An Introduction to our D15 Project (8/31/2019) by John Ness

Brooklyn’s school district 15–which stretches from Boerum Hill to Sunset Park–has some of the most segregated schools in the city. This fall, as part of a new Diversity Plan in D15, sixth graders will attend public schools chosen for them through a lottery system.

The goal of the lottery system (and the wider D15 Diversity Plan) is to address racial and socio-economic segregation in the district’s 11 public middle schools, in part by removing “screens”—meaning that attendance, grades, and testing were not considered when matching students with middle schools. (You can find an outline of the process on Page 61 of the plan.)

My daughter is a 6th grader and now we, like other parents, have a number of questions about her new school. If you’re in the same boat, you know Googling for results isn’t always helpful. Often, the person you’d most like to talk to is a parent of a child who’s already attended your school. Just as often, it’s hard to tell if what other parents are telling you is rumor or speculation.

As a father and as a journalist who has overseen two news networks covering D15’s neighborhoods (Patch and DNAinfo), I see a special opportunity here: to offer families at every school in the district the information they want.

Here’s how this project will work:

  • If your family has a D15 middle schooler, the survey below will allow you to submit questions to current parents at your middle school.
  • If you’re a D15 middle school family member already, the survey will allow you to answer new families’ questions. 
  • If you’d like to help support this project across diverse communities attending D15’s public schools–we need translators, help spreading the word, and your ideas–you can sign up below.

If you have questions, please reach out to me by email.

Introductions (10/1/2017) by John Ness

Hi there, and welcome to Local Standrd, a non-profit project I’ve been thinking about for six months.

Wait, who are you?
I’m John Ness, founder of Local Standrd, and a guy whose been blessed to work on sprawling digital news networks for the past decade. I just started a new position as Director, Team Brands at SB Nation where I help lead hundreds of sites covering hundreds of sports teams. Before that I was Editor-in-Chief of DNAinfo–which employed dozens of neighborhood reporters in New York and Chicago–and News Director & Editor-in-Chief of Patch–which employed hundreds of them in over 20 states. All of which is to say, I’ve had time to think about big solutions to news problems.

I’ve worked with journalists from all over the country, meeting them in their towns, and trying to make the product of all their hard work better. In presidential primary seasons, I pushed neighborhood reporters to outreport the national press descending on their hometowns. On election night, I planned coverage that framed every race on the ballot locally — DNAinfo won a New York Press Club award this year for that last effort, but we won many more for stories told on a smaller, neighborhood scale.

And I’ve seen how that neighborhood storytelling becomes a lifeline after tragedies like Newtown or Hurricane Sandy. Who is going to cover every person killed by gun violence in Chicago? Who is going to cover the story of a child who was failed by the system? People need answers, and I’ve seen how a person reporting in the neighborhood is best positioned to get them.

OK. So what’s the point of Local Standrd?
I have three answers to that question.

1. There’s only one thing everyone agrees about when it comes to how we get the news today: it’s frustrating. A generation ago, the most important news organizations were the ones that delivered newspapers to people’s doorsteps. People opened those newspapers and saw reporting about their community alongside reports from the other side of the world. They knew the articles about their local area were based in reality, which gave them faith in the reporting by foreign correspondents whose subjects would always be a world away.

Today, some of those papers are still being delivered, but most people are getting information that’s dumped into a newsfeed: The far-flung reporting doesn’t benefit from being packaged with the tangible news nearby, and the local news suffers under an algorithm that’s built to connect family and friends, but not neighbors. We lose touch with the news near and far, and lose trust in the value of professional journalism.

2. I’ll admit to wanting to sustain a model of journalism I’ve been lucky to work in for years: digital neighborhood news. At its best, there’s nothing like it in the news business today. People will stop a digital neighborhood reporter on the street to thank them for the work they do, and that enthusiasm gives me hope there will be support for a digital public media option in more and more neighborhoods.

3. Our Mission Statement is simple: we’re “devoted to bringing every neighborhood and town the local accountability journalism it needs.” I think communities deserve this kind of coverage, and I’m interested in finding out if they’ll support a nonprofit that gives it to them.

What’s next?
Lots, obviously: the business model, the ways we’d tackle reporting, as well as when we’re going to launch. Follow us on Twitter to keep up.