Local that Works

Local that Works spotlights innovative and replicable content, engagement and revenue initiatives at public radio and TV stations and nonprofit and digital news organizations in the U.S. LTW includes an annual contest and a database (below). LTW produces webinars that offer insights into projects and organizations that are reshaping local civic journalism.

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The Civic Newsroom

Nonprofit News Org/Other
Terry Parris Jr.

In June 2021, New York held primary elections for mayor, City Council and other city offices. The race, which drew a record number of candidates and marked the debut of ranked choice voting in New York, stacked up as the most crucial election in a generation as the city began emerging from the pandemic.

As early as late 2020 we started getting great queries from readers: Who are all these people running for mayor? What’s the best strategy for ranked choice voting? Do you need to be rich to run? And what does a member of City Council — or borough president, or comptroller — even do?

Inspired by these questions and wanting to provide coverage responsive to our readers’ information needs, we launched the Civic Newsroom, a multi-pronged project to inform voters and encourage engagement in local politics and the electoral process.

The CITY’s engagement team produced a series of neighborhood-focused online convenings and outdoor in-person civic festivals. These events connected neighbors with each other and with our reporters, enabling our team to better understand information needs and to provide responsive reporting that equipped people to make informed choices at the polls — while building trust in local news.

We also solicited input from readers online and published a series of guides and explanatory pieces on how the elections work and what local office holders do. We started a weekly elections newsletter (which also went out via text message) to answer more questions. And we sent the mayoral candidates questions about their stances on the issues — many submitted by our readers. This helped us build Meet Your Mayor, an interactive quiz-driver tool to help voters figure out which candidates were their best matches.

Over the course of six months, THE CITY produced well over a dozen explainer articles, 20 newsletters that reached more than 5,500 subscribers, and published and translated a civics ‘zine, while publishing a wide array of accountability reporting. We set up a phone and texting system that reached thousands of New Yorkers. We hosted six virtual events and three outdoor voter festivals that featured local performers, poets, art projects and food from area restaurants. Meet Your Mayor reached 250,000 New Yorkers, with each visitor spending 13 minutes on it. Our Civic Newsroom articles and resources reached more than 544,000 readers. We also co-hosted televised candidate debates for mayor and comptroller that reached tens of thousands.

Our Meet Your Mayor tool had 250,000 unique users who spent an average of 13 minutes on the page. Given the investment of time our readers spent on the tool, it’s likely most of them ended up casting ballots. With about 1 million primary voters, it’s likely about a quarter of the electorate used our Meet Your Mayor tool to inform their choice. Additionally, in a post-project survey, Meet Your Mayor was listed as the one thing that helped voters make a decision in a complicated election with more than a dozen mayoral candidates. The primary drew the most voters to a citywide primary in 20 years.

Our in-person and virtual events had 200 attendees, and we distributed 250 English voter guides, 50 Spanish guides, 75 Korean guides and 75 Chinese guides at our in-person events in neighborhoods which historically have low voter turnout.

The Charles H. Revson Foundation provided a $100,000 grant, largely to develop Meet Your Mayor and for community engagement work, and the Online News Association provided $20,000 to CUNY, which partnered with us on community engagement.

Based on the strength of our work leading up to the primary, we secured a $50,000 pledge from a corporate sponsor for the Civic Newsroom. A membership campaign highlighting our election reporting and resources raised $16,105.