The news ecosystem in Los Angeles is broken. The city is too big, diverse and intricate for any news organization to cover well. That’s why most fail. They cover the obvious (a murder, a protest, a fire) and miss the subtleties that make the city so vibrant. Crosstown takes a different approach by focusing on what makes one community different from another. We do it by automatically collecting data on everything from parking tickets to vaccination rates for the entire the city. (Much of this data is publicly available, but no one bothers to look at it.) We then organize the data by neighborhood, so we can see how many homes were demolished in San Pedro, or the number of traffic collisions in Van Nuys. The data allows us to focus on key quality-of-life issues for every neighborhood in the city, no matter how overlooked.
But we had a problem: How do we get that specific news to the people in Van Nuys, and different news to those in San Pedro?
Our solution was to create a unique email newsletter for each neighborhood. We’re a lean organization with only part-time employees, many of whom are full-time students. So we built software that allows us to write one newsletter template each week, and then create 110 different versions, each with the specific data, charts and graphs for a particular neighborhood.We call it the Crosstown Neighborhood Newsletter. It allows us to produce customizable local news at an industrial scale.
Each week, people in Koreatown learn how many new COVID-19 infections occurred in their neighborhood, what percent of the neighborhood is vaccinated, and how they rank in vaccinations against the rest of Los Angeles. Those in Watts get the same data for their neighborhood. No one gets left out. Every corner of the city gets covered.
The beauty of the software is that it can be used to do the same thing in Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, or any other big city with data. We built a system that can help other news outlets reach diverse audiences in their cities. They don’t have to speak to everyone with the same voice, but can tailor their message to individual communities. Our goal is to make the software as widely available as possible in order to help other news organizations.