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2010 Grantees


San Jose, CA


Janice Rombeck
San Jose, CA
(408) 993-9185

A former Mercury News journalist will build a San Jose community news site on the framework of the 10-year-old Strong Neighborhoods Initiative. She will train residents in each of the 19 improvement areas to contribute stories, videos and photos. She will also offer breaking news about projects and City Hall decisions that affect neighborhoods. Future support will be sought from foundations, advertising and the local university.

Check back for future news and updates.


 June 2012

Covering Communities that Don't Make Headlines

Janice Rombeck

How do online community news publishers measure success? Usually by the numbers.

NeighborWebSJ, which covers San Jose, Calif., averages about 2,000 visitors with 6,000 page views a month. The readers stay more than two minutes (way above industry standards), and 40 percent of the 800 e-blast recipients open the online newsletter (also above industry standards.)

The numbers aren’t huge. But add them to a modest but growing social-network fan base and they’re not bad for a two-year startup without an extensive marketing effort. It’s still a long way for NWSJ to meet industry standards of hundreds of thousands of visitors and revenue that pays the bills.

But here’s another way to measure success:

A story about a neighborhood’s efforts to wipe out graffiti, clean up litter and build a community of volunteers caught the attention of USA Today Weekend Magazine, sponsors of a Make a Difference Day contest. USA Today staff encouraged the group to enter the contest. They did and won $10,000 for future projects.

That wouldn’t have happened without NWSJ’s commitment to covering communities that don’t make headlines in mainstream media unless there is a gang-related crime. To a longtime community journalist like me, the Make a Difference Day story is a true measure of success.


In the two years since NWSJ received a New Voices grant, the online news site is making an impact in the community.

  • NeighborWebSJ is still the only South (San Francisco) Bay website focused on community news, civic engagement and neighborhoods.
  • NWSJ’s partnership with KQED radio has widened its exposure and connections to other local news websites, making way for story collaborations.
  • NWSJ’s internship program with San Jose State University not only increased content on NWSJ but also introduced the students to a world beyond the campus. Two of the interns will continue to freelance for NWSJ this summer.
  • NWSJ was the only media outlet to provide detailed coverage of San Jose’s budget cuts to neighborhoods and publish information about all 17 San Jose City Council candidates vying or five open seats. Just as important are the stories that reflect the fabric of San Jose and its residents that we get only because we know our community.

New alliances and collaborations are continuing to emerge that promise to increase traffic and content contributions. And dare I say maybe revenue?

  • A partnership with the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits will shine a spotlight on the work of local nonprofit groups that will promote NeighborWebSJ to the thousands of supporters on their email lists. It also opens the door to selling them ads or story sponsorships.
  • In the fall, NWSJ and Gateway California, a nonprofit connecting journalists with immigrants, will offer a workshop to neighborhood leaders in immigrant communities. Funded by a Knight Foundation grant, the training is aimed at sharpening the communications skills of potential NWSJ contributors.
  • A collaboration of neighborhood groups has chosen NWSJ to be a portal for members to seek information about civic engagement and neighborhood-improvement projects. This has enormous potential to broaden the interest in NWSJ and increase traffic.
  • Emerging also are connections with real-estate professionals who are pointing their clients toward unique local content about their neighborhoods and neighborhood business-district leaders who see NeighborWebSJ as a way to drive customers to their mom-and-pop businesses.

My philosophy of Build It and They Will Come has not yet brought me money. But even in Silicon Valley where venture capitalists abound, it was an overly ambitious goal to build a website, attract an audience and become financially successful in two years. But I believe it will happen. NWSJ may never become a profitable business, but it will continue to grow and connect and serve a readership of community activists.

For me, personally, the New Voices grant allowed me to be a journalist. At a time when most of my former newspaper colleagues are working as public-relations officers and public-information specialists, I consider it a privilege being able to cover the community I love and provide a service to the residents of San Jose.
If I hadn’t received the New Voices grant, after my second layoff in two years, I might have gotten a real job with a steady salary and benefits. But I may not have been any more financially secure in the long run – layoffs are still happening. And I wouldn’t have been able to do what I love. Do what you love and the money will follow. I still believe this is true.

A steady job at a nonprofit or even at City Hall also would not have allowed me to enter the world of online community journalism and its connections with J-Lab, Block by Block, Poynter, Knight Digital Media Center and Bay Area media independents. With these local-news sites becoming the new landscape of journalism, I believe collaboration will lead us to a business model that may not make us rich, but will provide enough for us to continue our missions with pride and dignity. I feel lucky to be part of that world.

So how do we independent community journalists measures success? For me, it’s what I hear more often now when I introduce myself. “NeighborWeb? Oh, yeah. I read that site. I like it.”

 December 2011

NeighborWebSJ Sees Growth in 2011

NeighborWebSJ ends 2011 hopeful that connections made in the past six months will prove to pay off in collaborations to generate more traffic, revenue and content in the coming year. 

Featured Content in 2011

Stories and photos posted during the last two quarters of 2011 embodied NWSJ's mission of providing unique content focused on community issues and projects. San Jose's budget woes continued to generate stories that drilled down to impacts to neighborhoods and city services; NWSJ was the only media to cover San Jose's remapping of its council districts through the lens of neighborhoods, as well as San Jose's new ordinance to regulate marijuana collectives from viewpoints of the collective operator and medicinal marijuana clients. Stories also told the victory of a neighborhood trying to limit the number of unregulated bail bonds businesses that had replaced cafes, grocery stores and coffee shops, and the residents' campaign to keep a small city golf course as open land instead of housing that would boost city revenues.

On a grassroots level, the growth of graffiti in San Jose made NWSJ headlines, especially when a huge panel of a community mural was covered up by a vandal but quickly restored by the artist and a host of volunteers. The church where Cesar Chavez founded the farm workers labor movement was also featured on NWSJ, but not in mainstream media.

NeighborWebSJ Team is Growing

NWSJ is in the process of contracting with three San Jose State University journalism students to be interns for the upcoming semester. They are photojournalism majors who also write and are tech-savvy. Two other talented freelancers, former Mercury News employees, are also contributing photos, stories and videos. Golden Wheel Communications, NWSJ's marketing consultant, has teamed up with the Arnone Group, another media outreach consultant, to provide a more organized and effective marketing plan. Our frequent E-blasts are attracting readers and building our numbers, and a news release on NWSJ's second round of funding generated an item in the San Jose Mercury News. More of those attention-getting strategies are in the works.

Partnerships, Collaborations and Connections

Summer and fall training opportunities not only advanced my skill level and generated strategy ideas, but provided connections that are promising to develop into partnerships on story projects as well as funding support. Connections were forged at Poynter Institute's weeklong Digital Entrepreneurship training in Florida; Block by Block Community News Summit in Chicago; Journalism and Women Symposium in Asheville, North Carolina; and Community Leadership Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.

CLI, sponsored by the nonprofit NeighborWorks America, brought 1,000 neighborhood leaders from across the country together for training from facilitators and learning from each other. Many participants, including NWA staff, were interested in NeighborWebSJ as a tool to unite communities. The organization is likely to be a future funding source for NWSJ.

NWSJ continues to benefit by its partnership with KQED, which regularly posts stories on its Web site through the Networked Journalism project. The public radio station also offered a training session on capturing audio from smart phones. NWSJ's partnership with the Bay Citizen has not been as fruitful, partly because of its reorganization. I believe 2012 will be more promising after I meet with the community editor.

NeighborWebSJ provided training for the third annual Santa Clara County Neighborhood Development Training Conference at San Jose State University. Two sessions on "Using the Internet as a Tool to Unite Neighborhoods" were overflowing with neighborhood leaders eager to learn about NWSJ and how they can use it as a resource. The sessions produced good evaluations and new readers.

Silicon Valley Get Connected Roundtable in Mountain View, CA, brought together non-profits and agencies dedicated to bridging the Digital Divide. NWSJ plans to work with a group that brings computer and the Internet to low-income families and another that helps struggling families maintain their computers. Another new partnership is also forming from that event in November. Gateway California, a Stanford Knight Fellow Phuong Ly's project to connect journalists with immigrant communities, and NWSJ are planning to work together on projects and funding sources.

NWSJ will strengthen its role as a resource for San Jose neighborhoods beyond news coverage. Neighborhood leaders have been engaged to write about ideas, strategies and tools that work for them in improving their communities. San Jose University Urban Planning Department students are providing NWSJ with results on their research to determine the feasibility of students working with neighborhoods near the campus. And the Neighborhoods Commission, a 30-member board elected by their neighborhoods to advise the city council on the neighborhood issues, has selected NWSJ to be its official site for information and community outreach.

All of these connections are pointing toward 2012 as the breakthrough year for NeighborWebSJ. Stay tuned!

Partnerships, Volunteers Boost NeighborWebSJ News Coverage

May 2011

Janice Rombeck, editor and publisher of NeighborWebSJ, is firing on all cylinders.  Under her guidance, the site continues to form partnerships, add to its ranks of volunteers, and break news about San Jose.

Extending Outreach

The site, which initially focused on blighted and low-income areas defined by the City of San Jose’s Strong Neighborhood Initiative, is now extending coverage beyond those initial neighborhoods as the program continues to broaden its focus.  But Rombeck aims to keep the site a vibrant information provider despite a looming budget crisis that threatens to imperil the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative.

To that end, Rombeck has joined the Bay Area Publishers Partnership, a new advertising cooperative, and strengthened connections with CreaTV, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley and a faith-based neighborhood activist group. 

Rombeck also put the website in the spotlight at the Neighborhood Leadership Institute, a daylong training and networking event for nearly 100 San Jose leaders in November 2010.

NWSJ Team Growth

The core of Rombeck’s team continues to provide valuable assistance. Some highlights:

  • Volunteer Natalie DeLeon added Facebook and Twitter to the site’s marketing tool and expanded an email distribution list from 115 to 504.
  • Leader Davide Vieira researched a story on burned out streetlights and built a Google Map to accompany the story.
  • Longtime neighborhood leader Lisa Jensen is helping organize NWSJ’s outreach efforts to neighborhoods and City Hall.
  • Neighborhood Commissioner Mauricio Astacio is helping create a page on the commissioners and the issues they are currently tackling.

Developing News

The extra hands have led to major coverage victories, says Rombeck.  “NWSJ was the first to write about San Jose’s projected $90 million budget deficit and its impact on neighborhoods as well as the return of a popular city grant program for neighborhoods,” she said.

Another recent post shed light on a streetlight shutoff program that got little attention in 2008 but is raising safety concerns now.  NeighborWebSJ’s embedded Google Map shows viewers where the 900 lights are located, and how residents can report other streetlights that are out. 


This Google Map was included in NeighborWebSJ’s coverage of streetlights shut down in San Jose.

“News stories will continue to inform residents about the looming budget crisis in San Jose, including the threat to services at community centers in low-income neighborhoods,” says Rombeck. Her focus will remain on driving traffic to the website and strengthening resident involvement.


NeighborWebSJ Gets a Facelift

October 2010

After the city of San Jose, Calif., launched its $100 million Strong Neighborhoods Initiative in 2002, the local residents began to see a need for an online forum to connect neighborhoods. The idea eventually evolved into NeighborWebSJ, which was launched as a bulletin board in August 2009. 

Janice Rombeck, a self-proclaimed “do-it-yourself media entrepreneur” and former newspaper reporter and editor, took over the site in 2010 and immediately set out to expand content and add an array of interactive features.

The site sets out to inform residents who live in San Jose neighborhood improvement areas, with and aims to break news stories that other media outlets aren’t covering.

New look, new features

Rombeck wanted to refresh the site’s appearance and started by attending a weeklong workshop at the Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley, where she learned to work with the WordPress platform to completely overhaul the site.

With the help of neighborhood volunteers and a KDMC graduate student who Rombeck says “coached and consoled via the Internet,” NWSJ has changed its look and added three new features.

A calendar page serves as a guide to news and events in San Jose neighborhoods. It also imports City Hall and other neighborhood calendars.

An online forum allows residents to debate and discuss issues in the San Jose area and add their own content.

Finally, an interactive Google Map page features links to other blogs and websites started by local residents, as well as contact information for local representatives for the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative.

Community outreach

NeighborWebSJ has worked hard to reach out to other organizations in the community. The home page of the site features quick links to City Council members and local non-profit groups. Rombeck has also partnered with San Jose State University to find journalism students to contribute content to the site.

She notes that the key to continued success will be relying on local citizens to contribute content.

“Residents are starting to show interest in becoming journalists,” Rombeck says. “And when NeighborWebSJ attracts a critical mass, we’ll sponsor a journalism workshop.”

She has also attempted to forge alliances with other media outlets, holding meetings with Create ( a local non-profit cable television station and training center; Oakland Local (, a successful Bay Area news site; and SJ Beez (, a local collaboration of online and print ethnic media that sponsors monthly mixers; and Bay Area Publisher Partnership, a new network launched by the Sacramento Press ( 

In order to spread the word about the revitalized NWSJ site, Rombeck organized two presentations at a United Neighborhoods workshop in April, and she continues to give monthly presentations at a neighborhood leadership group that serves as an advisory board for NWSJ and at Strong Neighborhoods meetings. NWSJ will also be featured at the upcoming Neighborhood Leadership Institute, and was introduced to editors and publishers at the recent Block by Block Community News Summit in the Bay Area.

Looking forward, “Phase 3” takes shape

“Phase 3” of NWSJ will be focused on continuing to add new features, contributors, readers and collaborators. 

Rombeck says she plans to add an online tool kit for readers that will offer “tips on topics ranging from how to start a neighborhood group to speaking at a City Council meeting.”

There will also be two new pages added:  One will highlight the Neighborhoods Commission, a group elected by City Council to serve as an advisory board on neighborhood issues; a second will be an extended contact page offering residents information on how to report graffiti, abandoned cars and more.

Rombeck also wants to generate a broader range of viewpoints and voices, and plans to use grant money to create a media center and purchase laptops and cameras for citizen journalists. The media center would provide workshops, training and support to residents looking to contribute.

“As a startup, NeighborWebSJ has built a solid foundation,” Rombeck says. “There’s tremendous potential to connect neighborhoods across San Jose and provide news about events and issues that aren’t being covered by other media.”

—Ashley Bright

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American University School of CommunicationJohn S. and James L. Knight FoundationJ-LabNew 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.
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