Messaging is a challenge. But without messengers, it’s impossible.


I once wrote an obituary for a pet pig. In that same paper I also wrote about important city policy discussions, celebrated an ordinary citizen with extraordinary ideas, or planted seeds for community organizations that are thriving now. 

I spent more than 20 years writing for a family-owned, small town newspaper. I can say with certainty: locally-based reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. But real local news needs trusted community messengers who are intentional about lifting up factual, relevant content.

With so many online bad actors spreading disinformation, we can only get so far by debunking twisted facts. We need a playbook that goes beyond telling the truth. That is why we at COURIER developed Good Info Messengers as part of that strategy. This new model of organizing melds the best principles of advocacy with civic journalism to help win the information war and increase the flow of good, strategic information online. 

I know some newsrooms may balk at the idea of training volunteers to engage with and share the content they create. However, the evergreen rule of relevant stories finding their audience ignores two modern developments: paywalls and social media. Readers are less likely to pay for news and are increasingly getting the majority of their information from online social platforms.

We know disinformation spreads far faster than real news. Quality content alone is no longer enough to break through the noise – and not just on a national level. Communities are being torn apart by disinformation. The panic, anger, and mistrust it creates simultaneously suppresses civic engagement and froths up a new, misinformed faction steered by politically-motivated cultures of resentment. 

By teaching communities  how to use social media platforms as tools to share quality news, Good Info Messengers help shape the information diet of people within their sphere of influence. This theory of change has a goal bigger than slowing down disinformation. We also want to increase civic participation, and ultimately, help restore trust in the foundations of democracy (and yes, in journalism, too). 

Good Info Messengers is, at its core, a simple idea that may help reduce an algorithm deficit quality news often faces. But it’s also about building connections, re-learning how to have civil dialogue, and most importantly, entering into a two-way conversation with local news.  

Subscribers of my small town paper did not always agree with the stories we chose to publish…or chose to ignore. They would come to the office or pick up the phone, write frustrated emails or Letters to the Editor. But also, they would keep coming back, week after week, to read. 

Why? We had relationships. We saw each other in the grocery store, or at school pick-up, or a non-profit fundraiser. We built a rapport around a mutual love of place. We could agree to disagree without falling into conspiracies or reducing each other to that dreaded sense of “other” we know all too well today.

That era of small town news started fading with the rise of social media. We  fell prey to the belief that good information will always rise to the top. We didn’t think to be proactive in building a grassroots movement to protect not only truth, but trust. Everyday, I witness the systematic destruction of faith in local government and public institutions in a town without a single stoplight. In 2021, I was sent screenshots of someone wanting to string me up in our nonexistent town square following coverage of the great school masking debate. Less than 24 hours later, I was in the grocery store picking out honeycrisp apples next to the person who posted that comment. He didn’t say a word.

That’s the shift. National rhetoric tinged by disinformation has reached our doorsteps. 

There is a growing movement to return to local news after a decade-plus of papers folding or being bought by large corporations. Without intentionally developing news verifiers within our communities, however, this renewed interest may be a nonstarter. 

Trust in media institutions is at an all-time low. Investing in local reporting without an innovative model – both to remove the stigma of elitism and to create a sense of pride in state-based journalism – may only deepen the divide.  When it comes to local coverage, we need newsrooms that can survive without a paywall, and we need to think like non-profits who invest in ambassadors for their cause. 

I believe in local news. I believe to repair what’s broken in democracy, we have to start with a well-informed electorate. I also believe that in order to breathe real, authentic life into that ideal, we need to first be in the places we are trying to serve. We need to all become Good Info Messengers. 


Kate Bassett is the National Organizing Director for Courier Newsroom — a network of newsrooms across eight U.S. states. Prior to joining COURIER, Kate was a political and community organizer and also spent two decades reporting for a local newsroom in northern Michigan.