An innovative citizen journalism initiative empowers local residents to use technology to bring attention to issues in their community that they deem newsworthy. NeighborMedia’s nine citizen journalists, based in all of Cambridge’s zip codes, are using a unique combination of web and television media to promote community events, alert neighbors to proposed development, and explore difficult issues like violence and racism. NeighborMedia content is available for viewing on the web at www.ccvcambridge.org/neighbormedia and on CCTV’s community cable channels.
2007 grantees Julie Adler and Clodagh Rule of NeighborMedia discuss the rewards of their program. This interview took place on April 5, 2008, at the New Voices 2007 Grantee Meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, D.C.
Robust Contributions from Citizen Journalists Pave the Way for New Website Design
As Cambridge Community Television’s NeighborMedia project moves into its third year, NeighborMedia journalists are more active than ever, covering a wide range of stories using television and the Web.
CCTV originally received New Voices funding in 2007 to plan and implement the Neighbor-to-Neighbor project, now known as NeighborMedia. By embedding citizen journalists in each of the city’s five neighborhoods, the project seeks to provide Cambridge residents with information to help them decide what action they need to take about local issues and events, and create a synergy between CCTV’s community cable channels and website.
After year one, CCTV’s community media coordinator, Colin Rhinesmith, and former program coordinator, Julie Adler, developed a list of goals for the project’s second year that included expanding the website’s pool of citizen journalists; developing a new training program which offers opportunities for gradual skill building; making portable, easy-to-use video equipment available to citizen journalists; and offering one-on-one technical assistance to citizen journalists.
“When you have a city of 100,000 whose boards, commissions - even the city council - is mostly uncovered by traditional media, the need for what we do at NeighborMedia is clear.”
In September 2008, NeighborMedia started towards these goals with 11 citizen journalists participating. At the start of their term, these new journalists attended an orientation where they learned about project goals and discussed the basics of citizen journalism. All were given easy-to-use Flip video cameras and learned to operate them. At that time, each citizen journalist selected an area of production to focus on: blogging, digital photography, audio production, and/or video production. Journalists were directed to training based on their areas of focus and received access to digital still cameras, video cameras, editing software, and computers to produce web and television media highlighting neighborhood issues and events.
As of June 2009, nine of these journalists remain active contributors. Since September, they have produced a steady flow of web content, posting more than 150 blog entries on CCTV’s website. Participation on the site is increasing, with more individuals responding to articles.
Citizen journalist Karin Koch, for instance, continues to use both CCTV and the website to cover community issues in English and Spanish. Another, Maria Burns Ortiz, has published three breaking news stories over the past two months, covering a fire at a church, an accident at a train station, and a bomb scare in Harvard Square. A third journalist, Karen Klinger, is covering proposed development and zoning issues in her neighborhood that have been neglected in the mainstream media.
Reflecting on a recent story about the attempt by Zipcar, a car-sharing service, to change city zoning regulations, Klinger explained, “My story elicited dozens of comments on the Porter Square Neighborhood Association listserv which is now sending a letter to the planning board laying out its position. But none of this would have happened without NeighborMedia. There has not been a word about this proposed change in the (Cambridge) Chronicle or The (Boston) Globe. When you have a city of 100,000 whose boards, commissions - even the city council - is mostly uncovered by traditional media, the need for what we do at NeighborMedia is clear.”
This year, two journalists are hosting television shows on CCTV’s BeLive set. Each program is being shown on Cambridge Channel 9 and streamed live on CCTV’s website. In addition, journalists have begun to experiment with field production, shooting and editing more than 60 videos. On June 11, 2009, NeighborMedia journalists hosted a screening of their work at CCTV.
Meanwhile, staff members at CCTV have been strategizing about ways to develop NeighborMedia’s audience. While an attempt to partner with Cambridge’s weekly newspaper was not successful, the website’s use of Twitter has helped raise the program’s visibility substantially. Since developing a Twitter account, online news outlets including www.universalhub.com, bostonist.com and even www.boston.com have linked to NeighborMedia stories.
As it continues to work to brand the CCTV website as the place to go for Cambridge news and information, the group is also searching for ways to improve the website. CCTV will use some additional technical assistance from J-Lab to support the work of Proof Group, a web consulting company that specializes in informational design, to develop a new design for NeighborMedia to make it easier for readers to find stories they are interested in and comment on them.
Blogging From the Backyard
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but at Cambridge Community Television, you can take Cambridge residents out of their neighborhood meetings and into the digitally dominated 21st century.” So begins a glowing article about CCTV’s NeighborMedia in Wicked Local. The piece profiled NeighborMedia’s Karen Klinger, a longtime journalist who resigned from the board of the Porter Square Neighborhood Association to avoid a conflict of interest while reporting for CCTV.
“I don’t think you should both cover a neighborhood association and be one of the board members,” Klinger told the Wicked Local correspondent. Klinger is the mover behind one of NeighborMedia’s most popular features, Cambridge Eyesores, which documents decrepit and abandoned buildings that seem to have escaped official notice or attention.
In its first nine months of life, NeighborMedia’s six citizen journalists have covered gentrification of Central Square, the delayed opening of city parks, proposed development projects, and have provided information about holiday events and citywide emergencies. They have posted 110 blog entries and hosted 27 half-hour BeLive interview programs on local topics.
In recent months, NeighborMedia has taken its message of civic engagement through information to community meetings throughout the city, learning from residents about the issues that matter most to them and making them aware of the project. NeighborMedia has received a grant from the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities to produce media that brings attention to accessibility issues across the city.
Meanwhile, NeighborMedia leaders are in the process of evaluating the program’s goals and impact as they head into their second year. Some changes they are considering include:
Creating a larger group of technical mentors.
Offering open office hours for technical assistance.
Developing a new training program which offers opportunities for gradual skill building.
Making portable, easy-to-use video equipment available to NeighborMedia reporters.
The project is recruiting additional citizen journalists. “Are you interested in digging deep into Cambridge to highlight meaningful issues and events? Are you passionate about storytelling but don’t know quite where to begin?” Thus reads a recent email blast to CCTV listserv subscribers. You can also check out NeighborMedia’s own recruitment page and application here.
Correspondent Sharon Steniford, who has covered the 02139 ZIP code, says it’s a rewarding experience. “You have your hand on the pulse of what’s happening in your neighborhood - things that may not be covered in the local newspaper but are important, anyway.”
Building Skills and Community
Since September 2007, Cambridge Community Television’s NeighborMedia project has been giving its six citizen journalists the tools they need to cover the homefront. A new Blogging 101 class is assisting reporters in strengthening their posts. And reporters have been using CCTV’s easy-to-use BeLive set to host discussions about local concerns. In fact, between November and February, the NeighborMedia team hosted 10 half-hour BeLive programs that aired Wednesday and Sunday evenings on Cambridge Channel 9 and streamed live on CCTV’s website.
Each NeighborMedia citizen reporter zooms in on the ZIP Code where they live, posting and hosting about a slew of issues: Gentrification and development, traffic issues and snow emergencies, energy efficient homes, and even a coyote sighting in a local cemetery. A new project called “Cambridge Eyesores” invites residents to help photograph and document abandoned businesses that cause urban blight.
The recent gunshot death of a Haitian-American teen prompted messages in memory of a promising young man.
“I knew not Lucien, but his face is familiar to me. Surely I have bumped into him on some basketball court around the city, I must have said ‘hey now’ ... with a ‘y’all be safe’ to boot. I must have seen him amongst the gaggle of teens who weekly liven up the CCTV hallways - and matter of fact he made his mark by getting involved at CCTV in 2005.”
While NeighborMedia members have been writing, uploading photos and anchoring on-camera conversations, they haven’t yet leapt into the heart of field production. To address this challenge, CCTV has recruited a seasoned community TV producer to serve as a technical mentor. They’ve also offered a new four-session class in news production, which will lead students through the stages of planning, shooting and editing stories for broadcast.
In the meantime, a CCTV video editor is creating monthly wrap-up shows using segments produced by the NeighborMedia team. Those shows are airing on Channel 9 and on Blip TV.
And, the citizen journalists are hitting the streets to promote NeighborMedia, attending community meetings throughout the city to make residents aware of the project and get their input about issues of concern. As NeighborMedia coordinator Julie Adler described in her year-end blog post, one clear goal of this outreach is to inspire more engagement from the community.
Lights! Camera! InterAction!
Over the last few months, Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) staff has been implementing a comprehensive outreach plan, hiring a project coordinator, recruiting 7 citizen journalists, and a team of news correspondents for Neighbor to Neighbor, newly renamed NeighborMedia. CCTV has promoted the program to city departments and community organizations that are searching for ways to promote their issues.
In April of 2007, CCTV began a collaboration with the CTC VISTA, a program that connects Americorps*VISTA members with nonprofits that use information and communications technologies to address the needs of low-income communities. Through this program, CCTV recruited a Boston University College of Communications graduate Julie Adler to coordinate all aspects of the NeighborMedia project.
Over the summer, CCTV interviewed candidates for its citizen journalist positions. Each must have a history of working in the neighborhoods in the Zip Code to which they are assigned. The citizen journalist’s job is to identify important local issues not adequately explored in the media, and lead the planning and production of news segments to cover those concerns.
Seven journalists were invited to join the NeighborMedia team. These individuals attended a training program where they learned about the project and some basics of citizen journalism with Lisa Williams, founder of Placeblogger and H2otown. After orientation, participants jumped right in, creating blogs on CCTV’s website. They’ve written about topics such as greening of Cambridge schools, the delay in opening a much-anticipated public park, and the Arts Central festival in Central Square.
The citizen reporters have been using CCTV’s BeLive single-camera studio to hone their interviewing skills and get comfortable on camera. Since mid-September, the NeighborMedia team has produced six 27-minute BeLive programs which aired on Cambridge Channel 9 and streamed on the CCTV website.
“While NeighborMedia journalists have been producing a wealth of content, many are struggle with the technology,” says CCTV Director Susan Fleischmann. So, CCTV staff members are recruiting technical mentors to assign them in field production. And they are seeking an intern to edit video segments into a monthly NeighborMedia program.
The project is also monitoring closely NeighborMedia’s effectiveness in facilitating civic engagement, while working on building CCTV’s web capacity to foster more participation and interactivity on local issues. Recently CCTV launched a Groups feature on its website in an effort to foster a dialogue about events at CCTV and in the larger community.
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.