The Coronado Public Library is more than just another one of the city’s architectural wonders.
Within the walls of the classical revival style exterior, the building is a coined information hub, community center, concert venue and now birthplace of Factly News, a project created to combat “news deserts” across the country.
News deserts are communities where residents have limited access to credible news.
More than 200 counties in America do not have a local newspaper and 1,630 counties only have one weekly paper according to the 2022 report conducted by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Those communities constitute 70 million people, about a fifth of the nation’s population.
Piloting a project to hydrate these deserts is La Jolla local Shaun Briley, director of the Coronado Public Library who will run Factly News and offer it to libraries around the country.
With the tagline, “A home for local news after the newspapers have gone,” Factly will partner with libraries in news desert areas to provide targeted methods of information delivery.
Since many of these libraries are small, under-resourced, and don’t have the skills or staff to supply traditional news coverage, Factly News will provide them with website templates and training to promote media literacy. From there, trained citizen journalists will keep it going, Briley said.
The project will offer media literacy and citizen journalism education to help the public find accurate information for themselves.
It will offer a local news page curated to that specific community, featuring a fact or fiction section that tackles frequently asked questions. There also will be a watchdog section to provide information on the local government and “plain English minutes” of local public meetings. Factly News will give citizens the resources to hold their local government and businesses accountable, Briley said.
“You’re not just providing news in their area. You are creating a network of all of these news desert libraries where they are partnering with media schools on a bigger scale,” said Briley. “They are becoming a listening post in these areas where there is a black hole.”
‘Mover and Shaker’
Briley was hired as director in April 2019, after previously working as the director of the La Jolla/Riford Library.
He was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker of the year in 2016 and the San Diego Public Library Employee of the Year in 2018. He currently is the chairperson of the Serra Cooperative Library System, a collaborative body of all libraries in San Diego and Imperial counties.
In his time at Coronado, Briley has implemented ways to promote efficiency by expanding access to book collections, adding new self-checkout machines, and converting barcodes that allow multiple books to be processed at once.
Recently, the historic Reading Room was turned into a gallery of rotating art exhibits.
With restructuring, the library’s focus has shifted to reflect the importance of community events and programming, he said.
“Libraries are less and less about the books that you’re circulating. They are a venue, a community center,” said Briley.
Within this community centered model, Briley saw an opportunity to tackle the larger issue of news deserts across the country.
As a forerunner of library innovations located in a town that possesses several news outlets, the Coronado Library has the necessary tools to help news desert areas, he said.
U.S. has lost 2,500 newspapers
While Coronado has those outlets, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism’s 2022 report stated that since 2005, the country has lost 2,500 newspapers, averaging more than two paper disappearances per week.
In Oregon, for example, The Medford Mail Tribune ceased to exist on Jan. 13, in a metropolitan area of 223,000 people, after starting in the late 1800s.
With these sources gone, Northwestern’s report stated that citizens often turn to social media for their information, perpetuating the increased distrust of the news, and a rise in the spread of misinformation and political polarization.
When citizens are not being fed credible information at a grassroots level, it presents a threat to maintaining the informed and engaged citizenship vital for a healthy democracy, the report said.
“We’ve seen how susceptible people are to rumors and fake news,” said Briley. “It’s a very important issue, and I genuinely believe that libraries can do something about it.”
Not only are libraries located in every news desert community, but they also bring their reputation as highly trusted neutral entities with librarians trained in assessing information, he said.
For these reasons, libraries provide the perfect infrastructure to fill the void where news sources are lacking.
“We try to navigate that tightrope of not being political in any way and genuinely doing what libraries do, which is getting information out to help people make their own decisions,” said Briley.
What is Factly News?
Factly News was created by the joint work of librarians and journalists and supported by the Friends of the Coronado Public Library.
Carl Luna, president of the Friends of the Coronado Library, said it’s important for Coronado’s participation in this endeavor.
“The Friends of the Library is delighted to support the Coronado Library in developing the unique Factly News Initiative,” said Luna. “Supporting innovative Coronado Library outreach programs like the Factly News initiative helps raise the regional and even national profile of our library, which directly helps the library to continue to attract major cultural, civic and educational leaders.”
To learn more about the Factly News project and explore ways to participate, visit https://factlynews.org/