This article is part of an LMA series on solutions and innovations at and for local media organizations, in which we explore the products, best practices, and strategy behind sustainable and thriving local journalism businesses.
By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
While most launch publications are prioritizing page views and impressions, The Oaklandside is tracking success a bit differently since launching this year.
“Mission metrics” were established as part of the new publication’s founding values, providing a quantitative way to measure and track whether The Oaklandside is meeting its qualitative goals. Editor in Chief Tasneem Raja said the approach has helped her seven-person staff identify better stories to pursue and stay true to its founding values.
“This is actually the metric I worry about and keep top of mind every single day,” Raja said. “It’s easy to put a bunch of values down on paper. The hard part is actually doing the work and translating efforts into outcomes.”
The system also helps The Oaklandside establish a method for tracking progress, said Raja, who expects a public-facing report in the coming months to ensure accountability.
Mission metrics examples
Stories are tagged using AirTable on a variety of factors. A few examples include:
- Does this article show an effort to listen to the community?
- Does this story help connect residents with resources?
- Does this story reframe harmful narratives?
- Does this story increase transparency?
The Oaklandside’s mission-driven approach was put to the test before its website or newsletter technically launched. Originally scheduled to debut in mid-June, the staff actually started reporting on Oakland months earlier when the pandemic first struck the area.
“We said we can’t sit around and wait while this is happening,” Raja said. “We’ve got to get to work.”
That responsive effort is what Raja hopes will define The Oaklandside as it gains trust from a new community. The northern California nonprofit is a spinoff operation of Berkeleyside, a hyperlocal digital outlet established just north of Oakland in 2009. The Oaklandside also launched in part with help from a Google News Initiative grant.
A new parent company called Cityside was established last summer to oversee both publications. Candice Fortman, executive director for Outlier Media, a Detroit-based service journalism operation that delivers housing news via text message, was asked in late 2019 to join the Cityside board. The opportunity was attractive, she said, because of how distinctive The Oaklandside would be from Berkeleyside operations. She also knew how much Oakland needed this community resource because of her family ties to the area and the city’s similarities to Detroit.
“There is a spirit in Oaklanders that I only otherwise see in Detroiters,” Fortman said. “You can’t do anything in Detroit without Detroiters, and it’s the same way in Oakland.”
Fortman said Cityside also benefits from the combined institutional knowledge of Berkleyside founders and Raja, who previously founded another nonprofit outlet The Tyler Loop in East Texas. The new job marks Raja’s second stint in Oakland where she lived prior to joining the NPR CodeSwitch investigative team in Washington D.C.
Upon arrival, Raja immediately sought feedback from the community without knowing the pandemic-related challenges that awaited. That feedback helped shape the publication’s primary coverage areas — city hall, policing, schools, housing, arts and community, health, and “Nosh,” or local dining coverage — as well as the full name of the publication. “The” was added in front of Oaklandside based on residential feedback, Raja said, as highlighted in coverage from Nieman Lab.
She also used the community conversations as an opportunity to differentiate The Oaklandside from traditional daily news operations, which the city lacked since 2016 when Oakland Tribune folded into the East Bay Times. A similar strategy was used at her last nonprofit startup.
“In Tyler, I almost never talked about ourselves as a news site, because I knew that would turn people off,” she said. “We have to break out of this idea that what we’re here to do is just cover the news. We’re here to cover information needs.”
While covering protests following the death of George Floyd in late May, Raja said staffers also did the “stepback work” that included a decades-long review of the Oakland Unified School District police force before it was disbanded days later.
“We were able to bring a historical lens and a much deeper sense of context,” Raja said, by investigating systems and not just symptoms. She hopes by doing so The Oaklandside will earn a long-term place in the community as an indispensable resource.
“I really hope people will talk about us more like how they talk about museums, libraries and parks and other bedrock civic institutions that are woven into our community at large and they don’t just see us as a new site,” Raja said.
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