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Norine Dworkin launched her hyperlocal news media to prevent her region from becoming a news desert.

  • Frédéric Arnould (View profile)Frédéric Arnould

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On the eve of the entry into force of Bill C-18 aimed at forcing “web giants” to compensate news media for sharing their articles and reports, certain news rooms, now banned from Meta platforms explore other means of survival. Is the solution through non-profit news media?

On the second floor of her residence in Winter Garden, a twenty-minute drive west of Orlando, in the state of Florida, Norine Dworkin is preparing to launch a Zoom videoconference with her young apprentice journalists from the University of Central Florida. A virtual newsroom, since she manages her local news site called Vox Populi from her office with her laptop and cell phone.

After a 30-year career in the world of publishing and journalism, in 2021 she founded her site which covers her municipality. I realized that in this corner of West Orange County we didn't have any media outlets that did real news, there were a lot of sites or publications that told you where to go to eat and things. fun to do, but no one was covering what was happening at the local government level.

This morning, she is distributing topics and articles to write about the upcoming local elections to young apprentices who help her provide content for her site in exchange for university credits for their courses.

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The Vox Populi news room is mainly virtual thanks to vision conferences with young journalists remotely

An exchange of good processes which makes it possible to access to his free news site, because his business is non-profit. I view journalism as a public service. You don't get rich doing that. But our content is free because people need to know.

Her articles mainly concern the municipal council on which she has already released early news. His target is the mayor of Winter Garden who, among other things, is maneuvering to have a city councilman expelled because he allegedly violated the city charter. A shame according to her, since the mayor himself does not respect the regulations of the charter, in particular because he has never given a speech on the state of the municipality since his election. I looked at the charter and the mayor violated it with impunity for 13 years. I revealed this story and no one else is talking about it.

Obviously, she doesn't get much attention Friends at City Hall: Winter Garden passed a resolution that prohibits reporters from asking questions of elected officials at City Commission meetings, largely because of my work.

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So, on this municipal council evening, she will patiently wait, alone in the small row reserved for the press – despite the ban – to ask her question during public comments.

Do you admit to having violated the city charter, Norine Dworkin immediately asks John Rees, the first city councilor of Winter Garden. He rolls his eyes and refuses to answer what Norine Dworkin describes as contempt for municipal rules. Your speaking time is over, he says once the allowed three minutes have expired.

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Hyperlocal news site Vox Populi focuses its efforts on municipal coverage of the town of Winter Garden, in the state of Florida.

With her fearless and blameless style, the owner of Vox Populi has created a hyperlocal news media that provides news to local residents. This media outlet is doing what some newsrooms can no longer do, because they are grappling with staff cutbacks due in large part to declining advertising revenues or because they have been bought out by hedge fund managers who have cut spending so much that there are no longer any means to cover the news.

Sarah Stonbely, director of the State of Local News Project, an organization that operates within the journalism school at NorthWest University in Illinois, released a report on the state of local journalism in the states -United. According to its data, the loss of local news publications accelerated in 2023 to an average of 2.5 fewer newspapers per week, leaving more than 200 U.S. counties called news deserts. p>

Since 2005, 875 of the 2,900 newspapers that have been permanently closed have been in these small counties. Today, 195 of these mostly rural counties have no local newspaper or other local news source. In 1,387 other counties, there is only one local news source – a weekly or small daily newspaper.

A quote from State Local News Project Report

The loss of local print advertising to digital platforms like Google and Facebook hit news outlets in cities and rural areas later than major metropolitan newspapers. It accelerated during the pandemic and resulted in many newspaper closures or mergers, ultimately leading to reductions in staff and quality of coverage.

This constitutes, according to Sarah Stonbely, a crisis for democracy. People don't have the information they need to be engaged citizens, to be educated consumers of local health care, of school systems. At a second level, fewer people are running for office and voter turnout is lower.

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The newsroom business model is constantly evolving with the power wielded by social media platforms.

To survive, Norine Dworkin has managed to obtain some grants and support, but above all she must appeal to her donors, those who read her articles. Which is not always easy. I know how to produce news, but I don't know how to sell ads. And when you're doing all of this on your own, you know, every day that you're not producing content is a day that the website is static. And every day you don't raise money is a day you don't bring in money. The same goes for advertising.

Among its generous donors is Michelle Chapman, who decided to untie her purse strings after Vox Populi wrote articles about regulations that affected dog owners. She will also send another 500 dollars to Norine Dworkin to continue her work as a journalist.

Shasta Quinn, who is a librarian at Winter Garden, also supports this media.

Journalists have to be paid, someone has to pay somewhere. I feel good supporting her because she's hyperlocal and reports not only on things I care about, but also on things I should pay attention to, like elections local. What is happening today with the city council? What are their shenanigans?

A quote from Shasta Quinn, librarian and donor

Norine Dworkin can count on her several hundred subscribers to continue to grow her total readership, which is of course more numerous than her generous contributors. She also uses social media to highlight her articles, but according to the analytical data of her site, she gets a lot of visitors thanks to her good SEO on search engines, which is very rewarding for her.

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Some local news sites rely less on the impact of social networks to disseminate their articles.

The author of the report on the state of local news in the United States, Sarah Stonbely, believes, however, that many media owe their survival to social networks, but that these should be more generous to producers of information content . It's not so much that they have to pay for these things, but that they have to allow them to have advertising revenue.

Moreover, she maintains that local media like Vox Populi are showing a new path for the future of journalism.

I believe that there will always be people who want to be journalists, who want to be, you know, sort of chroniclers of power and who will have this kind of mission in their body. So it's about finding, I think, what will work. None of these businesses need to be multi-million dollar businesses, but they do need to be sustainable.

For her part, Norine Dworkin hopes that her Vox Populi site will continue, because its business model is demanding. She realizes that not everyone can financially launch their own news site, but she fundamentally believes in the future of investigative journalism.

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Local news site Vox Populi offers free investigative journalism in the Orlando, Florida area.

I worked for three years to establish this brand in this corner of the county. But there will be no other site, if mine does not work well, because it takes a certain amount of fearlessness and ferocity to be able to appear before a municipal council and demand responses.

At the end of the day, Nora Dworkin will have managed to convince two donors and collect a few hundred dollars. Soon, with any luck, she should also obtain financial support from a sponsor. Enough to inject a little funding to continue his quest for information and prevent his city from becoming another news desert.

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