Inside the News Room
 

The Lens’ growing audience, collaborations show vibrant news scene in New Orleans

By last May, The Lens had been peering into the dark corners of New Orleans government and civic life for more than two years. But on May 24, 2012, the day The Times-Picayune’s radical change in its business model became public, we saw the most traffic in two years.

The Times-Picayune’s announcement prompted a lot of discussionwhich The Lens fostered — about the future of newsgathering in New Orleans. Who would do the in-depth, hard-hitting journalism that this city needs? What would happen to the daily routines?

In a photo essay published this morning, we can see that the daily newspaper habit is changing. We’re part of that: The Advocate has quickly become one of The Lens’ strongest partners, publishing a few of our stories each week.

The shifting news consumption extends well beyond the daily paper. Local TV stations have stepped up with more investigative reporting. We’ve seen the growth of hyperlocal, homegrown news sites such as Uptown Messenger and Mid-City Messenger, My Spilt Milk and NOLA Defender. Blogs such as American Zombie and Slabbed are doing their own muckraking.

The Lens is part of those changes, too. Many news outlets and blogs have taken us up on our offer to republish our stories for free — including our first story to be distributed nationally, via Digital First Media. NOLA.com has published several of our stories, particularly our charter schools coverage.

In April, The Lens’ Bob Marshall worked with WVUE-TV to produce a TV story about the effect of sediment diversions on Louisiana’s wetlands. Though we’ve worked with the Fox affiliate from the start, this was our deepest foray into TV news, with Marshall reporting the story, doing an on-camera interview and writing the script, and Fox editing and producing the package.

We’ve stepped up our cooperation with WWNO-FM since they hired a news director in April. About once a week, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” listeners hear a Lens reporter describe a recent story published on The Lens.

This week, 130 people attended our panel discussion of experts to discuss coastal loss in Louisiana, which we co-hosted with WWNO and Loyola University. The day before, WWNO and The Lens held a live Web chat in which our readers asked Marshall about these issues.

Those are all ways that Lens journalism reaches people even if they never visit our website. But even there, our growth has been astounding. Compared to last May, the number of daily unique visitors has tripled. After they read our stories, they engage in intelligent, civilized discussions about complex issues.

They come for our in-depth coverage of schools, the environment, criminal justice, land use and government accountability. But they also follow along with our live blogs, such as Wednesday’s City Council hearing about the city’s violence reduction efforts and an April federal court hearing about conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.

Report once, publish many times

We collaborate with these outlets and give away our work because it increases our reach and fulfills our nonprofit mission to produce in-depth, public interest journalism focused on New Orleans.

New Orleanians are supporting this work more than ever. In 2012, about 10 percent of our revenue came from local sources, including readers who donate just a few dollars a month. This year, we’re on track to increase that to 30 percent.

Last May, the talk was about the death of a daily newspaper. This May, the talk is simply about the news, however you read, listen or watch it.

The Lens is helping in that regard, too. Readers have come to rely on our new daily wrap-up of the day’s top news stories in the key topics we cover — no entertainment, sports or cute kittens. We scour myriad news sources and pick the most important or interesting stories, regardless of the source.

You can read more about our impact and business model in our latest annual report. And you can support the new model of nonprofit journalism with a donation.

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