Knight-Lenfest’s Roxann Stafford: The change local media needs is more cultural than digital

Roxann Stafford is the managing director of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a $20-million initiative that works to empower

October 2, 2019 by Anika Anand


Roxann Stafford is the managing director of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a $20-million initiative that works to empower local news organizations to build trust with their audiences while producing outstanding journalism and developing new revenue streams that can enable them to reach long-term business sustainability. This month at our LION Summit in Nashville (have you bought your tickets yet?) she’ll be chatting with our executive director Chris Krewson about what we can to do create more sustainable and equitable news organizations. Here are some questions she answered for us:

In a sentence, describe what you hope folks will learn from hearing you speak at our conference.

You have the ability to create sustainable and equitable publications. It’s all about how to:

a) identify the problems you want to solve as you grow your news organization

b) leverage a needs-based prototyping mindset that incorporates the community in the process.

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from the past year that you think others can learn from?

Not a new learning, but more clarity on the importance of asking oneself who or what are we centering and, as a result, what will be the outcome? If each of us and our news organizations as a whole pause to reflect on those two things, we’ll be better able to make more informed decisions, which can include, among other things: identifying revenue models, building and/or re-establishing trust and the adoption and development of products.

More often than not we center ourselves– what we think is most important and what we need– while keeping that lens on throughout the entire process of developing a story or our publication; then forget the other lenses that we need to see through to assess, develop and innovate. Fortunately, the ability to recognize and use different lenses comes from practice and authentic engagement with your team as well as the community on a regular basis.

What is one thing you’re most excited to work on in 2020?

Continuing the work alongside news organizations, news entrepreneurs, community members, centers of learnings and discourse (formal and informal) based on what a sustainable and equitable news and information ecosystem look like, which is also informed by movements and industries outside of journalism. Engaging in a process to identify the ways we can learn together by testing new ideas and growing existing processes and solutions.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the local media industry tomorrow, what would it be and why?

Being more self-reflective and having a culture that allows that to happen. By allowing ourselves to recognize what is not working more honestly, like many of our current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts (and in some places, the lack thereof…) we could actually start to make the changes we need:

a) to identify and grow new revenue streams

b) to explore new formats and mediums

c) to collaborate better with existing organizations and communities regardless of fault lines*

Like many, I admire and take inspiration from Ida B. Wells. Notably, she said “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Often this quote is used externally to push us in our pursuit for justice in the stories we tell. It should guide in that way. Yet, I also think Wells was invoking us to do that work on ourselves as well. For example, when we talk about transformation in local news, we often focus on just the “digital” without realizing that this is a cultural shift much more than a tech shift.

*This comes from the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education’s framework to help understand the ways that people view the world. The six fault lines are race, class, gender, generation, geography and sexual orientation. These fault lines influence every aspect of a news organization– hiring, sourcing, marketing, community engagement, and business development just to name a few.


Roxann will talk more about the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund and her work at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26 at our Summit conference in Nashville. Tickets are still available here.

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