A new tool to find stories from underrepresented voices

Editor’s note:  Rachel Hislop is the Editor in Chief of Okayplayer, which represents the innovative, artistic and progressive voice of black culture through the amplification of music, art, film and politics.

In December of 2019, I was onstage at a Google News conference in Chicago giving a short presentation about creating stories for diverse audiences. I wanted to introduce Okayplayer’s approach towards telling stories about marginalized communities to the room of small to midsize publishers. My thesis was straightforward: If you want to change the story, you have to change the storyteller. The following months would prove me right: There’s a very real need to find new storytellers.

Nearly 200 counties in the United States do not have a local news publication — this means nearly 3 million people nationwide are very likely to be unaware of what’s happening in their communities. Publications, journalists, and credible news accessibility are all destabilized when access to local stories is limited.

It was clear that there needed to be some innovation around how newsrooms get stories out the door, and how new bylines — of those most qualified to tell the stories of their communities — got on our pages. 

With bootstrapped budgets and disappearing resources due to archaic advertising models, getting new voices on the page is a difficult task for newsrooms. The pandemic and resulting lockdown also limited mobility and made people more reliant on community news. The social justice protests last summer are a perfect example: We saw cities like Minneapolis and Louisville, Ky. become hubs for stories with global impact while publications scrambled to get more diverse voices on their pages.

One of the main complaints about representation in media is finding journalists from diverse backgrounds with differing world views. This is the problem Okayplayer focused on as a recipient of the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge — we used the support to address the decline of on-the-ground reporting opportunities for local journalists. In addition to targeting the issues affecting our newsroom, we wanted to focus on the industry-wide need for revenue model innovation that amplifies new voices and local stories. From that, The Byline Project was born.

The Byline Project is a completely free digital tool that empowers small and mid-size publishers and local storytellers to help bring local reporting back to their communities while connecting the work of storytellers to financial support from a broader digital audience.

The Byline Project is open-source software that publishers can install into their WordPress platform. It will streamline the reporting process, starting with receiving pitches from writers, photographers and creators, and take editors all the way through to the moment a story goes live. It will also integrate with industry-standard collaboration Google products — like Google Docs. And once stories are published, the online community can financially support content creators directly by tipping writers.

For writers and storytellers,The Byline Project provides direct access to editors who are accepting pitches. It also provides a centralized hub where they can collaborate on projects as well as the previously mentioned capability to directly earn money for their work from readers.

We hope The Byline Project can support a community-driven local reporting landscape on Okayplayer’s pages, while giving small and mid-size publishers like ourselves the tools to do the same.

Journalists can begin submitting pitches to Okayplayer via thebylineproject.com. Local news publishers can learn more about installing The Byline Project software for their news platforms by visiting TheBylineProject.com.