provider-to-provider networking event in October, with a “speed dating”-type session where the providers could meet each other, gather information and make important contacts. As well, we brought in the commissioner of the Department of Public Health to update the providers on changes to state laws regarding opioid abuse and information about available funding for programs. That meeting was so successful and the feedback from the more than 75 participants was so encouraging that we decided to continue to hold quarterly provider-to-provider events. To complement this work, The Herald News published profiles of each provider online and in print (one per day). This collection of provider profiles lives on our website, so that readers can access the information if and when they need it. We created a Google map with each provider profile – readers hover over the pin on the map and the profile of the organization comes up (in the profile is information on their mission, services provided and contact information).
- Suicide Forum
Two high-profile suicides in Greater Fall River – one by a young military veteran and one by a 13-year-old girl – had the community and advocates on edge. A new Suicide Prevention Task Force was formed, and they partnered with The Herald News to sponsor a community forum. Our editorial page editor moderated the forum, which included presentations from a suicide survivor, a family member of a woman lost to suicide, a funeral director and the director of a mental health organization, as well as a compelling question and answer session. The feedback we got from the first event was so positive, that we also partnered with the task force to present a second forum in October on grief coping strategies.
- Community Advisory Boards
We continue to host a Community Advisory Board made up readers from a wide variety of demographics, and with representation from each town in our coverage area. The CAB meets quarterly in person and monthly “virtually” via a Slack channel. The CAB weighs in on a number of topics from new products to our political endorsement process to how we can improve our coverage of the community. Last year we instituted a “Fall River Forward Award,” which is awarded each month by the CAB, recognizing a group or individual for their efforts toward moving this community. The winner is then profiled by a member of the CAB. This project won a second place award for Audience/Community Involvement from the New England Newspaper and Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
- Festival of Trees
We held our second annual “Festival of Trees,” in which we got community organizations and businesses to sponsor a Christmas tree, decorate it according to their theme and then readers vote for a “winner.” This year the Festival of Trees doubled in number of participants (48), and we got more than 3,000 votes for the winner and raised more than $2,000 for the Herald News Holiday Fund, our charitable fund which marked its 17th year the proceeds of which are split evenly between the Salvation Army and Citizens for Citizens.
- Community Interaction on a Personal Level
Also in January 2016, I challenged all staff members to get involved in a community group/organization/event. Those who did would get placed in a quarterly lottery for a paid day off. In this day and age of mistrust of “the media,” I really want this community to realize the value of the local news – it’s much easier to trust us, as journalists, if they KNOW us. The better we know our community, the better we can serve them.
So far, staff members have: volunteered as a “snuggler” at a local animal shelter; taken part in a citywide “fitness challenge”; volunteered once per week for an overnight shift at the local homeless shelter; helped a fifth-grade class (Fall River) produce a school newspaper; joined a library mystery book club; and more.
How did you experiment with digital storytelling tools in 2016?
- Digital First
By 2016, I am proud to say this “digital first” mindset is now muscle memory. And it’s most evident when big news breaks – it’s in those manic moments that each player needs to know their role and each tool has to be at the forefront for them to be used effectively. We had several breaking news situations where this was most evident: a huge mill fire, a fatal stabbing rampage at a local mall, and a man running from police who ended up on the second-floor ledge of our building. In each instance, we threw every digital tool we had at the story from Storify, to video, to Facebook Live, to photo galleries, Knight Lab tools like timelines and Juxtapose, Google maps and more.
- Digital Projects
In January 2016, I challenged my staff to come up with a project for the year – with an emphasis on digital projects – and this is the project Dan came up with. “Doors of Fall River” is an ongoing art photography project showcasing the many beautiful, unique and interesting doorways found around the city. Photos appear once a day on the Herald News’ Instagram feed, @hnnow, or find them by looking for the #doorsoffallriver. As well, each month he posts a gallery of the door photos he took that month.
The original gallery has more than 63,000 page views. Three more posted in the fall have 18,000, 17,000 and 21,000 views respectively. As well, the original post got 69 likes on Facebook and 29 shares.
- Crime Map
Our crime and courts reporter updates our Crime Map – a Google map with pins associated with each major crime each month. This is an incredibly popular feature on our website (he links to previous year’s maps, for comparison sake) – easily a couple thousand page views each time it’s updated (and the updates are pretty simple, into an Excel spreadsheet).
As well, we hosted a Facebook Live chat between the reporter and the City Editor to explain how the map works and where the stats come from.
- Facebook Live
The newsroom staff really embraced the Facebook Live video option in 2016. We used it for a variety of events, including hosting an in-house debate on Swansea waterfront development (which was coming up for a vote).
https://www.facebook.com/pg/HNNow/videos/?ref=page_internalChats with newsroom staff continued to be popular for Facebook Live, like this one between City Editor Will Richmond and former Mayor Will Flanagan, discussing the outcome of the national election.A serious fire in the city was one of the most popular Facebook Live videos, with 14,758 views, 148 comments and 178 shares.Any crime scene, basically was popular, especially if we added commentary (this was from a shooting and police chase in Tiverton, where two elderly men died, one of whom was shot and killed by police).
Honorable Mention: The Gainesville Sun, Gainesville, Florida
- Digital First