Oakland Local has launched a series of community issue-oriented breakfasts at cafes around that Bay-Area city, discussing events we have covered – and they’re selling out. Inspired by Beacon & Eggs, the St. Louis Beacon's long-running monthly meet and greet, the Oakland Local team organized Oakland News Cafe.
The first event, titled "Imagining the Future of Innovative Retail," took place at a downtown advertiser's cafe and sold out with 50 people attending. The second, "Social Media and Social Movements in Oakland," was held at a cafe in Jack London Square, another local community. The second event also sold out, with more than 50 people attending.
We’re planning three more News Cafes in this series; the next will be "Innovation in Education," and will take place in April in Oakland's Grand Lake district. The monthly events combine coffee-and-pastry-fueled chats with a current-events focused panel discussion.
What's been great about these events has been the mix of long-time Oakland Local readers and people who are new to us, but who are community minded and interested in the issues we cover.
"We've got a great cross-section," said Kwan Booth, Oakland Local's co-founder and one of the organizers. "And the move to different cafes supports local business and makes it accessible to more people."
We use Eventbrite to register attendees, and offer sliding-scale pricing, ranging from $4 to $7 for coffee, a pastry, and community-driven conversation. A sponsor - usually a local business or non-profit - helps underwrite the cost. At each session, attendees are given an issue-focused briefing sheet with information about the topic, links to Oakland Localstories, and bios of the panelists.
Events are promoted via house ads, the Oakland Local newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
"It's been interesting to see just how many people are clicking on the Twitter links," said Debi Mason, Oakland Local's marketing and promotions manager. "Twitter is huge for driving interest in these events."
These morning events have been an effective way to build closer community connections, bring stories to life, and drive discussion. In Oakland, they've been quite popular, and will most likely pave the way for more live Oakland Local events.
New Voices Site Sees Strong Content and Bottom Line Growth
By Jan Schaffer J-Lab Executive Director
This post originally appeared J-Lab's Spotted blog.
Stories about financial success and strong content top the latest news from our New Voices grantees:
Grosse Pointe Today, a 2009 grantee, reported its first positive cash flow month in January, taking in about $800 more than it spent. Editor Ben Burns expects February to be the same. “We are advising some of our volunteer freelance journalists that we will pay $200 for in-depth articles approved by us because we want to run regular substantive stories on issues the Pointes are facing,” he said.
Oregon Arts Watch, a 2010 grantee, has signed up 11 different arts organizations in Portland as supporters. The organizations are paying a reduced fee to offer their membership subscriptions to Oregon Arts Watch for the initial year. All told, that’s more than 30,000 members for Oregon Arts Watch before launch. Editor Barry Johnson is now seeking additional funding from individual supporters to help get the project off the ground. He is planning to launch no later than June 1.
Madison Commons, a 2005 grantee, just received a competitive three-year grant from the University of Wisconsin Morgridge Center for Public Service to incorporate community-based journalism into the curriculum of its parent school, the UW-Madison School for Journalism and Mass Communication. Project leader Lew Friedland, a professor at the school, said Madison Commons will work with the local community college to incorporate students and WISC-TV has made a $5,000 gift to support a project involving its website, Channel 3000.
One of the newest grantees, Essex Voices, has launched a beta version of its site. Coordinator Jennifer Wager notes that some of the video pieces already posted (here and here) are indicative of future ambitions for the project. Essex County College, which operates the year-round site, is collaborating this semester with the on-campus women’s center and Africana Institute. Wager will also partner with the Newark New Media Innovation Lab to create a series of workshops for students and the general public this spring.
In “Pricing Out the West Grove,” 2009 grantee Grand Avenue News presented a series of videos on aspects of development in the Miami neighborhood. This feature nicely complements The Shutter, the site’s photojournalism blog. Editor Kim Grinfeder said his team is now geotagging stories and will work on a story map in the coming year.
It was announced March 28 that Oakland Local will receive a 2011 Oakland Innovators Award. The awards are given by Oaklandish, an apparel outfit that donates a portion of its proceeds to community projects in the Oakland Community. According to Oaklandish, the awards are given to individuals and organizations who are doing pioneering work in the community and promoting innovation in areas like arts, education, technology and business.
The award includes a $2,500 grant, one that Oakland Local founder Susan Mernit says will be used to help fund a project called Our Neighborhood Love Letter to Oakland Road Show. Mernit says the grant, along with extra money earned through fundraising, will enable them to partner with local community organizations to bring Oakland Local reporters and trainers into five nearby neighborhoods during the summer to work with local youth and adults to create content.
This is “a project that builds on the support for curriculum development we received this year from The California Endowment, and our commitment to serving people in communities of color in Oakland by strengthening the ability of members of those communities to speak for themselves online,” Mernit said in an email.
The goal of the program, Mernit says, is to create stories, videos and photo-essays showcasing the character of the city through the words and pictures of those who live in it. The final pieces will be published online and in a gallery exhibit.
San Jose, Calif.‘s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative led NeighborWebSJ to provide its readers with a better understanding of the city’s redevelopment efforts. The site features an interactive Google map highlighting 13 of the city’s focus neighborhoods. When clicked on, each neighborhood displays the name of its council’s president and the date of its next meeting. The site also lists the individual web pages of each neighborhood for more information.
Through 2010, New Voices grants have been awarded to 55 local news projects from a pool of 1,433 applicants. All were required either to have nonprofit status or a fiscal agent. This reports examines the outcomes of the 46 projects that were launched with New Voices funding from mid-2005 through mid-2010. Nine additional grantees, announced in May 2010,will be debuting their sites over the next 10 months.
Simply put, we examined what worked and what didn’t, what made for robust sites or led to disappointment. We offer tips to help other startups and recommendations for Knight and other foundations based on what J-Lab has learned in mentoring these startups.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Community news sites should engage, not just inform, their users; ramp up quickly with social media tools; tease out contributors rather than train a corps of citizen journalists in advance; and invest a lot of sweat equity, according to a new J-Lab report culling lessons learned from five years of funding community news startups.
The report, “New Voices: What Works,” distills the track record of 48 community news projects launched since 2005 and offers recommendations for the future. The projects were created with small grants from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded the grant program.
“One of the most important contributions of all of the New Voices community news sites is not that they replaced news coverage that has been constricted - rather they added coverage that did not exist before, not even in the heyday of American journalism,” said Jan Schaffer, J-Lab director, in releasing the report.
“The report shows that New Voices projects have added perspectives to community debate while serving as important experiments,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation’s director of digital media.
Among the report’s 10 key takeaways:
Engagement, not just content, is key: Robust and frequent content begets more content but it’s the engagement with users that make sites successful.
Citizen journalism is a high-churn, high-touch enterprise: Citizen journalism math is working out this way: Fewer than one in 10 of those you train will stick around to be regular contributors. It’s better to nurture frequent site visitors to generate content.
Social media is ushering in a new era for community news startups. Sites that build on friend networks are launching with lightning speed.
Sweat equity counts for a lot: Projects built on the grit and passion of the founders have created the most promising models for sustainability.
Community news sites are not a business yet. Income from grants, ads, events and other things falls short, in most cases, of paying staff salaries and operating expenses.
Nevertheless, optimism in the sector runs high and passion for informing their communities are juicing a lot of online local news startups. “These projects inject rays of hope at a time when the business of journalism is imperiled,” Schaffer said. “The New Voices projects continued to adapt to their realities and confound our expectations - in good ways.”
The New Voices program, launched in 2005, awards start-up funding to news entrepreneurs to create community news sites. Through 2010, 55 projects were funded from a pool of 1,433 applicants. The report examines the 46 projects funded from 2005 through 2009. Nine other sites funded this year will launch over the next six months.
According to the report, the 46 New Voices grantees launched 48 projects; 42 are still online. Of those sites, 32 - or 76 percent - are still being actively updated. The most robust projects operate year-round and regularly post new content; the less robust projects were plagued by frequent turnover of key people or technological problems.
The New Voices projects launched from 2005 through 2008 received $17,000 in grants over two years. Beginning in 2009, grantees received $25,000.
About Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org and www.J-Learning.org), the New Voices community media grant program (www.j-newvoices.org), the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism (www.j-lab.org), and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (www.newmediawomen.org).
About American University’s School of Communication
AU’S School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research and innovative production in the fields of journalism, film and media arts and public communication, working across media platforms and with a focus on public affairs and public service.
There’s been an explosion in the number of nonprofit news sites, and now you’re considering joining this exciting movement.
Here’s a word of caution: You won’t just be doing journalism. You will be an employer, a manager, a grants writer, a negotiator and sometimes a bookkeeper. You’ll have a steep learning curve. But if you decide to go ahead, you’ll be in good company: Scores of enthusiastic and dedicated people have gone before you and formed journalism nonprofits that are carrying out good work.
This module sets out to identify the hurdles you’ll face and guide you through the process of creating a nonprofit newsroom. Even if you ultimately decide that you want to create a for-profit business, you’ll find some useful tips in this module.
In any case, proceed with caution. If you have a job, don’t quit it until a solid framework is in place for your new organization. You’ll need to draw upon every bit of that planning time—and adapt to changing conditions—to start and sustain a nonprofit.
The Oregon Arts Watch website launched in early July with commissioned stories from four local arts journalists, plans to move towards attaining nonprofit status, and some partnerships and events in the works.
After some problems with an initial website, the project launched a pilot site on WordPress while one of its board members has donated time to develop a better site for the future.
So far, the site has broken some news, written some previews and reviews and tried some longer-form feature stories and shorter form news bits. Podcasts are planned, said site founder Barry Johnson.
The site has commissioned stories from:
• Brett Campbell, who does classical music stories.
• Lisa Radon, who writes about visual arts for a variety of publications.
• Bob Hicks, a former editor for The Oregonian.
• Martha Ullman West, who just completed her term as the president of the national Dance Critics Association, is working on OAW's Northwest Biographies project.
The site is lining up more journalists to write stories for this fall.
OAW has received a small revenue stream ($6,000 per year) for producing a “highlights” calendar for TravelPortland, a non-profit destination marketing organization. Johnson said this might expand to include regular syndication of OAW content on the TravelPortand site.
OAW has started another partnership with Playbills Northwest, which provides programs to several of the larger local arts organizations. It sells advertising into those programs and has begun producing a performing arts annual. The company has agreed to help sell ads and sponsorships for OAW's website and eNewsletter.and OAW is providing the first installment of its Northwest Biographies project for the annual.
OAW has not yet ramped up web advertising, but Johnson said the Regional Arts and Culture Council has already reserved space to advertise its mobile public art application.
Key to OAW's business plan are partnerships with arts groups, and Johnson said OAW has nailed down the details of its arrangements with most of the arts organizations that initially agreed to be OAW partners. There are three main parts to these partnerships:
1) The arts groups are helping OAW connect to their subscribers and members so OAW can convert them, free of charge, to membership in Oregon Arts Watch. "We will be giving them materials to insert in their ticket packages that will direct subscribers to our sign-up page. They will also link to us from their email blasts. Our goal is ambitious (15,000). We are counting on converting a large number of these free memberships into paid ones in Year Two of the project," Johnson said.
2) The arts groups are paying OAW a small amount of money per subscriber to pay for the memberships. This is a major part of OAW's projected income for Year One.
3) In return, OAW is offering the partnering arts groups the chance to use its eNewsletter to offer ticket discounts and packages to the full mailing list.
4) The fourth aspect is simply the marketing muscle of the arts groups, through their email blasts and social marketing efforts.
OAW has been in talks with Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian about other partnerships. And it is planning two special events, one for the fall and one for the winter, one focusing on theater and the other dance. OAW will invite its members to these events, record them and also use them to encourage discussion on the website.
OAW has assembled a six-member board of directors and its moving forward in seeking its nonprofit 501(c)(3) application. Each of the board members is working on a special project, such asweb design, special events, contracts, and legal business.
"Mostly, we need to do some journalism so that both our partners and our audience begins to see what we’re attempting to do," Johnson said, "and so that we can figure that out ourselves."
Barry Johnson is anxious to launch the Oregon Arts Watch website in June. He considers the 10-month “gestation period,” as he put it, necessary to launch with the membership model he and his colleague envisioned. Arts organizations have agreed to pay the site a per-member fee to give them a subscription to the site.
“We’ve done a lot of planning and negotiating, but the start-up will generate a lot of answers and new problems,” he said.
Launching the Partnerships
Eleven Portland-area arts organizations have agreed to be partners in the site’s first year. In exchange for a fee of $1 or $2 per member, the organizations will provide their subscribers free access to the website’s comprehensive arts coverage.
By receiving the eNewsletter, the members will not only access the site, but also receive ticket deals from the arts groups and invitations to live events held by OAW, including panel discussions, lectures, demonstrations and onstage interviews.
One of the challenges for Johnson, however, is figuring out exactly how much revenue the arts organizations will bring in, partly because the groups do not know how many members they will have for the 2011-2012 season. He anticipates the amount will be $40,000.
For additional revenue, Johnson has reached a basic agreement with a company to sell advertisements for the site. OAW will also syndicate content, including to The Oregonian, Oregon Public Broadcasting and TravelPortland’s website and publications.
Johnson describes this audience as the “arts omnivores” and points to studies that indicate these people attend several events a month and don’t confine themselves to one specific arts area. Portland is also ranked #3 nationally in per-capita attendance at arts events of all kinds.
Seven practicing arts journalists make up the site’s journalism committee that has met to discuss a coverage strategy to reach this particular crowd.
“We see ourselves as supplemental,” he said. “We won’t duplicate the work of existing critics and journalists by doing overnight reviews or doing announcement stories.” Instead, the site will link to those and focus on news, feature stories, essays and more “on-the-ground” reporting than he believes local media currently provide.
As development on the website continues, Johnson is also tackling back-office tasks, such as applying for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) and settling on bookkeeping procedures. He is also focused on the mechanics of the membership operation. He notes that while the marketing departments of the partner organizations will help a great deal, “we need to develop our own marketing strategy without a lot of capitol to invest.”
In addition, he keeps his eyes trained well into Year Two of Oregon Arts Watch. He’s considering fundraising plans for future growth.
“We’ll see if that front-end time investment generates the money we’ll need to keep the project going,” Johnson said. He’s hoping for positive reviews.
Eleven arts organizations in Oregon have stepped up to the plate to support the not-yet-launched Oregon Arts Watch, both with subscribers (more than 30,000 members) and financial commitments (more than $45,000 from the groups).
While the number of subscribers exceeds the projected goal of 25,000 individuals prior to launch, the financial contributions are lower than the hoped-for $65,000.
As a result, OAW’s Barry Johnson now plans to appeal to individual project donors in the community beginning this month.
Johnson’s initial plan was to work with arts organizations in Portland to convert their membership into subscribers of Oregon Arts Watch - with the organizations picking up the discounted price. He sees it as his mission to convince members that, in year two, they should subscribe as individuals.
“If Oregon Arts Watch is going to be sustainable, it will be because the members want to support it,” said Johnson.
Meantime, OAW is working to assemble a team of volunteer journalists to discuss work-flow, hosted blogs, payments and an arts wire.
As OAW works to bring together its resources, it is also developing a partnership with legacy media outlets in Oregon. Johnson notes the editor of The Oregonian is willing to work with OAW, and OAW is discussing a potential partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Johnson hopes to pay freelancers a professional fee, low at first, that may rise based on the organization’s financial footing.
OAW is also working to complete a 501(c)(3) application and have registered with the state of Oregon as a non-profit corporation. With volunteer legal and accounting help secured, OAW has already recruited two members to fill the board of directors and are working to find more candidates.
OAW is making a list of design suggestions and technical requirements for the website, and is hoping to get an initial site up launched in the next few months.
The support of five local arts organizations has brought Oregon Arts Watch (OAW) a few steps closer to launching. OAW, a journalism initiative aimed at covering the arts and culture scene primarily in Portland, will receive financial support from these organizations, which have agreed to donate a portion of their subscriber membership fees to support OAW’s efforts.
The initial agreements will give OAW about $35,000 a year in funding and a combined subscriber list of 22,000 people, according to Barry Johnson, OAW’s founder and a former culture reporter at The Oregonian.
In exchange for financial support, members of the arts organizations will receive OAW’s weekly e-Newsletter. “The newsletter will give links to the work of [arts] journalists wherever it appears—on the OAW website or elsewhere,” Johnson said. It will also alert readers to ticket offers and special events such as panels, lectures and public discussions around the arts.
The agreements, however, do not mean that the arts organizations will receive special coverage from OAW. “This is not a ‘pay-to-play’ idea,” Johnson said. “OAW is an independent journalism group that will make its own decisions about coverage.”
Creating relationships with the arts community is integral to a successful launch and the quality of OAW, said Johnson. “Ultimately, our members should give us a chance to establish the critical mass for the kind of conversation about arts, culture and the city that makes community more engaged and healthier than it is now,” he said.
So far the numbers look good, but they are still shy of OAW’s ultimate goal: $75,000 in sponsorships from local arts and culture groups and 25,000 individual subscribers. Johnson hopes for five more commitments from arts organizations in coming weeks. He will then take these agreements to wealthy members of the community to seek additional support. “A solid membership base will make us more likely to receive support from other sources - individual donors, corporate sponsors and foundations,” he said.
Once OAW meets funding and subscriber goals, the next step is to establish a website. They are currently bulking up their design and tech team with volunteers from Portland’s creative community. Johnson recruited them through Twitter and through mutual friends.
Seven editorial volunteers are signed up to help plot the direction of the journalism work, Johnson said. “They are journalists I have worked with or knew about before, one way or another, or have met since I left The Oregonian last year,” he said.
Once OAW begins producing content, Johnson hopes other media outlets - such as The Oregonian, Portland Monthly magazine and Oregon Public Broadcasting—will carry their work. “We are confident that many of our reports will find homes outside the website,” he said.
Participation with other news outlets will depend on their needs and OAW’s ability to fulfill them, Johnson said. “We could produce stories specifically for a publication or a regular three-minute slot of arts news and commentary for a radio or TV station,” he said. “Sometimes these relationships could be commercial and exclusive, but our principle generally is to distribute our journalism as freely and broadly as we can.”
As pieces of OAW start to come together, there is more work to be done on OAW’s marketing strategy and website design, OAW does have a general “skeleton of the idea,” Johnson said, and is moving forward with that in mind. “Each step has a multitude of negotiations and components,” he said.
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
(402) 472-8241 E-mail Website
Lincoln, Neb., has witnessed 24 percent growth in ethnic minorities and immigrants in recent years. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Journalism College will explore the information needs of these new ethnic communities and work with mobile technology and web design teams to develop a news initiative to reach them. Content will come from students, community members and high school students from immigrant families. Future support is expected from the university and foundation grants.
Nebraska Mosaic has become an important part of the advanced journalism curriculum at U-Nebraska’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. More to the point, it’s a voice that represents Lincoln’s growing refugee communities.
We started out as a small project, and, though we continue to grow, we remain a small project. But we believe we are beginning to make a difference in the community conversation in Lincoln, and that we are increasingly seen as a conduit of information and news to and for the refugees who have resettled here.
In our original application we described our project as a website to be created “by our students to provide information for and about rapidly growing immigrant communities” in Lincoln, Neb.
We began by developing a course split evenly between students in our advertising/public relations program and our journalism program, an unusual step for the college at that time but one that we have chosen to replicate in other projects since then.
Initially, we focused on three refugee groups: Iraqis, Sudanese, and a little-known Christian sect from Burma, the Karen. This allowed us to easily manage our start-up, giving the project – and the students – a deeper reach into these communities. We have since expanded to embrace all refugees in Lincoln, though our deepest connections continue to be with these three groups.
The audience research we compiled in the fall 2010 semester provided us with valuable information regarding the news and information needs of these refugee communities. We learned, for example, refugees most desired additional information and help with language, employment, education, and transportation. We put these categories in the forefront as we began to produce content.
The research also suggested we should target high school-aged children in the refugee families. They tended to have the greatest facility with the English language, and we believed that, through them, we would have the best chance of reaching their parents. We discovered, however, that teenagers in refugee families, perhaps like all teenagers, have a long list of interests, and we were not one of them. So, they have not been the focus we thought they would be.
The first semesterʼs class contained eight advertising/public relations students and eight journalism students, the maximum size of most of our “skills” courses at the college. We believed that in subsequent semesters, once the class focused on creating content by journalism students only, we would conduct a class of roughly eight students. We have been somewhat disappointed, however, in the response from students. Those who have taken the class – seven students in the fall 2011 semester, six in the spring 2012 semester – found the class to be among their favorites, according to semester-end evaluations.
We believe the tepid response may be due to a simultaneous expansion in our elective-course offerings, giving the students many courses to choose from. We plan to use information gleaned from the student evaluations to create a more deliberate promotional campaign for the class.
Our initial ideas for support didn’t pan out, but we found an enthusiastic partner in the Lincoln Community Foundation, which worked with us in applying for a $50,000 Knight Community Information Challenge grant.
Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.
As with the teenagers and the class size, things have not always gone as we expected or hoped. Our position has been: When we hit a wall, we change direction – always keeping our focus on our goal of being the primary source of news and information for the refugee communities. Some examples:
Refugees arenʼt interested in their own tales of woe. Being refugees, meaning they have been persecuted, assaulted or otherwise put upon in their home countries, they all have powerful personal stories. Because they all have them, however, they donʼt find them very interesting. What they desire is stories that tell them what to do to have better lives now that they are in the U.S. So, when we have told anyoneʼs personal tale, we have tried to do so from the perspective of the lessons learned that may have eased the transition to the United States, to Nebraska, and to Lincoln.
Refugees are, for the most part, very poor. These people have three strikes against them: They are unwanted in their home countries, they have come to a country where many of them donʼt know the culture or the language, and, once here, they immediately join our poverty underclass. Their level of poverty leaves them focused on employment for themselves and education for their children, leaving them little time and interest in participating in our web project.
The Lincoln Community Foundation partnership is focused on expanding the project beyond the college classroom, specifically into the refugee communities, inviting the refugees themselves to help create content. This has been difficult. But we kept trying different approaches, until discovering that a $50 freelance fee made all the difference. (Our discovery came when an Iraqi man, whom we had asked to write his story for the website, asked, “Will you pay me?”) We have now published articles from two refugees, one from Iraq and another from Congo, and we have two more currently being edited, these from refugees from Sudan and Vietnam.
Refugees are mostly low-tech for now. Our initial research suggested refugees were big cellphone users, and this led us to believe we would quickly find a way to utilize mobile technology as part of the project. Further research, however, indicated that they have low-priced phones used only for phone calls back home. Ownership of smart phones is exceedingly low, though growing. Many refugees have computers in their homes or access to computers through community centers and libraries, though this varies from group to group. Iraqis, for example, are much more likely to have computers in their homes than Karen refugees. When we discovered that almost all refugees have televisions and DVD players, we issued a set of DVDs containing some of our video stories, translated into five languages.
We do believe that we have accomplished a great deal. We launched a preliminary website at the end of the first semester, then completely revamped it in October 2011. Since then:
We have posted nearly 100 articles and video stories, almost all of them written by undergraduate and graduate students in our college.
The 21 videos, the first of which was posted to Nebraska Mosaicʼs YouTube page on Jan. 3, 2012, have been viewed by more than 1,500 people.
The Nebraska Mosaic website – nemosaic.org – regularly has roughly 2,800 page views per month, with more than three pages viewed per visit; 45 to 50 percent of them represent new visits.
This spring U-Nebraska-Lincolnʼs College of Fine and Performing Arts presented a 10-week symposium focused on “Immigration, Migration & Transplantation.” Their budget allowed for free tickets for immigrants, but as the symposium neared, organizers realized they had no plan for finding and reaching any such immigrants. Someone in Fine and Performing Arts had heard about our website, they contacted us, and we wrote about the symposium, attaching a sidebar explaining how to get free tickets. They reported they were pleased with the turnout.
Lincoln Public Schools, which incorporate students speaking more than 60 languages, obtained an AmeriCorps employee to assess its work with refugees and immigrants. As part of her evaluation, she planned to highlight the individual stories of some of the people who had been impacted by LPSʼ work. But, as she told me later, she kept being told, “You know, someone at the university is already doing this.” She checked our website, read some of the articles the students had written and called to arrange to reprint some of them on LPSʼ own website.
In April, we put up posters at Lincolnʼs Center for People in Need, one of the primary social service agencies working with refugees, announcing a video project in which we wanted refugees to answer the questions, “What does it mean to be a refugee?” Twenty-one refugees – from Iraq, Iran, South Sudan, Kosovo, Vietnam, and Burma – showed up, and we spent two-and-a-half hours videotaping their responses. (You can watch the result, one of our most powerful pieces of content, at What does it mean to be a refugee?)
With the additional funding we have in hand, we believe we can continue to sustain this project. Our plans include:
Adding refugee correspondents. We expect to add to our four current refugee correspondents. We plan to design and print postcards highlighting the refugees who write for the website as a way of promoting their participation and encouraging others to do the same.
Sponsoring a refugee arts fair. In our reporting, we have come across a number of refugees who paint, sculpt or pursue other artistic endeavors. The incoming graduate assistant this fall has a background in museum curation, and we plan to exploit her talents in developing a Nebraska Mosaic-sponsored arts festival in the spring.
Translating some Mosaic content. Refugees tell us that language is the largest barrier keeping the website from being more widely embraced in the refugee communities. Using the Lincoln Community Foundation and KCIC grants, we plan to pay to have some of the work translated into Arabic and Karen and, possibly, additional languages.
Offering college scholarships. We tried to get this started this spring, but we started too late. We will announce this fall a $2,000 scholarship for a refugee graduating from a Lincoln high school and planning to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Applicants will need to write or otherwise create an essay that explores their refugee experience. Nebraska Mosaic will reserve the right to publish any or all of the applicantsʼ work.
Adding an interactive map of refugee interests in Lincoln. We will very soon add to our website an interactive map, currently under development, that will locate a variety of institutions and agencies useful to people new to Lincoln. This will include houses of worship, parks, soccer fields, museums, schools, police and fire stations and libraries. The map will not only locate such places but also provide background information on each.
By the end of its first year, The Mosaic project had brought in an additional $50,000 in grants to train Lincoln’s immigrant community to produce content for the website and to increase the flow of information to and from the city’s large refugee community.
Despite a heart attack that waylaid project leader Tim Anderson mid-way through the year, the project, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, scored “substantial progress” in designing the website and making connections in the community, Anderson said.
“Though we were thrown off-track this spring by my health problems, we have not stood still. We have worked hard to expand our infrastructure and our reach into the community,” he said.
Dean Gary Kebbel successfully applied for a $24,000 grant from the Lincoln Community Foundation. The funding will allow the project to teach its New Voices class in one of Lincoln’s 25 Community Learning Centers, as well as fund extra graduate student assistance, video cameras, and editing equipment. That grant helped to leverage a $26,000 grant from the Knight Community Information Challenge.
The city’s Community Learning Centers serve the immigrant communities by “providing support to immigrants, refugees and in-need people.” They also contain multimedia rooms that will be used to teach the public, Anderson said.
Anderson is now working to determine which center has the highest concentration of one of Mosaic’s targeted immigrant groups: Iraqi, Sudanese or Karen refugees from Burma.
“Our goal is to teach [the refugees] to participate in our New Voices project…to increase the information flow to and from the refugees as a means of aiding their assimilation into Lincoln,” he said.
Following Anderson’s heart attack, the spring semester class created to further the project was cancelled, and an agreement with a local newspaper, the Lincoln Journal Star, to publish newspaper reports on New Voices’ website was postponed.
However, graduate student Charlie Litton and Anderson joined the health and housekeeping committee of the local New Americans Task Force. As a result, Litton is currently working on two videos for the prevention and eradication of bed bug infestation, which will be released both on the Mosaic website and distributed via DVD to the refugee communities.
That project grew out of Mosaic’s close working relationship, begun last fall, with Lincoln’s Center for People in Need.
Anderson said cooperation throughout the community and among resettlement agencies has been enthusiastic.
Additionally, the functionality and looks of the website are being improved. The new design will better display news and information, as well as “a running calendar of events and links to our growing list of partners,” Anderson said.
In just one semester, students and faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications have researched, built, populated and marketed a website designed for the Midwest city’s booming refugee populations.
Advertising students took the lead in researching the three target communities: Karen refugees from Burma and refugees from Iraq and Sudan.
“Through surveys, focus group interviews and one-on-one interviews, the students determined that each group had slightly different news and information needs and more substantially different media habits,” said Tim Anderson, the project’s coordinator.
All three groups listed their difficulties with English as their most difficult challenge. Karen refugees also identified transportation and cultural differences as problems, while both the Iraqi and Sudanese listed employment as a difficulty. The Sudanese also added the rather specific difficulty of obtaining a Nebraska driver’s license.
“We were confident we could supply useful information no matter what the problems were, but we were very interested in learning which medium would be best to reach these three rather different communities,” he said.
To that end, their research uncovered the fact that the best way to reach the Karen, many who can not read or write their own language, may be through a regularly distributed series of DVDs. Few households have computers.
“We had hoped that mobile phones would be a prominent part of this project from the start, but at this point that does not seem to be the case,” Anderson said.
The common denominator among all three groups is that their teenagers have greater access to computers and are the most accomplished English speakers in their households.
With research complete, Anderson turned to plotting out content around four main areas, which he described as:
Informational videos. The Karen refugees, especially, are new to electricity, refrigeration and housekeeping, having spent as much as two decades in camps on the Thai border. All groups also need help navigating job searches. The project plans to prepare a series of video projects, to be made available on its website, which can address these issues. The project may occasionally collect these into a DVD collection for community distribution.
U.S., Nebraska and Lincoln culture. Early on, project leaders thought they would be telling many dramatic stories of these refugees’ lives before they arrived in Lincoln. They learned, however, that such stories are not interesting to other refugees. The refugees want to know who the Nebraskans are. One example: The disciplining of children is a recurring issue in the refugee communities. Many parents came from cultures where it is still permissible to strike a child, and several have gotten into trouble for acting in a way perfectly acceptable in their homelands. The project used this information to plan to create stories explaining U.S. culture and the differences the refugees might run into.
Success stories. Refugees are interested in knowing how some people in their communities have been able to succeed, and the project will highlight some of their stories with short profiles.
Other refugees. The refugees are also interested in their counterparts from other countries, so stories are planned on what the refugees themselves are up to by involving the refugees in telling their stories.
In addition, Anderson has arranged a partnership with the editor of the local daily, the Lincoln Journal Star, which will allow Mosaic to create weekly local briefs from material in the newspaper. “The refugees consistently told us they don’t read the local newspaper but they wish they had a better idea of what was going on locally,” he said. Mosaic plans to publish the column in English, Arabic and Karen, side by side, offering a simple English lesson at the same time.
Local agencies, including the Lancaster County and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, have expressed enthusiasm for the site.
When launching a news site that covered the refugee community of Lincoln, Neb., professor Tim Anderson at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications expected his team of students to be seen as unwelcome outsiders. Instead, Lincoln’s New Voices has been met with nothing but enthusiasm, he reports.
“Perhaps I am too cynical, but I really thought that at some point we would run into someone among the people who work with refugees in Lincoln who would ask us what we thought we were doing in trying to create media for the refugee community,” Anderson wrote. “I even had a response ready that touched on our state’s history with immigrants and such regional literary notables as Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz and John Neihardt.”
“Perhaps I am too cynical, but I really thought that at some point we would run into someone among the people who work with refugees in Lincoln who would ask us what we thought we were doing in trying to create media for the refugee community.” - Tim Anderson
But he didn’t need to use those facts. His team has been met with nothing but enthusiasm from officials, public schools and the refugees themselves, he noted. In fact, their conversations have led them to shift their major focus from stories “about” the immigrant community, to stories “for” thee.
Lincoln’s population of ethnic minorities and immigrants has grown 24 percent in recent years, a change that demands new forms of connecting and reporting. Students, community members and high school students from immigrant families are working with the university to provide mobile and web news to the growing minority audience.
Anderson and Phil Willet, an advertising instructor, decided to address the challenge by forming a college course entitled “Special Topics: New Voices.” The students are almost evenly divided between journalism and advertising majors and are combining their skills to conduct audience research in the refugee communities.
Since launching the course in August, Anderson has seen significant progress in gathering information from and about the three primary groups: Karen refugees from Burma, Iraqi refugees and Sudanese refugees.
First, Anderson and Willet earned the cooperation of Lincoln Public Schools representatives. The New Voices students were able to meet with three refugees in the English Language Learner classes - offered by LPS, these courses serve over 2,000 students from 51 countries, speaking 49 languages.
The three refugee liaisons came from the project’s target groups: Daniel Wal, from the Sudanese community; Wah Wah Moo, from the Karen community; and Mohammed Ainajen, from the Iraqi community.
“These three people, who have continued to be sources of information for our students, told fascinating stories of their own journeys to Lincoln,” Anderson says. “Ainajen, for example, responded when the first President Bush asked Iraqis to stand up and tell Saddam Hussein they wanted a new government. When the U.S. troops went home, Ainajen left Iraq and resettled in Nashville, Tenn., making his way to Lincoln three years later because he said he had heard there marriageable Iraqi women in Lincoln. He found this to be true and is now married and the father of three children.”
Students are learning not only from refugees themselves, but from Nebraskan professionals who work within the communities as well.
Karen Parde, refugee coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, talked to the New Voices class, providing the students with background on what her program does for refugees in Lincoln and throughout the state.
Kit Boesch, administrator for the Lancaster County Human Services Department and the New Americans Task Force in Lincoln, provided much useful assistance in locating community members who will become part of a focus group in preparation for audience research.
According to Anderson, all the officials the class has contacted regarding the project, including representatives from the governor’s office, have expressed great interest in the course and the news and information website they intend to create.
With cooperation comes collaboration: LPS and the New Americans Task Force are interested in becoming partners with the course’s website. Both see ways in which they can provide ongoing content for the site.
“It appears now that we may be of more assistance to [the refugees] by telling them about us rather than the other way around.” - Tim Anderson
Within the Lincoln Public Schools, students in ELL classes produce video podcasts that are streamed only on the LPS website, providing them with a very limited audience. In partnership with Lincoln’s New Voices, the podcasts would be streamed on the course’s website as well.
The New Americans Task Force, which encompasses more than 40 participating agencies and another ten human services agencies, is a network of public and private organizations and community members that serves to support new immigrants in the Lincoln area. According to Anderson, the Task Force has been trying, with limited success, to create and maintain a website, and members are excited about developing links between the course site and their own as a way of improving both.
Beginning in October, the New Voices students will be conducting focus group interviews in each of the three communities, starting with high school students.
Right now, the journalism students are creating text, video and audio content for the website and to use during the focus groups. According to Anderson, their current stories include:
* Department of Motor Vehicles: Because research indicates that transportation issues, particularly with cars, cause refugees high levels of discontent, one student is preparing a how-to video of the DMV experience.
* ELL Courses: A student is analyzing what the English Language Learner classes offer to the nearly 2,200 non-English speakers in the Lincoln Public Schools.
* Soccer: One student is looking at the universal sport of soccer and what it means to the Karen, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees in their new home.
* Nebraskan Culture: Students have found that refugees are interested more in the cultures of Lincoln, Nebraska and the Great Plains than in telling their own stories.
Anderson says this last story accounts for “the biggest surprise” they’ve encountered.
“We thought a side benefit of our project might be bringing the stories of the refugee communities to a wider audience among the dominant community,” he says. “It appears now that we may be of more assistance to [the refugees] by telling them about us rather than the other way around.”
However, their new discovery may provide more opportunities for partnership with outside sources. The NATF website is designed to bring the refugee story to the general Lincoln population and Boesch believes the two sites can work well together to provide both perspectives for the entire community. The Task Force site will bring news and information to the dominant population, while the Lincoln’s New Voices site will bring news and information to the refugees.
East Hardwick, VT
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter
This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
Tip Drop, a short form to send information and story ideas that go directly to the site’s editors. Tipsters can identify themselves or remain anonymous.
Submit a Document, a place to upload PDFs of memos, legal documents, letters and other documents to our site. Editors then archive the material on Document Cloud.
Hot Docs, an archive of original source. It includes everything from official government reports to emails, lawsuits and memos. Readers can search the archive and download material via DocumentCloud.
A Calendar where people can find out what’s going or on post an event on the site.
The site now has a “Report an Error” form at the bottom of every story that readers can use to let the site know about mistakes, errors and clarifications. Starting this summer, VTDigger plans to publish the corrections in a separate news feed but, until then, corrections appear at the end of stories.
VTDigger is also reaching out to readers through Facebook and Twitter with questions, polls, the backstory on issues and cool links. “We have eliminated automated posts to our Twitter and Facebook feeds, and we are using social media as our Tipster forum. We are interacting with readers about stories, press events and editorial decisions,” Galloway said.
“We are not done,” she said. “Tipster is an integral part of what we do on VTDigger.org, and we plan to continue to expand on the project.”
Future plans include incorporating SoundCloud and more DocCloud functionality. The site will create a separate Report an Error section to better notify readers of corrections. The section will include responses to reported errors and feedback from readers.
“We also plan to develop a crowdsourced FactCheck popup on story pages that will enable readers to give us feedback on whether factoids used by public figures are accurate,” Galloway said.
In its first five weeks, reader reaction to Tipster2.0 has been positive. About 588 unique readers checked out the Tipster features and the site received 23 anonymous tips and 18 calendar and event postings from users. Eight messages came in via Report an Error form in the first week of its launch. The site also received one document – a memo from the executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission to the Burlington School District regarding racial tensions at the high school.
So far, tips have ranged from one-line news items to critiques of policy, but some will lead to larger stories, Galloway said
“Though we have an active comment base in which readers freely criticize our work or suggest tips, we know not everyone wants to go public with information. Tipster gives readers other vehicles to communicate with us,” Galloway said.
“I recently asked our 1,572 Facebook fans if they had any questions for the governor (I was headed to his weekly press conference) and within five minutes I had three questions in hand,” she said.
She noted in her final report, “The most powerful aspect of the Tipster project is the way it is changing our work. Readers are shaping the way we report and they are shifting the power dynamic. We don’t have to decide everything -- what to cover, who to call, what to ask -- readers can help us make those decisions when we let them. When they tell us we make mistakes, we correct our work. When they tell us we got the story wrong, we listen. “
VTDigger Launches Tipster to Solicit Reader Tips
VTDigger editor Anne Galloway flipped the switch this month on Tipster, a companion to the website she created in 2009 to cover Vermont politics and public policy.
The goal with Tipster was to design a newsgathering platform that functions like a social networking site – in a sense, a Facebook where reporters could let readers know what they are working on and ask readers for story suggestions and tips.
“We wanted to make the newsgathering process more transparent and give readers and reporters a place to work together,” said Galloway.
It would become the place where readers, reporters and public relations professionals gather to share information and discuss stories in greater depth.
Over a 10-month period from inception to launch, Galloway and developer Josh Larkin surveyed readers and further refined the concept. They invited reporters and PR professionals, as well as 100 of VTDigger’s most avid readers, to join and used their feedback to continue to hone the site.
How it Works
Tipster’s three types of members – reporters, public relations professionals and Tipsters from the general public – interact with other members by uploading and sharing documents, photos and links.
Reporters have additional privileges that allow them to create posts directed at readers. In these, they may ask for assistance on a story, solicit questions for officials, put out a call for sources or receive story pitches.
For example, a reporter can post a query on a story he or she is working on. A Tipster could offer pertinent documents. Meanwhile, a public relations professional can post a press release related to the story at hand. In addition, the three users can engage in ongoing discussions within forums, read additional posts by reporters and PR professionals and view event listings.
Galloway has created a community of readers and requires that they generate a profile. Their full name and hometown are listed whenever they participate, but they control what other information is made public.
There is also a “super secret tip” on the front page that anyone can use to instantly send a private note to the editors.
Galloway worked closely with Larkin to customize the site using WordPress. The blogging platform has become a powerful tool to operate news sites because of its ease of use. It also allows for the addition of pre-made plug-ins that enhance the website. In this case, Larkin extensively modified a plug-in called BuddyPress.
It required a significant amount of testing to before it was rolled out in early June. By October, the site was planning further refinements, Galloway said.
Marketing Tipster’s existence has accounted for roughly 17 percent of the overall $17,000 first-year budget. In addition to house ads on VTDigger.org, Galloway has invested in Facebook ads targeted to Vermont users and a sponsorship on Vermont Public Radio.
Tipster’s Next Phase
Galloway has grand plans for year two of the project, including developing a tool that would improve access to documents that are difficult to find on government websites. “We would like to develop a standalone document library and web application that ties directly into both Tipster and the main VTDigger.org site,” said Galloway. She estimates that would cost $6,000.
Additionally, Galloway envisions using Tipster to create a main document library for VTDigger, complete with a tagging and categorization system that would make it easier for readers to find official documents.
She is also considering a shopping cart tool that would allow users to add documents to their cart until they are ready to download them, at which point the items could be zipped together into one file.
Galloway believes improvements like these will cement Tipster as a formidable player in Vermont journalism.
“We will gauge the success of the site based on the number of members who join and the quality and quantity of interactions between Tipsters, Reporters and PR professionals,” Galloway says. All suggestions are welcome.This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
A former Charlotte Observer journalist will spearhead a news and information website about a community-driven environmental makeover of the endangered Catawba River District near Charlotte, N.C. Content will come from volunteers, freelancers, and involved groups such as the local parks and recreation department, agricultural extension service and the energy company. Future support is expected from federal environmental sustainability grants, and a fee-based certification program to acknowledge energy-efficient construction and environmentally protective landscaping.
River District News Engages Bloggers and More to Cover Catawba River News
Based on the Final Report from Rich Haag, editor.
As Catawba River Views turns 2 years old, it has overhauled its initial website, developed a multi-contributor blog site and is helping its parent organization raise funds to support its efforts to cover news around the river near Charlotte, N.C.
“Our still-developing community news operation not only exists but has begun to inform and connect our communities along the Catawba River,” said editor Rich Haag. “This has happened even as the one weekly newspaper for our area recently switched back to monthly due to lack of advertising.”
However, he added, “We have much more to do before I’m willing to say we have a successful community news operation.”
The site now focuses on community and environmental news, such as recent reports on a coming rail-trail on a small college currently isolated from a nearby town; efforts by local schools to begin hands-on learning gardens; and the ability of new artwork in downtown Charlotte to improve the water quality of the Catawba River 10 miles away.
The Catawba River Views news operation includes:
The website, updated weekly or more often.
An extensive community calendar.
A community bloggers page, with seven writers, updated daily.
A YouTube video channel with news videos.
An e-newsletter sent roughly each week to groups and individuals within the River District.
Facebook and Twitter feeds via HootSuite.
A broad community-groups directory.
The site promote the activities of many other local environmental and community groups
and shares news on regional and global efforts to improve Earth’s health.
Among its successes, Haag reported, are:
Growing awareness and credibility across the site’s diverse and divided (by the river) target community.
Growing support from established green groups such as the Catawba Riverkeeper and NC Wildlife Federation.
A diverse and synchronized media system with multiple channels to support one another.
Database functionality for the local-news portion of website.
Growing relationship with Belmont Abbey College, community groups and local government.
Creation of a reporting model that uses community bloggers, college interns and local freelancers.
The website has used volunteers for many tasks and harnesses free online services such as Blogger and YouTube.
Its biggest challenges are finding lasting funding for its parent organization, Catawba River District, and adding staff. Currently, the news operation consists of one full-time staff person who oversees the community bloggers, one or two college interns per semester, and one or two paid freelancers as needed. The staff person serves as editor, main reporter, photographer, videographer and website manager. The site is also looking to grow its audience.
Editorial independence continues to be a goal, Haag said. “Two years ago when we applied for the New Voices grant, the Catawba River District Executive Board agreed that Catawba River Views must maintain an independent voice. We have done so. However, the news operation would benefit from establishing its own oversight board of community members. Such a group could build important ties across our community and provide a sounding board for dealing with tough issues involving environmental threats and local businesses – most notably the utility that built our lakes a century ago.“
Progress Report: River District News
Forgive me if this report seems a bit disjointed. I am trying to get out our next e-newsletter this afternoon, update the news website to match the newsletter, and prepare the ground rules for the first meeting of our blog team next week. In other words, we are hard at work building the community news voice that J-Lab hoped we might become when you awarded our New Voices grant way back in May 2010.
We have made major progress since our last report. Here are some high points:
Name evolution - We have decided that Catawba RiverViews better represents what we are about. The play on the word "Views" is intentional, of course. Living along the river, we spend a lot of time enjoying the many views of water and wildlife. On the other hand, this is a highly diverse community with tree-huggers, retired textile mill workers, descendants of pioneers and newcomers from up North and south of the border. Our goal is to represent those many views as our community leaders and the River District work to protect the Catawba and build an environmentally sustainable future.
News site in operation - We now have a robust though still crude news website in operation, with an extensive community calendar, mixture of local community and environmental news, links to national and global information and a growing database of community groups. Our goal has always been to update the site at least weekly and we are finally at that point. With parts of three cities, two counties, arguably America's most threatened river, America's only manmade whitewater rapids and the crossroads of an emerging 200-plus-mile long greenway trail network all within our 16,000-acre district, we have plenty of news to report. Add in the continued decline of local print, radio and TV news reporting (the one weekly paper covering part of our district just switched back to monthly), and you can see that there is a need here for community journalism.
E-newsletter publishing at least twice monthly - The newsletter going out today, God willing and the Mac don't die, will actually be just a week since our last one. News stories range from "Green Christmas" (how to celebrate the holidays AND protect the environment) to reports on both the relaunch of an old train line that could one day carry commuters to Charlotte, and the Rail-Trail greenway that planners hope to build in the same corridor. The newsletter is one way to drive readers to the website.
First freelance reporter - We have begun working with a young journalist who attends college within our district, lives in a restored mill home nearby and just finished an internship with the Charlotte Observer. Chris Lux will generate regular profiles on people helping to protect our environment and also help us increase our social-media efforts. Chris set up our Facebook page several months ago, facebook.com/CatawbaRiverDistrict.
Launch of YouTube channel - We shot, edited and posted our first community-news videos in October on our YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/CatawbaRiverDistrict. The videos cover an event staged by our parent organization to promote science and math learning among our largely low-income schools. The videos also gave us our first experience in amateur recording and editing for publication. Apple's imovie software makes this a snap. We will move forward with more frequent community news videos with help from the Canon digital camcorder we purchased a few weeks ago with New Voices grant funds. The device has some great pro-sumer features such as the ability to take external mikes and shoot well in low light. It also can be fully automatic so that team members with limited training will still be able to make usable recordings.
Progress on database functionality with website - We hired a freelance programmer to build and test a database-driven way to easily update our news website. We have had the first trial of that work ready for us to build upon for more than a month. I had hoped to incorporate that improvement into the site in November but lost several weeks of time to care for my mom, who passed away in late October. We should be able to get back to this improvement in December. Meanwhile, the news site functions OK in its more limited format.
Among activities about to take off:
Adding Facebook feeds to website - This is actually a simple improvement to make, once I find the time. With our increased emphasis on social media we will be able to provide Facebook updates daily AND have the newest ones appear on our homepage.
Adding newsletter feeds to Facebook - Another step that will happen over the next couple of weeks is driving our e-newsletter audience by promoting much more extensively on Facebook, both when the newsletter publishes and with daily teases to recently posted news.
Launching a blog team - CatawbaRiverViewss.org's website will add a daily blog post sometime in the next month. Our initial team will have its first meeting next week. Members include a former business writer for the region's main business paper, the Business Journal, plus people involved in urban farming, wellness, small-business promotion, green construction, STEM school programming and wildlife. Our plan is to have each person write weekly, giving us a fresh topic to promote daily via website and social media.
Increasing marketing and audience-building efforts - We have done this throughout the year informally, after holding community meetings last winter. We will become much more intentional in the next two months. Chris Lux will begin calling key civic, church and business leaders to enlist their support in sharing our news with their members, and vice versa. We also will use New Voices funds to hold several community meetings in January-February.
Expenses & Budget
We have continued to preserve much of the original grant money while we sorted out larger issues regarding the mission and funding of our parent group, the Catawba River District. More detail on that follows. We are now at the point where the news operation can move forward at the level envisioned in the New Voices grant.
We have consumed most of the $6,000 we allocated in grant funds to get our website up and running and to buy some basic equipment.
We now are beginning to tap the operational funds we allocated for freelance reporting, photography and editing, plus some basic expenses such as phone service, web hosting, community meetings and marketing materials. We have about $5,600 remaining of the $11,000 initially budgeted here and will spend that over then next couple of months on news gathering, editing and posting.
Thanks again for recognizing our fund-raising efforts by awarding us the final $8,000 matching funds under the New Voices grant. Catawba River District is beginning to attract community support in the form of sponsorships, including funding related to our first RiverTime three-day series of activities in mid-October. We since have added two more substantial River District sponsorships totaling $35,000 over the next three years and have two more under discussion.
We have allocated $8,000 of that sponsorship money over the next six months to cover part of the costs of generating, editing and posting content, along with providing tools including cell-phones and service.
Spending Matching-Grant Funds
We originally proposed using the final $8,000 from the New Voices grant for a laptop, software and monitor for the publisher ($4,000); office rent ($2,000); content and design related to a printed newsletter ($1,500); and two community classes on video shooting and editing ($500).
We now see better uses for $6,500 of that funding.
NO RENT - We do not need help with rent, thanks to a local business that has offered us free office space for at least the next year or two, if we choose to use it. Truthfully, we have operated well in a virtual-office environment and have convenient community spaces that can host our meetings, when needed.
NO COMPUTER - The publisher (me) has determined that he can make do without a new computer, monitor and software, at least for the next year. I will continue to use personal equipment and software at least for the next year, so that these funds can go for more immediate needs.
NO VIDEO TRAINING - While helping civic and neighborhood groups shoot video for publication will be useful down the road, our more immediate need is reaching out to the many communities that have no groups at all. We greatly overestimated the number of neighborhood groups actually functioning in the River District. We have come up with a plan to contact residents in these neighborhoods via mail and/or flyers and hold multi-neighborhood events. The $500 currently budgeted for video-training classes would help with that effort.
USES FOR REMAINING $6,000 - We understand that you do not require a line-item budget for how we will spend every dollar, and we appreciate that flexibility.
Our best estimate now is that we will spend $5,000 on generating, editing and posting news content.
We will spend the remaining $1,000 (plus $500 not spent on video training) on meetings and materials needed to build awareness of the Catawba RiverViews among our 16,000 residents.
Ongoing Financial Outlook
The final New Voices funding match seeks to reward groups that have found ways to sustain themselves long term. Catawba RiverViews and its parent group, the Catawba River District, appear headed toward a funding model similar to public television and radio. We see the River District's future revenue coming from a mix of corporate sponsors and individual members.
The River District's first major sponsor, a local hospital, is helping underwrite programs to encourage healthy living. The district's second major sponsor, a high-tech manufacturer, supports our programs pushing science and math learning among lower-income children. Two local utilities are helping the River District launch a regional campaign for family memberships based on protecting the Catawba River, our region's primary source of water. Catawba RiverViews funding over the next year will come almost exclusively from its parent group, the Catawba River District.
After months of receiving community suggestions and performing high-tech code wrangling, the Catawba River District in North Carolina is very close to launching Catawba RiverViews, a source for local environmental news.
Project manager Rich Haag spent countless hours developing the technology in the Expression Engine content management system. “I feel like I am building a car and have a decent set of tires, seats, windows,” he said. “I just need to get the motor running so I finally can see how everything works together.”
When it appears in June 2011, the site will feature profiles of ‘people going green,’ community-contributed stories and resources for sustainable living. It also invites user-submitted questions that a series of experts will answer. And an interactive events calendar will let users find activities under the headers ‘Do,’ ‘Learn,’ and ‘Play’.
While he built the backbone of the site, Haag also worked to build up a network around the site. He joined The Charlotte Observer’s Networked Journalism project, another J-Lab initiative partnering legacy news organizations with hyperlocal news publishers. Also launched was an internship program with Belmont Abbey College, a small liberal arts school in the middle of the Catawba River District. Interns are beginning to contribute to the site behind-the-scenes.
Haag has also hit the road, holding community gatherings to get specific ideas for how to share news about environmental issues in the district. He has compiled a list of leaders in neighborhood, civic, school, church and environmental groups and has already begun reaching out with an electronic newsletter. And he shared information about the project at several other community events, including a recent Earth Day event at Gastonia’s Schiele Science Museum.
Haag remains optimistic about the need for this information. He recently emailed an announcement about an upcoming event to 500 community leaders and asked them to pass it along. Within a few hours, his message reached thousands. “Now I’m getting a rebound of sorts,” he said, “people sending me invitations to their events.”
His goal continues to be an exceptional and flawless site, but he recently arrived at the conclusion that at some point, the site needs to go live. As a fellow board member put it to him, “A Chevy will work just fine right now even if our dream is to have a Cadillac.”
Catawba RiverViews is expected to launch in late June 2011.
Most news sites simply aim to cover their communities and report the latest stories. The River District News, however, has loftier aspirations: to “help drive an innovative environmental makeover along one of America’s most endangered rivers.”
Rich Haag is communications director for the Catawba River District, the nonprofit group leading the effort to bring sustainable living to a 16,000-acre stretch of the river, the source of drinking water for more than a million people in the Charlotte, N.C. region.
Sponsored by the Catawba River District, the River District News will support the effort by facilitating a community dialogue to share news, give feedback and build a common vision for the area. Their methods of news distribution will include a central website, PTA newsletters, group websites, citizen-activist e- news blasts and community gatherings.
According to Haag, the River District News has already accomplished much in building bridges, growing skills and gaining allies. Over the summer, they laid the groundwork for a successful launch in four parts:
Building ties with groups, media and freelancers Relationships are developing with several cornerstone groups active in the River District and officials in three adjacent cities, and the RD News plans to bring them together in early 2011. These groups include the local chapter of the Sierra Club, foundations, and other groups with wide networks. The group is also connecting with local environmental websites and freelancers who will publish photos, video and text about activities within the district.
Strengthening technical skills Haag rebuilt and expanded Catawbariverdistrict.org and a second site, and is currently building a third site related to the Catawba River District. He contacts readers using HTML newsletters for mass mailings, as well as YouTube and Facebook for event promotion and coverage.
Website planning In an effort to learn from and connect with other websites, Haag has gathered many examples of sites with features that could benefit the RD News.
Promoting through others’ activities The CRD has built name recognition for its activities and its news arm through cooperation with other groups. They have sponsored and presented at environmental events in the Charlotte area, and plan to announce the River District News launch at the Northwest Charlotte Chamber’s environmental event in late October.
Though the River District News has made significant progress, they are struggling with common obstacles as well.
“Our two biggest challenges since receiving the New Voices grant will sound familiar: finding more funding and juggling limited time from our volunteers,” Haag said.
The national recession has stopped most construction across the Charlotte region, proving problematic for a funding model that depends largely on new construction. The executive committee has spent 2010 changing the project’s strategy, but not its mission.
“This refocusing has taken many hours of work by all volunteers, including me, to identify and pursue grant opportunities and business sponsorships,” he said. “This funding is also essential for us to continue RD News beyond next spring.”
Haag said the district would promote ways to improve the environment around existing structures, including suburban tract homes, historic village centers and century-old houses built for textile workers.
Next on the District’s agenda is making the move from laying groundwork to building the foundation.
Develop website in two stages - preliminary in Fall 2010, advanced by March 2011
Meet with local media about content sharing
Begin monthly email newsletter to community contacts
Begin individual discussions with group leaders to build a network
Hold group meetings with multiple leaders
Begin quarterly meetings with information contributors
Begin Facebook network development
As for the website, Haag says the first iteration will serve as a stake in the ground and be a talking point in discussions with other groups. It will have core functionality for posting news, promoting activities, linking to others and publicizing the Facebook connection.
The Catawba River District has identified several major funding opportunities, including a Sustainable Communities planning grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; federal weatherization grants and creation of a job-training center at the ReVenture renewable energy facility.
Haag hopes to capitalize on these opportunities, as they would greatly affect the progress and exposure of River District News.
Essex County College
(973) 877-1937 E-mail Website
In the first New Voices project at a community college, Essex County College in Newark, NJ, operates a year-round news operation to report on issues in the state’s largest city. Journalism students develop and maintain their website, using mobile and social media tools, and the college will conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Local advertising and grants help support the project. Content is aired on local radio stations and the school’s educational access channel and offered to other local media.
This first year has had its challenges and rewards. Most rewarding has been the fact that participants have produced some amazing pieces on issues/topics from perspectives that we often do not see in our local media. Inspiring an appreciation and respect for community media in students and community residents has been something that I didn't expect, but am glad to see happening.
At the same time we've had our challenges. Establishing a sustainable production schedule has been slow going, but I think we are getting there.
Essex Community Media Project held six workshops during the Spring semester:
-Reporting On-Air Master Class (February 2011) facilitated by Cheryl Washington, former CNN reporter.
-Community Radio (February 2011) facilitated by Dahoud Andre, Haitian Community Radio.
-Voicing On-Air (April 2011) facilitated by Gail Walker, Pacifica Radio and United Nations Radio.
-Editing with FInal Cut Pro (a series of 3 in March/April 2011) facilitated by Andrew Teheran, filmmaker and new media artist.
In terms of stories, participants produced a number of pieces ranging from news reports to short documentaries to in-studio interviews with local figures. All are viewable on the Essex Voices channel on Vimeo as well some of the Essex Voices website. Examples include an in-studio interview with Newark HBO Def Poetry performing artist Helena Lewis, documentaries on the life of an undocumented college student and the fight to save a historic African American slave community site, coverage of Mayor Booker's Newark Peace Education Summit, podcasts on Newark's Hip Hop Education Week and race/media with Andreas Jackson of the NJ Performing Arts Center and an interview with Kaia Shivers of Rutgers University on Nollywood in NJ.
The production schedule this year was about seeing what was feasible. It is possible to distribute pieces on a monthly basis in tune with the production schedule of the ECC student newspaper. We will be taking the newspaper and transforming it into a converged media operation so Essex Voices can offer multimedia content for the student newspaper as well as stand as its own entity. The best way to interact between production is by aggregating feeds via Twitter from other NJ community-based sources. In terms of audience building, 2011-2012 will be the big push now that we have build a body of content. We will target ECC students, Newark community groups and residents.
Colleges are large and extremely complex organizations, and one major challenge has been establishing a workflow for processing equipment requests and personnel payments. This has proven to be arguably one of the most difficult and time-consuming areas of the operation. Just getting people paid takes about three months. Getting equipment takes about six months to a year. Also, the amount of time taken to process this paperwork is considerable.
In May we met with the Star Ledger, the major local newspaper, to discuss partnering for the 2011/2012 academic year. This could have a tremendous impact on the program. SL is offering to provide workshops on everything from layout to social media, as well as hosting the student newspaper and EV content on their website, which could significantly drive traffic and help us build an audience. They also have a mentoring/internship program for college students.
These services will be funded through the college, however, due to New Jersey "Pay to Play" legislation, the Star Ledger has to go through a bid process, which will take place this summer.
We are also expanding our partnerships with local non-profits. This year we were able to partner with the Shake It Up foundation, which assists parents with epileptic children to connect to resources in the area. Students were also able to cover efforts by local immigration advocate organizations to stop the building of an immigrant detention center in Newark. These pieces will be posted in July. For 2011/2012, we are are discussing ways to partner with the American Friends Service Committee, which focuses on immigrant rights and prison reform.
Our next steps are to secure in-kind contribution of camera equipment from Panasonic, formalize a partnership with the Star Ledger and develop a journalism training program as well as host Essex Voices content on their site, hiring a part-time promotions coordinator to work with a team of student interns to promote EV content on Facebook and Twitter to build an audience, approach Patch.com in Newark about hosting EV content and partner with at least five Newark/Essex County non-profits to produce stories/short documentaries/in-studio interviews on immigration, prison reform and other issues. We also hope to generate advertising income of $10,000.
Essex Voices, a multimedia news site covering Newark, N.J., from Essex County Community College, is up and running. The focus now turns to the challenge of developing a strategic plan for content that will reach the community, reports professor and project coordinator Jennifer Wager.
Her approach from the start, incorporated into her mission statement, is to cover “news, culture, and events from the greater Newark metropolitan area and beyond.” Defining that will take some work.
It means grappling with questions like, “Should we focus more on positive stories about the greater Newark metropolitan area or hard-hitting stories dealing with serious issues?” she explains.
In the search for answers, Wager’s partnership with the Urban Issues Institute has helped. Essex Voices contributors already cover events from the institute and these ties have allowed them “to cover serious issues like the HIV epidemic and its impact in Newark,” Wager said.
To add a softer edge to its news coverage, Essex Voices generates stories on Newark’s cultural presence and history. While the site’s coverage has no specific model, Wager said they are working with others to refine the approach.
“I think this is how we will maintain relevance to the greater Newark community,” Wager said.
“We feel pleased with the progress the project is making in terms of technical and content production,” she said. Early content has primarily come from one production class during the fall semester. More content is coming during the spring semester, which offers four production classes, three video and one audio.
Wager, in partnership with advisory board members and the Newark New Media Innovation Lab, is planning a series of community workshops over the next few months to train future contributors. They include:
Reporting In Front of the Camera workshop with Cheryl Washington, journalist and producer from CNN. Audience: students and community journalists who want to hone their skills in front of the camera to create a more professional presence and delivery. Two four-hour sessions.
Multimedia Journalism workshop with Ryan Joseph, renowned photojournalist and digital media instructor and United Nations Radio journalist Gail Walker. Audience: students, community journalists and community organizations who want to combine photojournalism with audio interviews to create embeddable audio slideshows. Workshop participants will do a collaborative project about a community issue in Newark that will be published on the EV site and as an art gallery installation. Two eight-hour sessions.
Blogging Newark: Writing for Digital Media workshop, facilitator TBD. Audience: students, community journalists and organizations. Find out what Newark bloggers are writing and how writing for digital media differs from traditional media. Suggested facilitator: Andreas Jackson, WBAI and Newark New Media Innovation Lab; Glocally staff writer. One three-hour session.
Ethnic Media is Social Media. This will be a panel discussion with various local ethnic media, including the Brazilian Voice, Lakou Haitian Radio, and Dominican TV, on the impact of social media on ethnic media. Ideally we will partner with New American Media for this. Audience: students, community organizations and journalists. One three-hour session.
Community Journalism Workshop with People’s Production House. This will be adapted from PPH’s curriculum, which has proved highly successful with community organizations in New York City, New Orleans and elsewhere. We’re working on getting them a proposal for the workshop, which would be in May/June. Audience: students, community journalists and organizations.
Essex Voices is also moving forward with new collaborators, such as the Africana Institute and the WISE Women’s Center.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (www.creatvsj.org) a local non-profit cable television station and training center; Oakland Local (www.oaklandlocal.com), a successful Bay Area news site; and SJ Beez (www.sjbeez.org), 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 (www.sacramentopress.com).
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.”
Plans for a news hub for Princeton Borough and Township will first focus on public meetings, schools and development issues and then expand to include social, cultural and commercial areas. Donna Liu, a former CNN producer who founded an online news channel at Princeton University will lead the project, based at Princeton Community TV. Future support will be sought from community-based sponsors and advertising.
In the two years since the All Princeton website (AllPrinceton.com) went live, it has become a stable platform for community news and input and has become a useful teaching tool for local journalism students. However, it has fallen short of being the engaging forum it was originally meant to be and has not yet achieved sustainability.
With hindsight I can see why things have turned out this way, although not all those reasons were so clear at the outset.
Community News Platform
All Princeton provides general information for the people of Princeton, N.J., based on a mix of reported articles, user-generated entries and algorithmically aggregated content. The combination ensures a constantly updated collection of articles and events relevant to the life of Princeton.
The mix of content has not really broken any new ground, however, as far as finding innovative sources of reporting. There is not much user-submitted content, even after holding regularly scheduled workshops at the public library, and individual sessions for certain designated bloggers and writers.
I see two main reasons for the anemic participation:
The Drupal platform is too complicated. With hindsight I would advise anyone who launches a hyperlocal site to choose a simpler blogging software. Although All Princeton was launched fairly quickly in Open Publish, an open-source Drupal platform designed for news websites, the platform proved to be quite complex, requiring the skills of an experienced developer not only to customize it but also to maintain it. Open Publish held the promise of a turnkey solution for the kind of mixed content we offer, plus easy integration with ad modules. It was neither turnkey nor easy, and several potential contributors just gave up.
Convincing people to write for publication, even on subjects they are passionate about, is harder than I had anticipated. For one thing, there is an explosion of websites asking good writers to participate, and I sense a kind of public fatigue on the subject of “engagement.” Secondly, I now believe that citizen journalism can only work if the organizer is also a community activist, and that requires a certain personality and set of skills that not all journalists possess.
All Princeton’s greatest promise, and possibly its most useful function to the community, is as a vehicle for the younger generation to get hands-on journalism experience. Through partnerships with Princeton University and the local high school, we had enthusiastic reporters who really appreciated how much their curiosity improved their understanding of where they live.
Training workshops were held on two levels:
Basic journalism training for reporting and writing.
Multimedia workshops in collaboration with both Princeton TV - the local community access station and our fiscal sponsor - and Princeton University’s Journalism Program.
It is the teaching component that differentiates All Princeton from other local news operations: by giving the community access – not just to a platform but also to the skills – we got back some original reporting. There is, however, a certain transience associated with a student workforce.
All Princeton failed to engage the community in an open discussion of public affairs. Part of the problem, as with user-generated content, was a very buggy publishing platform. Another roadblock is the fact that genuine comments can drown in the incredible amount of spam that floods the comment feature.
I also think we are up against an old-fashioned culture, which still sends letters to the editor but does not post online. I wish All Princeton could have influenced a cultural shift, but it may require more proselytizing than I could handle.
At the end of two years, All Princeton still does not have a sustainable business model. The Digital Media Bootcamp held at Princeton University was a source of some income and will be again this year – enough to sustain a modest level of paid activity. But advertising faltered, first because of a dead-end relationship with the now-defunct GrowthSpur, and then because of the lack of any expertise in – or time for – marketing or sales.
Shortly after All Princeton launched, several competing news sites also started up in Princeton, including a Patch site and some pure aggregators. Combined those with the websites of several existing local newspapers, and local merchants began to complain that too many people were after them to advertise. There is no shortage of platforms to choose from, but the audience for any of them is quite fragmented.
My own need for steady income eventually compelled me to trade in my volunteer time on All Princeton for a full-time job elsewhere, thus making it difficult to do much more than maintain the site at the current level of activity.
I think the future of All Princeton lies more in the direction of empowering students than it does in engaging the public, although in the best of all worlds, one would lead to the other. Education will be my focus for the coming summer of internships, and another Digital Media Bootcamp at the university in the fall. If we can provide to the community at least as much awareness and access as our partner, Princeton TV, has done in the field of video, that will be a measure of success.
Outreach and Collaboration Take Over in Second Half of 2011
In the second half of 2011, AllPrinceton focused on developing media educational outreach, and cementing the collaboration with the local TV access station.
Over the summer, our high school internship program gave selected students from the high school newspaper some multimedia training, including video and Web production techniques. These students also created some original community news coverage, and continued to do so once the school year started. The benefit of involving this age group goes beyond journalism training. We found that sending them into the community opened their eyes to the workings of their own town, and stimulated their interest in community affairs. One student enthused, "I LOVE covering these town meetings, it's so interesting to see how everything works!"
In the fall, AllPrinceton coordinated a Digital Media Bootcamp for Princeton University students. Many participants were already involved in print journalism, and wanted to acquire multimedia skills to be more competitive in today's job market. The course incorporated video production and editing techniques, image and audio editing and basic web production. It was an intensive week, commissioned by the Humanities Council, and offered to students of journalism. This course also yielded, as a side benefit, some new contributors to the site. The plan is to use this multimedia course as a template for other workshops to be offered elsewhere in the community.
On the business side, AllPrinceton is collaborating with our fiscal sponsor and media partner, Princeton Community TV, to create a campaign for joint sponsorship of community media. With the recognition that standard rates for online advertising were not going to work for the modest local traffic on either of our sites, we are joining forces to solicit more general "underwriting" in the public media sense, for our combined community news output. The revenues will be shared between AllPrinceton and Princeton Community TV, and will serve to fund continuing reporting, as well as some basic costs for the television station.
Local elections in November 2011 offered a way to showcase our multimedia collaboration with Princeton Community TV. AllPrinceton once again cosponsored their debates among local candidates. It was a high-stakes year for Princeton voters, who were asked to decide whether to consolidate the Borough and Township into a single municipality. We orchestrated the town's first ever live TV coverage of an election night, using iPhone4s as remote cameras, Skype for two-way connection, talk hosts in the studio and live streaming of the two-hour show on AllPrinceton.com. The success of this coverage has prompted us to consider staging a more regular political talk show, in part to fill a void in New Jersey coverage following the closing of the state's only public TV station last year.
We have done no new development on the OpenPublish software platform upon which AllPrinceton was launched. Upgrades had been so buggy they seemed to introduce as many new problems as they solved old ones. OpenPublish did release a Drupal 7-compatible version, which I am reluctant to implement because of past experiences. I'm not sure I would recommend this platform to future users, especially if they do not have in-house Drupal support. The development costs can be prohibitive.
Instead, we will be devoting our resources to developing new opportunities with Princeton TV, including both coverage and sponsorship. That is our focus for 2012.
In just under one year of operation, All Princeton has secured its place amid other Princeton news outlets by developing a steady stream of content, engaging in outreach to attract followers and encouraging community participation.
“The All Princeton website [has become] a stable source of community news and events, with its hybrid presentation of original, collective, and aggregated content,” reports Donna Liu, founder of AllPrinceton.com.
Not only has the site established a “steady flow of content,” but by using social media and mobile outreach tools, the site has also been developing a small, but established, readership. As of June 2011, it counted 200 unique visitors a day and 190 Facebook followers
The use of social media has paid off. Liu reports that Facebook and Twitter have allowed the site’s following to grow. AllPrinceton.com even devoted a small portion of its budget to Facebook advertising.
The site’s most thriving features are news articles, town talk, and events, the three areas that are incorporated in the iPhone app, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, and are “most reliably updated.”
The site has also successfully furthered its relationship with the local community by holding community news workshops, recruiting community bloggers, and creating partnerships with the local educational system.
“All Princeton has come to the attention of some of the more Web-literate members of the community. Thanks to a series of workshops at Princeton Community TV and the Public Library, we coaxed some early adopters to contribute to the ‘Town Talk’ section of the site. The most enthusiastic supporters tended to be people associated with community-based NGOs,” says Liu.
Liu has found that community members are eager to contribute to All Princeton’s efforts. The site’s success in establishing working relationships with the local community will culminate this fall with “a week-long intensive Digital Media Bootcamp at Princeton University,” says Liu.
As All Princeton enters its second year of existence, Liu hopes to advance the site by concentrating on newsgathering, community training and sustainability.
AllPrinceton, a hyperlocal site covering the town of Princeton, N.J., has doubled its web traffic in recent months and recently joined a growing number of sites in the newly formed Hyperlocal News Association in New Jersey.
In the first quarter of 2011, web traffic to the AllPrinceton site has more than doubled on a month-to-month average, says Donna Liu, the site’s founder.
Liu attributes the increase in the number of page views possibly to bad weather that kept people indoors and the lack of other media outlets covering the immediate area. However, she says, it may also be “because we now boast a fairly steady stream of articles.” Those are generated by a greater number of contributors as a result of a partnership with Princeton University’s Press Club.
AllPrinceton has also joined in efforts to create the first Hyperlocal News Association for New Jersey. “With hundreds of municipalities, many of them not covered by traditional media, and with growing threats to the survival of both newspapers and public media in New Jersey,” Liu notes that hyperlocals are among the most promising news alternatives around.
Liu indicates the New Voices grant has allowed her to match the going freelance rate in the Princeton area.
At the same time, she has continued to increase her outreach to the community and brought in more contributors. The local public library staff has invited AllPrinceton to set up regularly scheduled workshops in its Tech Center. The workshops include some basics in web literacy and how-to presentations on using the AllPrinceton platform.
The site also has regular “Town Talk” submissions from residents and local non-profit organizations, which were a result of a series of workshops held with the site’s partner, Princeton Community TV.
In February, AllPrinceton submitted an iPhone app to the Apple Store for approval. The process can take a number of weeks. The first phase of the app will be read-only, but plans are underway for a read/write version that would give users a mobile interface for submitting content.
AllPrinceton is taking the “agile development” approach, which is to say the site was live long before it could be considered finished. Sometime in July, 2010, AllPrinceton.com went up very quietly, with barebones content and a few e-mails to beta-tolerant friends who would be willing to kick the tires. I don’t expect to ever be able to call the site “finished”, because the point of agile development is to be constantly responsive to the changing needs of the users, and the point of a community site is to evolve with the community it serves.
Progress So Far
AllPrinceton is taking a multi-pronged strategy to developing this site. The first three prongs: (1) website development; (2) community relations; (3) editorial content - are already well underway. The fourth, (4) commercial sustainability, is still in the planning stages. The feeling is that we need the first three in order to develop an audience, and we need the audience before we can approach the commercial sector for support.
Because AllPrinceton is going to depend on a community of users, we wanted to make a Beta version available to the public as soon as possible. That led to the decision to adopt OpenPublish, an out-of-the-box Drupal profile especially geared to online news.
Why Drupal? After considering Joomla and WordPress, I chose Drupal because it has a track record with other hyperlocal news sites, it has a large online support community, it is relatively easy to implement, but also because of certain details, such as: Drupal has an elegant solution to granting different levels of permissions for different user profiles.
Why OpenPublish? Because it had already integrated many Drupal modules that we would have wanted anyway: Blogging, Topic Hubs, More Like This, Calais, Flickr, GMap APIs, Feeds, Apture, etc. It is free and supported by an active online user group. It is, however, not bug-free. Nor is it that intuitive to customize. So after a steep Drupal learning curve on my part, I had to acknowledge that I had learned just enough to be a danger to the site, and thanks to the J-Lab grant, was able to hire a part-time Drupal developer. With his help we are tweaking the site to include additional features such as Organic Groups, which will give sub-communities the option of creating their own online Groups within the AllPrinceton umbrella, and a more robust community Feeds option, which will enable community websites to update to AllPrinceton without having to upload twice.
We are also in the process of developing an iPhone app for AllPrinceton. This side project will involve two stages of development: (a) a read-only app for users to receive notification of updates; and (b) the more complicated development of a read/write app that will enable users to upload from their phones.
Participation in AllPrinceton can occur on several levels, each of which corresponds to a user role on the site: Read-all for the general public; Registered User for the right to comment, add events and classifieds; Author for a group of so-called “trusted authors” - members of the Princeton community to whom AllPrinceton has reached out for regular submissions to a community blog.
AllPrinceton’s partnership with our fiscal sponsor, Princeton Community TV (PCTV), is a natural extension of the principle of community access media. That partnership plays out on many fronts: PCTV programs are immediately integrated into the AllPrinceton site via their Vimeo feed; PCTV broadcasts of civic events such as an ongoing tax uprising can complement our coverage; we will be co-sponsoring pre-election debates for local council candidates in October; PCTV is offering AllPrinceton the venue and support to host the first reporter training session; and the community partnerships already established by PCTV form a good starting point for online community collaboration with AllPrinceton.
These partners are the first to have been offered the role of Trusted Authors, and include representatives of organizations such as the local governments (there are two), library and arts councils; environmental groups; educational institutions; environmental groups; the League of Women Voters; Princeton University’s journalism program, etc.
The model for AllPrinceton is to present several flavors of editorial content. Articles written by AllPrinceton, whether by me or by designated reporters, appear on the left side of the page. The central column is devoted to community submissions, whether these are blog entries or feed items. Blogs and Feeds are not edited, but their source (trusted author) is curated. The right column, at the moment, is simply a live Twitter feed based on the keyword “Princeton”. It gives an interesting and constantly changing view of the local buzz.
Interestingly, the local newspaper, the Princeton Packet, was eager to allow AllPrinceton to aggregate their news feeds. This would seem to be an indicator of a shift in attitude on the part of Web-based news sites, foregoing exclusivity in favor of driving more viewers to their site.
Still at an experimental stage on the site is the concept of “topic hubs”, which is a feature of OpenPublish, and which brings all related content together into a single dynamically-updated page.
The only advertising vehicle currently available on the site is the classifieds category, which we offer for free.
We will eventually add banner ads, and have signed a letter of intent with GrowthSpur to help us negotiate the online advertising tools. But Princeton (population 30,000) is unlikely to be able to support a news site at the current CPM or CPC rates, if only because we will never get enough click-throughs to pay. We will have to either offer fixed banner ad rates based on need rather than numbers, or reinvent the commercial model for online news.
We are considering the creation of a “commercial circle”, in which participating merchants, for a subscription fee, will be able to post to their own group blog, touting daily specials, deals, events, etc.
Goals for 2010
This is AllPrinceton’s to-do list for the rest of 2010:
Further refinement of the architecture of the site
More de-bugging of functionalities
Making the interface more user-friendly
Adding mobile interface
Extending further into social media outlets
Increasing the number and diversity of “Trusted Authors”
Boosting the public profile of AllPrinceton
Offering more training for potential contributors to the site, including local public school students
Establishing a more regular schedule of coverage
Building up a reliable stable of freelance reporters
Offering a publishing platform and news lab for local students of journalism
Instituting an ad sales program
Creating a local business directory
Building a subscription-based “commercial circle” through which merchants and services can publish directly to their audience
Exploring commercial sponsorship and fundraising opportunities
AllPrinceton is still in the “quiet” phase of development. We have done no marketing campaigns yet, but focused instead on a series of private talks with community leaders, activists, educators, and media. It seems best to get community input while shaping the site, rather than present the community with a ready-made site that may not match their needs.
Reception to the project has been extremely positive. Organizations agree on the need for a timely, online community-based news and information site. Several groups have asked for an online space for them to communicate internally and externally. Others are looking for a unified calendar that can be sorted by category. Still others are looking to participate in a common and searchable place for all the relevant civic information. The library has even suggested that we base ourselves there, as they reinvent their own role in the digital age.
But it can be challenging to translate those positive feelings into productive action. AllPrinceton will be holding reporter workshops starting in late October, which will help build a community of contributors who are comfortable with publishing in this format. The first of these will be tailored to residents who have already expressed interest in contributing, but need some training and support. The second one will be in conjunction with a Digital Media Bootcamp which I am coordinating at Princeton University. Journalism professors at Princeton University have been offered AllPrinceton as a multimedia platform on which their students can publish their work. A similar invitation will be extended to the local high schools.
Another challenge at this stage of the project is how to translate collaborative ideas into user-friendly web tools. As one of my phone app developers put it, “intuitive is hard” to develop. Open-sourced out-of-the-box solutions are powerful, but really quite buggy. It is one thing to start a local news blog with a single column of content. There are lots of free solutions for that. It is altogether a different level of difficulty to design a self-organizing online community of information. While I still believe OpenPublish is a good framework to start with, customizing it can create an endless to-do list of features I wish the site had. I was brought up short by the critique of a younger reader, who said she liked the site, except it looked too much like a newspaper! Work to be done…
Students at Baltimore's historically black Morgan State University will serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore. The university will also conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Content will be offered to local newspaper and television stations.
The mobile journalists of Morgan MOJO Lab have written and filmed more than 50 hyperlocal news pieces about Baltimore and formed a content partnership with Baltimore Brew, a daily online journal. They turned iPods into recording devices to cover the city using pilot equipment from VeriCorder, and edited the footage with the iPod app 1st Video Net.
In the past year, MOJO Lab has recorded volunteers who sell clothes out of school buses and put the spotlight on an elderly woman who encourages others to stay fit. Garnering the most video views for MOJO Lab this year: its behind-the-scenes look at the softer side of Baltimore’s star quarterback. Students wrote the majority of the stories, and Allissa Richardson, MOJO Lab’s founder and director, selected outstanding pieces for the prototype site: www.thebaltimoremojo.com.
Helping students develop their news sense were workshops with The Baltimore NewsTrust, an experimental news project that taught them how to evaluate news, considering factors such as objectivity and timeliness. “Then, [NewsTrust] came in twice to evaluate a few of our brave students’ pieces,” said Richardson.
The Lab learned about Web infrastructure from local video game developers. The team also discovered that the project can’t have an open call for photos after an unfortunate incident with Flickr led to an inappropriate photo being published on the site. Like comments, photos must now be moderated. MOJO Lab redesigned the site to have mobile appeal. Stories now appear on a grid, similar to apps on an iPhone screen.
When students went off on vacation, two AmeriCorps Vista volunteers provided content. They also filled in when citizen journalists had other commitments.
As MOJO Lab moves forward, Richardson wants it to involve more community leaders and citizen journalists and explore international trends when they pertain to Baltimore, she said.
To continue the project, MOJO Lab has received $8,000 in funding from J-Lab and matching funds from 2MPower Media, LLC. The Baltimore-based private firm specializes in creating multimedia educational content for nonprofits, media companies, and schools.
Morgan MOJO Lab is affiliated with Morgan State University, one of a few colleges nationwide that has introduced mobile devices into its journalism curriculum, according to Richardson, an assistant professor of journalism.
MOJO Lab seeks to stay connected to its news consumers as the media landscape evolves. In its progress report, it noted that African-Americans use mobile phones to access the Internet more than any other demographic group – almost 48 percent compared to 40 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of whites.
MOJO has attracted attention abroad, too. GlobalGirl Media, an award-winning nonprofit news group, invited Richardson to start a mobile journalism program in its news bureau in Johannesburg, South Africa. In June, 10 girls there, many of whom had never used a computer before, participated in a pilot camp, where they produced 21 reports in three weeks.
The pilot’s success has spurred Richardson to spend the second year of J-Lab’s New Voices project fine-tuning MOJO Lab’s cross-cultural reporting beats. Upcoming themes include the effects of civil rights on the development of mostly African or African-American cities, environmental justice, and the rights of women and girls of African descent, said Richardson.
- Ari Pinkus
Morgan Gets Its MOJO
After months of planning, Morgan MOJO launched a beta version of New Content Providers. In the beginning of our project, Jan Schaffer advised us not to rely solely on students for content. She was certainly right! Our students, while excited about the MOJO Lab, often had to distribute their time between school, work and the Lab. Even though MOJO Lab students are doing the work for a grade (and are registered in a practicum class) they were initially intimidated by the level of thought and planning that goes into a multimedia piece. One student said, “I thought I was just going to shoot things going on in Baltimore. Why do I have to prepare an outline?”
The fun part of creating our website was emphasizing to students that the videos, in isolation, do not tell the story. We tell the MOJOs that story (and writing) are still key. Around November, they started to catch on. We began to see more carefully crafted stories, rather than profiles of cool Baltimoreans. One stand-out story featured a student’s enterprising piece into who plans to run for Baltimore Mayor in 2011. We need more stories like that, to gain reader credibility.
The only downside to our steady flow of content is the amount of work its takes to edit every piece. All of our students’ stories still have not made it online, but we will definitely post them all during the holiday lull. All in all, running a website is very time-consuming, tedious work. It can be a labor of love at times, what with all the fact-checking, photo credit-checking and caption-writing. It really does take more than one person to be a webmaster. We are looking forward to selecting an editor, once the second installment of our grant comes through.
New Technology Partners
Morgan MOJO added to Global Project
In early 2011, VeriCorder, which manufactures production used by mobile journalists, added Morgan’s MOJO team to its Global MOJO Project. Richardson has provided feedback on the mobile application, and the VeriCorder staff has offered advice on how to build a better news site. Newsrooms from 16 countries are participating and Morgan MOJO Lab is the only Historically Black College or University involved. You can watch a promo video on the project here: http://vimeo.com/21668549
The MOJOs are using iPods with VeriCorder microphones attached, for improved audio. VeriCorder also invented the iPod app that the students use to edit, called 1st Video Net. While I was tinkering with the app, in preparation to teach the students how to use it, I got stuck on how to add captions. I e-mailed the company’s salesperson. She asked how I was using their product, and I shared the MOJO Lab concept with her. She was intrigued, and mentioned our work to the company’s CEO. As a result, Morgan State students are now one of very few official product testers for VeriCorder! The company’s reps have sent us an advance beta test of the iPad app. It will allow one master user, such as a teacher or editor-in-chief, to view several stories on the screen, to create a website playlist. There is also a drag-and-drop feature for easy uploading to our MOJO website. To avoid any conflict of interest, the MOJO Lab still will pay for its edition of the VeriCorder newsroom syncing, the apps and the microphones. We are excited, however, about being a pilot school.
We are excited about our new partnership with News Trust too. The organization, funded by Open Society, aims to improve readers’ media literacy and news judgment. Their website allows readers to rate news stories based on key principles, such as objectivity, credibility and context. After meeting with News Trust’s Executive Director, Fabrice Florin, we agreed to place a widget on our website, which will allow readers to rate us. I think this level of accountability will help our MOJOs become better reporters. The students groaned, of course, when I told them of this new partnership. Nevertheless, News Trust will teach us in January to integrate their site seamlessly into ours.
The Takeaway: Student MOJOs
The students readily embrace video podcasting, but they shied away from audio podcasts this semester. At the end of the course, I asked why, when given a choice, they preferred the visual medium. One student told me, timidly, that he was self-conscious about his accent. When I asked the other students if they felt the same way, nearly half of the class raised their hands. They felt it was easier to edit out their voices in video.
In the second part of the course, next semester, I have booked a vocal coach for the students. He is a member of our faculty, so it will not cost the Lab anything but smiles. Many students have shared that they will feel much more confident after learning this soft skill. In many ways, the MOJO Lab literally gives these students a voice. They really are a timid bunch. Many of my students are first-generation college students, graduates of low-performing high schools or youth who have beat the myriad odds Baltimore has thrown at them. Those odds caused them to create the swaggering bravado they use to communicate to each other. Yet, when their teacher hands them an iPod and says, “Create!” they incredulously ask, “Who? Me?” The MOJO Lab has allowed me to say, “Yes, you.”
The first day the students handled the iPods, they were like children on Christmas Day. They poked the screen and slid around icons. They groaned when their videos froze or when an editing partner accidentally erased their B-roll. As their teacher, the hardest thing has been not to interfere with their experimentation. Although I know how to add a voiceover track to an existing video, I often refrain from butting in, in favor of allowing the student to figure it out themselves. The reporters are more empowered this way. They also shared that they feel more confident in the field, when technical problems arise.
The Takeaway: Citizen MOJOs
Citizen journalists have rounded out our coverage tremendously. Our best citizen MOJO is Bobby Marvin, who attended Morgan State University. The graduate now has his own blog, called HuesVoices.com. Bobby was so excited when he heard about the MOJO Lab, he asked if he could contribute. You will see some of his videos alongside our students’. Our other citizen MOJO is Doni Glover. Doni publishes the online newsmagazine, BmoreNews.com. Doni reached out to us too, when we put out a call for more content support. His video has been invaluable as we begin to build our library.
The best thing about working with citizen journalists is that they share the same passion for hyperlocal storytelling that we have. What we would like to do, however, is start setting publishing standards for our site. Both of our citizen journalists are not too fond of preparing print companions for their video pieces. We want to train them to beef up their coverage in this way. Our website is a little skimpy on the print, and as a former magazine journalist, that unnerves me! Therefore, our first citizen journalism boot camp will take place in January, with support from the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. We are designing invitations to send out to local grassroots leaders, and other indie bloggers and journalists.
Now that the site is live, the real work begins. The site soft launches on Monday, December 20, to about 100 area journalists and professors. We will use their feedback going into the new year to perfect the site. Let us know what you think.
Personally, I have some goals I would like to achieve as a web developer. I wanted, for instance, to have a dominant slider image on our home page, but got stumped by Java. I will be working diligently during the Christmas break to get us a rotating main picture. I also will work hard to figure out how to post our Flickr account pictures in our sidebars. I put a placeholder gallery there, as you will see, since our API key just would not cooperate in time for this report. WordPress says “Code is Poetry.” I would paraphrase this to say, “Code is Unforgiving.” One incorrect bracket could stop the whole show. This is the kind of challenging work I wanted though, when I signed on to be the site designer. Every time I solve a programming problem, it is like a little victory.
Aside from coding, gracious volunteers and students also will continue to upload all of our student MOJO work. When we get our next award installment, we will also invest in our own video hosting, through Brightcove. We hate the look of the YouTube player, but it was the only free alternative that played video on PCs and mobile devices. (While experimenting with an iPad, we realized that Vimeo’s player would not appear on the screen. We suspect it relies on Flash.) YouTube is not a long-term option though, since user traffic bogs down its servers. Too often in our testing phases, our videos took too long to load, or simply did not load at all. So we are looking forward to a more reliable video library host “in the cloud,” which also gives us more control over our player appearance.
You can also follow along as we build this on our blog. I will post my lesson plans here, and real-time commentary from our MOJOs. I think chronicling this exciting experiment will help other schools interested in MOJO training. We hope we inspire some folks!
Morgan Gets Its MOJO
Publicity from winning a New Voices grant in 2010 placed The Morgan State University MOJO Lab on the map, noted professor and lab director Allissa Richardson. At the same time, she and her team remained focused on developing an editorial strategy and distribution partnerships.
In the first 90 days of the grant, Richardson worked with other professors this summer to define the Lab’s concept and devise a plan of action. The most controversial decision, she said, was the decision to not cover crime, “simply for crime’s sake.”
“We decided as a team then to highlight specific incidents only as building blocks to write more solution-oriented stories,” Richardson said.
After appearing on a Baltimore NPR affiliate, WYPR 88.1 FM, the Governor’s Secretary of Planning invited her to meet to learn more about the Lab and suggest ways the Governor’s office could help. “As a result of that meeting, the Lab’s reporters will have generous access to cover the gubernatorial campaign, city and state planning meetings and many other political functions,” Richardson said. All this came before the site’s planned launch in December 2010.
Seeking Distribution Partnerships
Richardson has begun exploring partnerships with three other news organizations. News One, a website that targets an African-American could put the lab’s reports in front of an audience of roughly 9 million unique visitors a month. In a syndication deal, News One will pay the university $99 per month. The editor of an NBC website, The Grio, met Richardson and discussed plans to launch a college site for African-American students. Richardson has submitted a proposal to be included, which may serve as an additional revenue stream. And MOJO signed on with Baltimore Sun’s advertising team to create a pre-roll video ad for the MOJO site.
Richardson, a committee member of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Media Task Force, will organize Morgan State’s first Historically Black Colleges and Universities Student Media Institute in April 2011, designed to help replicate the Lab’s community news approach at other HBCUs. That may bring in additional revenue as well.
But Technically, Not So Rosy
With all of its success, the Lab has experienced some logistical problems on the web front. The Lab is on the same Ingeniux content management system that Morgan State uses, in order to retain consistency in format and security. However, the rest of the MOJO Lab website is run on the WordPress platform. Richardson discovered their site prototype had been hacked after logging on while at a convention.
“All of the designs and coding were gone. A blank screen stared back,” Richardson said. The University’s information technology team found that the open source nature of WordPress made it easy for hackers to plant viruses.
Fortunately for the Lab, the team was able to restore the site prototype after finding the server’s last known configuration of the Lab’s website. The Lab since fortified the site to add better security to the platform.
"We are happy to report that the website has not been hacked since the hardening efforts! This is a great relief," Richardson said.
Making the Most of the MOJO
Like all startups, MOJO Lab had to find ways to fundraise, particularly to generate the New Voices $8,000 matching requirement. In a fortuitous string of events, the cybercaf� in the campus center closed, leaving the campus with a coffee void. The MOJO Lab developed a “News and Brews” fundraising effort that sells coffee and newspapers in the caf�.
Here’s how it works: The Journalism Department at Morgan subscribed to the Times, which delivers daily 150 copies of the newspaper. A student worker is then paid through the Times to distribute the paper. “The student also serves coffee as a barista. We sell the coffee with the free newspaper. We keep the money,” explained Richardson. Students also took orders from professors and deliver coffee and a newspaper daily, with a renewable subscription fee.
“It is already taking off,” Richardson said. “The University Comptroller has created a special account to collect our fundraising money.”
With the launch date in December 2010 set, the Lab has ordered equipment and established legal protection for intellectual property.
“We are enjoying the learning curve,” Richardson said. “The MOJO Lab is on its way.”
Landings: Celebrating Fishing Heritage, Informing on Fishing Changes
• Rockland, ME
(207) 594-9209 ext. 129 E-mail Website
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association will hire freelance writers and work with students, bloggers, state officials and readers to cover Maine’s hard-hit fishing communities. The site will provide updates for the state’s six coastal regions on such issues as conservation efforts, new regulations, lobster prices and bait and fuel costs. The project will seek to sustain itself from donors, business members and advertisers.
Maine Lobsterman’s Association has been redesigning its Maine Landings news site (mainelandings.org) to make it more user-friendly.
The homepage has received the biggest facelift since the site officially launched in May. In addition, MLA has added more stories so users can more easily access recent posts. The banner on each page has been revamped with higher quality photos.
To increase visitors, MLA is developing a tool to feed its weekly e-mail update content through the Maine Landings news site in an effort to convert those e-mail recipients to regular site visitors. A contractor’s “behind the scenes” changes have allowed stories to be posted to multiple pages and have helped filter comments that contain spam. Content is now tagged so that it is easily searchable.
As MLA continues to expand its site, it plans a new section of content titled “Learn about lobsters” that will explain lobster biology, lobster management and fishing practices. Links to interactive games are also coming.
MLA is mulling over adding new tools, including Facebook “share” and “like” buttons and a photo blog.
In its business development, MLA has added logos of its two sponsors, Luke’s Lobsters and Smithwick & Mariner’s Insurance. MLA is refining its business model to encourage more companies to sponsor the site, particularly those linked to the “Maine brand” that will likely want to be connected to a “quintessential Maine icon,” as noted in its December 2011 report. It is offering an advertising package that includes ad space in Maine Landings and the print newsletter. MLA is targeting selected large lobster brokers and dealers to advertise solely on Maine Landings. MLA is also pursuing underwriting support from such large, Maine-based companies as well as from individuals who have shown interest in the long-term sustainability of the Maine’s lobster industry.
MLA has promoted Maine Landings through a Facebook page and weekly e-mail news updates. It also gets the word out in the association’s monthly traditional print newsletter, mailed to all Maine lobsterman, industry business and other stakeholders on the coast.
Maine Landings was officially launched on May 10, 2011 after being postponed several months due to developer delays.
The site is an initiative of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and its staff, freelancers, community organizations, fishermen’s associations, business leaders, and others involved in Maine’s lobstering industry generate the site’s content, reports Melissa Waterman, project coordinator.
The website, which is updated with new material every other day, includes stories, photos, and videos.
“The site currently consists of a home page containing the three most recently posted articles and five sub-sections which organize content by topic: Science, Management, Community Voices, People, and Miscellaneous,” says Waterman.
At the bottom of each story is a comment box that allows readers to comment on individual articles, encouraging discussion among members of the lobstering industry and the general public.
Before the MLA’s site was even launched, it was advertised to many of Maine’s environmental, scientific and community organizations. On launch day of its launch, the site was promoted to a many stakeholders, reports Waterman.
In the coming year, Waterman and her team will promote the site through the association’s e-weekly update, Facebook page, newsletter and professional and media networks. Maine Landings will also work to target support from businesses native to Maine who “may wish to be associated with a site dedicated to the quintessential Maine icon,” reports Waterman.
The Landings website, to be called mainelandings.org, faced developer delays, pushing back the scheduled launch from February 2011 to at least May. But the extra time has afforded the Maine Lobstermen’s Association staff more time to focus on a strategy for developing regular site content.
In mid-February, the MLA hired a recent graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy to serve as the association’s communications assistant - a key role for developing site content and coordinating future contributors.
The plan remains to focus on five topic pages: science, management, people, community voices and miscellaneous. Stories will take the form of personal tales, feature articles, profiles, oral histories and video, drawing from freelance writers and the group’s weekly e-newsletter.
The additional time before launch has led the MLA to consider how it will publicize the launch of Landings. The MLA’s weekly e-mail updates, newsletter and Facebook presence will all promote the new site, in addition to press releases to local newspapers.
After more thorough research focusing on the site’s sustainability, the MLA plans to focus on reeling in a combination of small advertisements and underwriting, given the organization’s strong relationship with gear suppliers and others.
One more plus: The delay has also saved some costs. The MLA has rebudgeted $2,580 from the first year to the second, due to savings from site development, marketing costs, and writer costs which will become necessary in Year 2.
Site will feature stories ‘as they come in’ and will cover topics like science, management, people and community voices.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association is embarking on its newest adventure: The 56-year-old organization will begin publishing online weekly news stories of interest to its 6,000 active members along the state’s coastline.
Landings: Celebrating Fishing Heritage, Informing on Fishing Changes will build on the success of the organization’s robust monthly print newsletter. Section pages will be dedicated to science, management, people, and community voices, according to MLA’s plans. “Content includes personal stories, feature articles, profiles, oral histories and video,” said Melissa Waterman, MLA’s communication coordinator.
In addition, all past content from previous newsletters will be tagged on the new website to make it searchable by place and topic, and users will be able to share stories on Facebook and Twitter.
This move represents a mid-course correction for the organization. The original grant proposal called for an ambitious site that would have hired student reporters in many of the coastal communities.
But with a change in the nonprofit’s staff in the summer of 2010 - and difficulty recruiting reliable reporters, MLA leaders decided to recalibrate.
In a series of conversations with J-Lab, MLA staff members realized they could approach the challenge differently: Instead of publishing a print newsletter monthly, the editor could stagger deadlines and post some of those stories weekly. That way, the newsletter could become a compendium of stories from the website.
In addition to individual lobstermen and women, a number of public and private organizations have agreed to submit stories and images, too.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association also opened a search for a half-time staff person who will help get Landings off the ground by generating new content and working with businesses to establish a base of advertising revenue.
A design firm from Camden, Maine, has designed a draft of the site, and the organization anticipates launching the full site by February 2011.
2009 New Voices grantee Oakland Local recently released a report on the progress made since receiving funding one year ago. In the seven months since their launch, Oakland Local has produced more than 3,000 stories, blog posts and photo galleries from 52 contributors. Click here to read more.
Engaging readers is why your online news community exists. You can’t use the wisdom of the crowds if the crowd isn’t talking. Without fast and substantive engagement, you might as well publish a newspaper.
So when you build it and they don’t come, what do you do, short of waiting?
Try poking your community with a sharp stick and challenging it to interact In the following sections, you’ll see how at GreatLakesEcho.org, a site about environmental issues in the Great Lakes region, we used Asian carp (hardly sharp sticks), maps, quizzes, Top 10 lists and more to help engage our audience.
Don’t get discouraged when your best ideas flop. You’ll be surprised by something else that works. More surprising—and puzzling—is when a failed idea works the second time. If you need a start, steal and modify what we’ve tried at Great Lakes Echo. What follows are a few ideas.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nine promising community news projects from across the U.S. have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners. Each can receive up to $25,000 to launch a news initiative and work to sustain it over the next two years, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today.
The projects plan to engage their communities in diverse ways - from producing stories in Baltimore neighborhoods, to creating a crowdsourcing platform to report stories in Vermont and covering Maine’s troubled fishing communities. Funding will launch news sites to cover an endangered river district in Charlotte, immigrant communities in Lincoln, Neb., urban communities in Newark, Princeton and San Jose, and arts organizations in Portland, Ore.
“This year’s winners presented striking analyses of the information needs in their communities. All had plans to meet those needs with digital toolkits that involve mobile devices, social media and the Web,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program at American University’s School of Communication. “Notable this year is the growing presence of independent professional journalists seeking to fill the information gaps in their communities in new ways.”
Grant winners are eligible to receive $17,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $8,000 in matching support in the second year. The goal is to experiment with new models for sustainability. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.
“In the digital age, you don’t need a lot of money to provide useful, helpful news and information,” said Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at Knight Foundation. “Some of these websites will be sustained by universities. Others by volunteers. Still others by local donors or advertisers. These new efforts are an important part of the evolution of local media ecosystems. The Knight Commission for the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy spoke to this issue. There are 30,000 villages, burgs, towns, districts, counties and cities in America. There are not 30,000 newspapers in America. Never were, never will be. But there could be 30,000 websites.”
This year’s winners were selected from a competitive field of 284 applicants. Including the new grantees, a total of 55 community start-ups have been funded from 1,533 entries since 2005. Of the 46 projects that have already launched over the last five years, 30, or 65 percent, are still going strong, five are working to launch or re-launch, and 11 did not continue after the two-year grant cycle.
The 2010 New Voices grantees are:
Essex County Community Media - In the first New Voices project at a community college, Essex County College in Newark, NJ, will operate a year-round news operation to report on issues in the state’s largest city. Journalism students will develop a website, using mobile and social media tools, and the college will conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Local advertising and grants will be sought. Content will be aired on local radio stations and the school’s educational access channel and offered to other local media.
Landings: Celebrating Fishing Heritage, Informing on Fishing Changes - The Maine Lobstermen’s Association will hire freelance writers and work with students, bloggers, state officials and readers to cover Maine’s hard-hit fishing communities. The site will provide updates for the state’s six coastal regions on such issues as conservation efforts, new regulations, lobster prices and bait and fuel costs. The project will seek to sustain itself from donors, business members and advertisers.
Morgan MoJo Lab - Students at Baltimore’s historically black Morgan State University will serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore. The university will also conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Content will be offered to local newspaper and television stations.
NeighborWeb - 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.
River District News - A former Charlotte Observer journalist will spearhead a news and information website about a community-driven environmental makeover of the endangered Catawba River District near Charlotte, N.C. Content will come from volunteers, freelancers, and involved groups such as the local parks and recreation department, agricultural extension service and the energy company. Future support is expected from federal environmental sustainability grants, and a fee-based certification program to acknowledge energy-efficient construction and environmentally protective landscaping.
Lincoln’s New Voices - Lincoln, Neb., has witnessed 24 percent growth in ethnic minorities and immigrants in recent years. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Journalism College will explore the information needs of these new ethnic communities and work with mobile technology and web design teams to develop a news initiative to reach them. Content will come from students, community members and high school students from immigrant families. Future support is expected from the university and foundation grants.
Tipster at VTDigger.org - This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
AllPrinceton - Plans for a news hub for Princeton Borough and Township will first focus on public meetings, schools and development issues and then expand to include social, cultural and commercial areas. Donna Liu, a former CNN producer who founded an online news channel at Princeton University will lead the project, based at Princeton Community TV. Future support will be sought from community-based sponsors and advertising.
WITHDRAWN: Olympia Newswire - In a matter of weeks from concept to launch, this site emerged earlier this year as an interim news source covering a recent legislative session in Washington state. The site now will re-launch as an ongoing source of in-depth state capitol reporting by freelancers, with original opinion pieces. Future support is expected from private donors and foundations.
ADDED: Oregon Arts Watch - In a unique collaboration with Portland-area performing arts groups, seasoned culture reporter Barry Johnson will produce an arts news site, funded in part by subscription membership fees.
This year’s grantees were selected by an Advisory Board. It included Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation; Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc.; Bill Gannon, director of online production and programming, Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bruce Koon, news director, KQED public radio, San Francisco; Peggy Kuhr, dean, University of Montana School of Journalism; Mary Lou Fulton, program manager, The California Endowment; Larry Kirkman, dean, and Lynne Perri, journalist in residence, American University School of Communication; Gary Kebbel, journalism program director, and Jose Zamora, journalism associate, Knight Foundation; Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.
Track the progress of New Voices grantees online at j-newvoices.org, where updates, news and features are posted. Follow other citizen media developments at the Knight Citizen News Network.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed, engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
American University’s School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research and innovative production in the fields of journalism, film and media arts and public communication, working across media platforms and with a focus on public affairs and public service. ###
Embargoed for release
10 a.m., December 10, 2009
Contact Jan Schaffer email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. - American University’s J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism is calling for a new round of grant proposals to fund community news start-ups around the country. Nine projects will each receive up to $25,000 in grants over two years.
The call for proposals comes on the heels of a new report issued by J-Lab and American University that describes how online community news sites are helping to create new forms of journalism. The journalism is characterized by a deliberate shift in the definition of objectivity, a drive for community conversation and discussion, and broader definitions of “news.”
The 2010 New Voices projects will receive $17,000 the first year and are eligible for $8,000 in matching support the second year.
At least three of the 2010 grants are targeted for news initiatives in the 26 communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, but projects from all parts of the U.S. are encouraged to apply.
“It’s remarkable to see the vision that people have for filling the information needs in their communities and the New Voices program helps make that vision a reality,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the program. J-Lab is a center of American University’s School of Communication.
“New Voices projects are among the 100 community news experiments Knight has funded in the search to use digital technology to help communities communicate better,” said Gary Kebbel, Knight’s Journalism Program Director.
Eligible to receive New Voices funding are 501(c)3 organizations and education institutions or individuals working under the sponsorship of a nonprofit fiscal agent. Only start-up projects may receive funding; ongoing efforts are not eligible unless they are proposing a new venture.
Projects can produce news and information for a geographic area, such as a town or county, or they can serve a community of interest.
All New Voices projects must develop a publicly accessible, regularly updated Web site to showcase their efforts and have a plan for generating a steady flow of fresh content year-round.
To receive information about New Voices, e-mail contact information and a request to subscribe to the J-Flash newsletter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org), the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, www.J-Learning.org, and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (www.newmediawomen.org).
American University’s School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research, and innovative production across the fields of journalism, film and media arts, and public communication. The school’s academic programs emphasize traditional skills and values while anticipating new technologies, new opportunities, and new audiences.
Washington, D.C. - New forms of journalism are being created around the country where online local news sites have launched to report on their communities.
The journalism is characterized by a deliberate shift in the definition of objectivity, a drive for community conversation and discussion, and broader definitions of “news” that seek to connect readers to a sense of the place where they live, according to new research released today by American University’s J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.
The research found that journalism on independent local news and information Web sites is increasingly becoming an act of participation, not just an act of observation. The participatory involvement calls for site editors to collaborate with readers in trawling for stories, unraveling news as it is happening, and ensuring that people know how to engage in community issues and events.
Site editors say they are abandoning what some call “antiquated” notions of dispassionate objectivity to “cut to the chase” and provide news that connects their community, not just covers it - even as they value and adhere to standards of accuracy, honesty, transparency, and sharing.
These are among key findings from focus groups and interviews with women news consumers and news creators who are populating the new media ecosystem. The research was funded by the McCormick Foundation as part of J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative. It was conducted by Maria Ivancin, an American University assistant professor and focus group expert and Jan Schaffer, J-Lab director.
“We are beginning to understand that the kinds of news that are evolving in the new media ecosystem are different from the news that was delivered by traditional news organizations,” said Schaffer. “Yet it is responsible and seems to be connecting with people in their communities in interesting ways.”
“The New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative is yielding a treasure trove of promising media startups and insightful research on news consumers and creators,” said Clark Bell, the McCormick Foundation’s journalism program director. “This research shows the impact of women on the changing media landscape.”
The research report was released today at a summit in Washington, D.C. featuring women founders and editors of start-up community news sites around the country.
The goal of the research was to understand how women are consuming news in the evolving news ecosystem and how their significant roles as founders of community news sites and placeblogs are impacting traditional journalism conventions.
Through four focus groups and interviews with 11 women founders and editors of hyperlocal community news sites, the project explored how women news entrepreneurs are defining opportunities for creating news, how the news they are creating differs from traditional journalism. It also probed what women news consumers value in news and how they are altering their news habits.
The McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative is a project of J-Lab, a center of American University’s School of Communication. J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use new media technologies to create fresh ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, the Knight Citizen News Network and the New Voices community media grant program.
The McCormick Foundation supports free, vigorous and diverse news media that provide citizens the vital information they need to make reasoned decisions in a democracy. The Journalism Program supports non-profit initiatives that enhance news content, build audiences and protect the rights of journalists.
A team of six Columbia College Chicago students visited all 144 stations along the line and found that 36 out of 88 stops - or 41 percent - that are supposed to be accessible were, in fact, not. On later visits, the student journalists found many of the same problems.
The students took a look at more than 2,000 American Disabilities Act-related complaints filed against the CTA from Jan. 1, 2004 through Feb. 28, 2009. Their findings included repeated reports of broken elevators and bus lifts as well as employees of the CTA swearing at passengers and denying access to several customers with service dogs, among other things.
Benjamin Burns, Director, Journalism Program, Wayne State University
• Detroit, MI
Benjamin Burns, Director, Journalism Program
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 577-4572 E-mail Website Twitter
Wayne State University’s journalism program has recruited more than 20 displaced, retired and otherwise available professional journalists to write and edit content from citizen contributors and online journalism students at WSU and the University of Michigan-Dearborn for a full-service news and information site about Detroit’s five Grosse Pointes. Professionals have pledged $20,000 in seed money to support the first year of the program.
GrossePointeToday.com Will Be Financially Viable Into 2013
Two years after launching GrossePointeToday.com, editor Ben Burns reports the site has seen positive cash flow for each month in 2011 and he expects it to remain financially viable for at least a couple more years.
In the five cities GrossePointeToday.com serves, the site has become a “recognized and respected news and community information force.”
“That means we are a fairly stable alternative voice in the community, known to cover issues, politics and breaking news better than anyone else,” he said.
Recently, the site broke a story about two top administrators losing their jobs at a local high school because of pornography on their computers. That news generated more than 9,000 hits on a Friday, a drastic uptick considering the site receives 11,000 hits in a normal month. Over time, readers have increased the average time they spend on the site to more than four minutes. The site also delivers a weekly e-mail newsletter to more than 7,800 addresses.
While they aspire to increase those statistics, Burns and his team of 10 volunteer contributors continue to see traction on interactive features, such as the public safety map and garage sale map.
Since launching the site in conjunction with Wayne State University in April 2009, the Grosse Pointes have seen a crowded news space continue to fill. Patch.com recently opened new sites in the same coverage area. The sites, part of AOL’s hyperlocal behemoth, are edited locally and have been luring freelance contributors away from GrossePointeToday.com by offering higher payments for stories. This has led Burns to consider raising his rate.
Burns attributes positive cash flow in 2011 to advertising, which he is attempting to take to a higher level. “We have had a pretty positive response from advertisers who are aware we exist,” Burns said.
He is also raising money from local foundations to offer Wayne State students partial scholarships for working on the site. He plans to bring another person on board to expand advertising sales and marketing.
The Chamber of Commerce has invited GrossePointeToday.com to take part in strategic planning sessions on the future of the area.
“It has been a fun ride so far and all our principals are committed to continuing to serve the Grosse Pointe communities,” Burns said, reflecting on the last two years.
The site’s existence has been possible, he said, because of J-Lab’s New Voices grant. “We would like to thank you for your support and the Knight Foundation’s commitment to exploring new ways to deliver news,” Burns said. “We would not have been able to survive without it.”
GrossePointeToday.com Revamp Gets Results
The team behind GrossePointeToday.com is demonstrating that flexibility and a consistent focus on improving its site for users can have an impact on audience size and engagement.
Among the changes made after GPT’s president, Sheila Tomkowiak, returned from a Knight Digital Media Center News Entrepreneur Boot Camp, was a refocused mission statement to emphasize the site as “an open forum for discussion from all members of the Grosse Pointe community.”
As a result, readers - particularly community leaders - have begun posting comments more regularly. “The November  elections brought a lengthy heated exchange on our pages from two school board candidates,” said editor and publisher Ben Burns.
New Features Added
A weekly e-newsletter was created to emphasize popular features and the mailing list has doubled in less than a year to roughly 600 people. The rates of people opening the email (47.6 percent) and clicking on links to visit the site (24.9 percent) are higher than the industry average (17.8 and 3.6 percent, respectively), Burns noted. At the same time, the bounce (0.2 percent) and unopened (52.2 percent) rates are lower than average (0.9 and 81.3 percent, respectively).
GrossePointeToday also took advantage of what visibility and site traffic social media can generally offer. After changing to a Facebook “fan” page, as opposed to a “group” page, the site gained more than 450 fans within the first two weeks, Burns said.
One new feature of the site is the “Estate Sale/Garage sale” map, patterned after the site’s already popular public safety map. The area is a “hot place for estate sales,” Burns said. He anticipates that this feature will “draw significant traffic.”
The site’s community calendar also is entirely reader-generated and has up to six events in one day, compared to late 2009 when there were four or five events per month.
Site traffic continued building slowly but at a steady rate through 2010. GrossePointeToday averages about 26,329 page views per month, and search engines account for half of the site’s traffic, Burns said. “When readers find the site, they tend to return,” he added. “Readers were spending two minutes on the site six months ago; that number is now up to four minutes.”
Realizing the site’s value
The community seems to be responding: In early 2010, the site approached the local Junior League offering to partner with them in promoting their Show House. They were uncooperative, and despite that, Burns and his team gave the event coverage. The league has since approached GrossePointeToday to publicize their Christmas fundraiser with copy, photos and an advertisement. “The organization has come to realize our value,” Burns said.
Donations have become GrossePointeToday’s primary means of financial support. In addition to seeking funds from local foundations, the site’s readers are encouraged to contribute. “We have added a donation block to the site so readers can contribute,” Burns said.
Grant proposals for local foundations are in the works. Burns said they have scheduled an early December meeting with the CEO of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, and they are approaching several small Grosse Pointe area foundations to support a scholarship for student reporters.
The remaining challenge for GrossePointeToday remains generating more revenue. Currently, the site has $24,000 and has started paying veteran freelancers $100 to $200 for in-depth stories. Burns and the GrossePointeToday team are reviewing marketing proposals from area firms and may hire a development or advertising sales representative early in 2011.
“We are hearing more and more that people are finding the site useful and enjoyable,” Burns said. With a renewed focus, GrossePointeToday seeks to tackle those challenges head on in the New Year.
- Briona Arradondo
Grosse Pointe Today and Tomorrow
Despite its woes with an advanced content management system and headaches with a failed advertising partnership, Grosse Pointe Today continues on track for its second year. In addition to receiving 501(c)3 status from the IRS, the site has also signed an experimental agreement to share content with Yahoo.
GrossePointeToday.com launched with a beta version in early 2009, in the hopes of getting the entire site live within 60 to 90 days. That did not happen on schedule because Drupal, the more sophisticated software they used, came with a steep learning curve for their software designer. After hiring an assistant for the designer and a “so-called Drupal expert” as a consultant, much of the site’s first year funding went to development, monthly maintenance and server space rental.
“I would recommend that other start-ups seriously consider using WordPress,” said publisher Ben Burns, of the free blogging platform. “At the same time our site has been repeatedly praised for its design, ease of use and effectiveness so you have to weigh the two factors against each other.”
The site has been humming along since, adding an archive feature in December and gradually building an audience in the process.
Citing a slow month in April due to spring breaks at local schools and Wayne State, Burns reported 6,319 unique visitors that month, with 26,650 page views and an average of 4.22 pages per visit.
However, the biggest single headache for Burns in running the site is advertising. “We thought we had the perfect arrangement with a 40-year-old Bluebook directory of the area that lacked a decent website. We would promote and link to their directory and their staff of six would sell ads.”
The company told Burns they could not find an individual to sell exclusively for his site. Once Burns found his own salesperson to work based on commission, the former auto supply salesman sold few ads and quit citing the difficulty of working with sales people from the company that “kept claiming dibs on the most logical local advertisers.” Promising a big push in the first part of the year, the sales team sold a few ads in January, none in February and one in March. Grosse Point Today is reevaluating its advertising strategy.
The Yahoo arrangement will not net Grosse Pointe Today any income, but it may generate traffic from new users.
Among the best ideas from his team this year, Burns points to the public safety map they created using Google Maps. Another top feature remains the changing image on the home page, which gets refreshed four to five times a week, and users are submitting their own pictures. And videos uploaded from two local high school sports competitions within 24 hours after the event have also proven popular.
Setbacks, in addition to the operating system and the advertising arrangement, include the longer than expected time it took to set up an archive system and inadequate hosting on a borrowed server. While the site each semester averages six students from Wayne State, where Burns directs the journalism program, other schools have not delivered as much content as expected.
As their second year of funding gets under way, the site will have $25,000 in the bank, but Burns says they need to address revenue. “We simply can’t afford to reward the folks that are putting in the hours to make the site,” he reports. He is exploring offering local governments the chance to put content into dedicated sections of the site, since they are cash-strapped themselves and may not be able to continue operating their own websites.
Other than the Yahoo deal, their plans for Year Two have not changed in scope. They plan to pay up to $150 for in-depth, assigned stories and will start compensating student reporters to help cover fuel costs. In addition, they will spend $1,000 to $2,000 on marketing and promotion of the site. And hopefully later in 2011, the site will be able to compensate managing editor Nancy Nall Derringer and associate publisher Sheila Tomkowiak.
While no one wants to see other journalists fail, Burns has witnessed other former daily journalists in the market to launch sites of their own before giving up because, as he put it, “they couldn’t compete with us in terms of ‘feet on the ground.’ “
GrossePointeToday.com Moving In the Right Direction
Ben Burns, editor and publisher of GrossePointeToday.com, was hopeful when he developed a relationship with “The Little Blue Book”, an advertising publication in town. The company sells space on GroseePointeToday.com - and did sell $850 worth of advertising in January.
But, Burns adds: “We did have a little difficulty convincing them that we wouldn’t simply do a story for each advertiser they sold an ad to, but I think we have that straightened out.” The next step, if advertising continues to grow, would be to hire a part-time advertising sales person, Burns says.
In the meantime, the site continues to grow. Metrics show 11,558 unique users for January and February, with most users coming from search engines and an average of 2.74 pages viewed per visit.
On the editorial side, GrossePointeToday.com covered a community event, “Pointers of the Year” with video and print within 24 hours - while the local weekly took two weeks to put up “a series of grip and grin pix” on the event.
Community awareness is also on the rise. Burns is exploring the possibility of hosting pages for five localities that are cutting their budgets, but there is a “significant older minority that do much more than e-mail on computers”, he reports. So convincing them to find information online may be a challenge.
Another challenge involves the half-dozen students writing for the paper. They are quite willing, but not yet particularly able, reports Burns. Despite teaching by managing editor Nancy Derringer they still require substantial editing. However, others from the community are assisting with additional copyediting and supplying photos.
Burns is planning presentations to various civic and social clubs to get the word out. They have also ordered baseball caps, T-shirts and ballpoint pens for community events. And other would-be hyperlocal sites in Michigan have reached out for advise on how to get up and going.
In the meantime, Burns awaits word from the IRS on his application for 501(c)3 designation.
Grosse Point Today Pleased With Modest Success
Ben Burns, the editor and publisher of Grosse Pointe Today, says that the site is performing well since its recent launch.
”...community members like what we are doing and see it as a professional alternative to the local weekly which avoids controversial stories.”
“We continue to be pleased with our modest progress,” says Burns. “We are now incorporated as a non-profit company—Grosse Pointe Today. And our tax man is in the process of filing our application for 501(c)3 status with the Internal Revenue Service.”
The site is approaching 1,000 page views on some days and Burns says the public safety map (using Google mapping tools) is quite popular, as is the regularly changing home page header photo shot by retired Free Press pro Larry Peplin.
The calendar has become quite popular with various groups and agencies as a way to communicate with the public, he added.
Other coverage is also well received. Grosse Pointe’s November election coverage drew praise from the local school board President as he compared it to the local weekly’s efforts. The site ran biographies and position statements on every candidate in every local race, if they submitted them.
Some local funeral home directors are now uploading obituaries on their own and Grosse Pointe’s list of locally recommended service people continues to grow, as does its free classifieds section.
Like many other New Voices sites, Burns notes that Grosse Pointe’s corps of professional volunteers has fallen off from the dozen the site started with, but some semi-professional writers are now contributing. For example, the advisor to one high school student newspaper wrote a travel piece and another freelancer wrote a series of articles on bicycling in Michigan.
“Our student corps, since the first report, has proved outstanding, particularly Lauren Abdel-Razzaq, Isaac Elster, Peter Jurich and Tiffany Kaiser,” says Burns. “We have had approaches from a half dozen other students to work with us [during the] Winter semester.”
Grosse Pointe Today’s managing editor attended the Online Media Association seminars in Ann Arbor and has been working with the students on video projects. Burns says there is also an arrangement with a pair of professional videographers, who provided short clips for each of the Grosse Pointe North and South high school football games and some soccer matches.
On the fundraising front, Grosse Pointe continues to take part in promotional activities of the Chamber of including a Business Exposition that drew a lot of interest.
“We are ramping up our marketing efforts gradually and our GrossePointeToday.com logo appears on the cover of the 12,000 locally distributed Blue Book telephone directories,” writes Burns. They also planned a third ‘wine, beer and munchies’ reception for contributors in mid-Winter.
He also met with the advertising team of the Little Blue Book in early January to launch an advertising push. The Little Blue Book team has promised to devote half a dozen sales staff to the effort, and Associate Publisher Sheila Tomkowiak and Burns will provide a motivational pitch.
The efforts at fundraising have not been without their setbacks. Grosse Pointe’s “Lone Ranger” single ad salesman had to take a temporary paying job so he could continue to support his family.
Burns said that they have been holding off depositing the $10,000 pledged to them by local professionals until they received non-profit status. “The bulk of the money we have received to date has gone toward site development and software development. We hope to spend more on marketing in 2010 and also start paying student and other significant contributors modest amounts for their work.”
Burns says the bottom line thus far is that community members like what they are doing and see it as a professional alternative to the local weekly, which he believes avoids controversial stories.
He added the test would be whether he and his team can convince advertisers, local foundations and citizens to provide ongoing financial support so GrossePointeToday.com can become a sustainable entity.
“We should know the answer to that by the end of our original 18 month time line in October 2010,” says Burns.
Becoming part of the Grosse Pointe community
“The bottom line is that we are pleased with our progress so far.”
There have been frustrations. And there have been setbacks. But Ben Burns, the editor and publisher of Grosse Point Today (and the Director, Journalism Program, Wayne State University in Detroit) says that things are, over all, going well.
“The bottom line is that we are pleased with our progress so far,” says Burns. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t had frustrations and setbacks, it just means we feel we are meeting our original goal of being an essential part of the Grosse Pointe communities within 12 to 18 months.”
Grosse Point Today (GPT) was envisioned as a full-service news and information site about Detroit’s five Grosse Pointes. It was originally organized as an LLC, but it is now in the process of converting into a non-profit corporation with 501c3 status. The actual online publication started in April with a beta site built around Drupal software. Burns wasn’t completely happy with the speed at which certain elements of the site went live, but as of mid-October, the site will have additional key elements such as free classifieds and a comprehensive calendar. And free obituaries are expected to go up any day now.
Like many New Voices sites, Burns says he has met with mixed results from freelance contributors/citizen journalists. GPT currently has about 12 professionals volunteering their time or reporting efforts on a regular basis and an additional dozen that contribute sporadically. Burns says other retired or out-placed professionals have also promised to write stories but have yet to deliver.
Students were also part of the editorial plan. But the first group of students - 10 from U of M-Dearborn and eight from Wayne State - “made modest contributions, fewer than 10 stories.” Burns says a more talented group of five WSU students have signed up this semester and are regularly covering council meetings in the five Pointes. Meanwhile, WSU is considering making Grosse Point Today’s online Community Journalism course as a required core course on public affairs reporting.
While there have been some difficulties with sustaining the efforts of volunteer contributors, important stories are still being done. Managing Editor Nancy Nall Derringer wrote about the existence of a Twitter war between City Council representatives and opponents who would like them out of office, a story that generated considerable attention. Additionally GPT’s story about how a local charitable institution managed to lose $12 million by speculating in real was also widely read and resulted in letters to the editor of the local weekly, which Burns says had never ran a word on the original story.
The site is also running interviews, bios and pictures of all candidates for office this November, which the local newspaper does not do. GPT has also made an arrangement with two professional videographers to shoot local events, particularly sports and post them on the site. These have proved popular with local residents as the site has RSS and Twitter features that update around the clock.
The story on the marketing side is also mixed but hopeful. Grosse Point Today held its first marketing effort in September at what was billed as Grosse Pointes’ “World’s Greatest Block Party,” which Burns says generated very favorable responses from passersby. The increased visibility has also lead city officials to direct individuals and organizations with public service information to contact GPT.
“Our $1,000 marketing budget will provide refrigerator magnets, business cards for student reporters, hats and T-Shirts now that were are essentially completely in operation,” says Burns.
The marketing effort also resulted in a 24% increase in page views the following week.
“Our Google diagnostics report 3,308 visits in the past month and 11,942 page views,” says Burns. “The average user looked at 3.61 pages per visit. We had a bounce rate above 50 percent, probably due to the fact we are aggregating via Google all stories that mention Grosse Pointe. It has proved to be a popular feature.”
The site’s relationship with a professional advertising firm has been more complicated. Grosse Point Today has been working with “The Little Blue Book” a directory publisher that agreed to handle its advertising, billing and account management. But this has not resulted in as concentrated an effort to sell advertising as Burns and his team had hoped it would. So GPT recently hired someone to sell ads to complement what The Little Blue Book is doing. But Burns says this is not an ideal situation.
‘We may have to re-evaluate the relationship [with Blue Book] in order to increase advertising sales,” says Burns. “That would mean putting a sales person on our staff and handling the billing and, receipts which would mean supporting an office manager which we prefer not to do.”
Gross Point Today continues to make an effort to reach out to its community. For instance, it has joined the local Chamber of Commerce on a trade arrangement. Burns says GPT is also looking to cement its journalistic credentials, joining the Online Media Association and applying to join the Michigan Press Association.
A Boulder, Colo., foundation will start a blog site covering Colorado news and politics aimed at young people. Initial content will come from 10 citizen contributors (ages 17-30), who will research, develop and post stories. Community contributions will also be invited. In addition, the site will develop feeds that can be posted to Facebook profiles and other social networking applications.
Since it launched in April 2010, New Era News has attracted more than 114,000 visits from almost 80,000 unique visitors. Readership has been growing steadily, fueled to date by more than 27,000 Facebook referrals.
The site, which seeks to engage young people in politics and current events, relies on interns and volunteer writers to produce content. Recruitment has been robust. “There are currently about 60 people signed up with blogger accounts and about 15 signed up with guest blogger accounts on the site,” reports Executive Director Steve Fenberg.
Fenberg says that many former interns continue to contribute content even after their formal internship has ended. “We feel like we’ve built a strong foundation and have engaged thousands of young people in important political discourse that otherwise would not have become engaged,” says Fenberg.
After Facebook, search engines refer the most traffic to the sites.
While the site has been successful in raising one-time donations from individuals, it has been harder to attract support from businesses targeting young people because they often don’t have paid advertising budgets, Fenberg says. Moreover, the site is too small to attract support from large media funders. The plan going forward is to seek support from local family foundations.
As the 2012 elections get closer, the site plan to produce several series that include candidate profiles, explanations of ballot measures and other election-related coverage, Fenberg said.
“New Era News has been a fascinating project for us over the past few years,” he said.
New Era Focuses on Return Visitors and Ad Sales
New Era News boasts substantial web traffic despite its fledgling status. Since its launch in April 2010, New Era News, an online source of politics and news focused on Boulder and Denver, Co., has had more than 40,000 unique visitors.
“The vast majority of our readership is within Colorado and mostly come from the front range areas of Boulder and Denver,” said Steve Fenberg, founder and executive director of New Era Colorado and the New Era Colorado Foundation.
Of the total number of visits, 67 percent are first-time visitors and 33 percent are return visitors. “Since our site has only been live for less than a year, we expect to have more new visitors than returning visitors,” Fenberg said. New Era News initially focused on bringing new eyes to the site, but moving forward that goal will start to shift, he said. New Era hopes to retain a higher percentage of return visitors in the future.
To keep readers coming back, New Era News has been thinking of ways to keep content fresh and innovative.
It continues to recruit new writers to keep a variety of voices on the site. “We currently have about 10 active writers that produce content at least weekly,” Fenberg said. Another dozen writers supplement this work with occasional content.
And New Era News recently purchased flip cameras to encourage interns to produce small-scale online videos. “These short videos will track the legislature, city council decisions, and other local community and political news,” Fenberg said. “We’ll have the ability to embed these videos on other websites around the state, thus placing our content in front of new readers.”
Internally, New Era News is also making a push to increase Facebook fans. “We hope for this to translate into increased readership and traffic of the website,” Fenberg said.
As New Era News looks to the future, funding will be important to the success of the site and they have experienced challenges jump-starting the an online advertising program. “Although we’ve put together sales packets, promotional materials and approached several local businesses in the area, we haven’t seen very much interest so far,” Fenberg said. Most businesses are cutting back on advertising budgets, which has made it difficult, he said.
But in In the new year, Fenberg plans to take on this challenge as well. “Next year we will begin to have New Era Colorado’s Development Coordinator work on this program in an attempt to make it more effective,” he said.
- Lori Grisham
New Era News Launches, Gets National Attention
New Era News, a blog for young people to read and write about politics, launched in March and is off to a running start.
Right away, both the Huffington Post and the popular blog Jezebel drove traffic to a story called “Can Feminists Wear Aprons?” - a cultural piece exploring the popularity of aprons and their intersection with modern feminism.
Kristen Painter, the story’s author, was thrilled with the attention: “People are actually reading your stuff and New Era has done a really good job of utilizing social media to drive traffic to the site.”
The story got close to 15,000 hits and 300 comments, said Painter, a journalism graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder - and at the bottom was a link to the New Era News.
This kind of cross-posting has helped build the site’s name recognition and reputation quickly, explained Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado Foundation. The Boulder-based organization aims at increasing political engagement of young voters and is the driving force behind the blog.
“Our traffic is a lot higher than we thought it would be,” Fenberg said. “The first month we had over 6,500 unique visitors.”
Getting the site launched wasn’t easy, reflected Fenberg. Deciding what the site would look like and its functionality took a lot of time. New Era hired Quilted, a small design cooperative based in Boston and Berkeley, to build the site.
“We wanted it to be very personal so that people saw the writers as one of their peers,” he said. “Little things help, like having an Avatar of the person’s face.”
The site’s main contributors are ten student interns and two editors, but members of the community can also get involved.
“We wanted it to be very participatory,” Fenberg said. “So you can just click ‘create an account’ and actually start writing and submitting content.” Editors review everything before it appears on the site and select stories for the front page.
Although New Era News does not pay contributors, Fenberg said they haven’t had trouble keeping the site fresh since interns participate for school credit and there is great enthusiasm for the blog.
“A lot of people want to be published and we are a non-profit and are not exploiting free labor. We are providing an outlet and letting it be a learning experience for everyone,” he said.
Painter, author of the popular apron story, blogs three to four times a week. Although she is one of the more experienced writers on staff, she points out that New Era News is supportive of new writers.
“It’s a really easy environment,” she said. “And it’s really conducive to writing about what you want to write about but also asking you to step outside some of the things you would normally report.”
New Era News attributes much of their success to the blog’s unique content and perspective, Shad Murib, the site’s editor, said.
“We hope that we can find a good niche that people are able to come back to and they realize that there is a group of people who are interested in journalism - in both consuming it and producing it,” he said.
Fenberg said finding that identity is key.
“I think it’s important to identify a very specific need before you go about building the site and the personality of the site,” Fenberg said. “Once you have that need in mind it’s easier to know what your mission is and where you’re going.”
Although New Era Colorado Foundation is a non-partisan political awareness group, Fenberg admits that some of the pieces on the blog are left-leaning. As New Era News moves forward, Fenberg says their next major goal is to diversify the voices represented.
“It is an area where we do have to be careful because we’re talking about politics and it’s hard to write about politics without some kind of opinion coming through,” he said. “But we want it to be as open and as diverse as possible.”
Regardless, he is happy with where they’ve come in just a few months.
The main lessons Fenberg learned also makes good advice for future start-ups: “Expect things to arrive that you didn’t plan for and be flexible and go for it.”
A daily-updated website and mobile service covers Oakland, Calif., with a focus on environment, climate, transportation, housing, local government and community activism in Downtown, Uptown, North Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, and the Dimond District. An editor, publisher and three paid part-time reporters produce content, as will citizen contributors. The site geotags content to an XML data map, encourages users to interact via cell phones and employs a range of social networking tools.
It’s been a wild year for Susan Mernit and her startup news site, Oakland Local.
She has taken the promise of a $25,000 two-year grant from the New Voices program and created a viable news site covering the underserved city across the San Francisco Bay. She has also leveraged that to raise an additional $102,700 in support from other foundations.
“The launch went amazingly well,” Mernit said, recalling back to Oct. 19, 2009. Stories about Oakland Local ran in three other media outlets and had over 1,800 people view the site on its first day. That number quickly settled in at about 800 visitors a day, still 200 percent more than expected.
The challenge then for Mernit and her two co-founders was to maintain that level. “We worked incredibly hard as writers to do that,” she said, “simultaneously writing stories ourselves for up to six hours a day, working to get content from partners and working to build a writers’ list to work with. It was intense!”
The site was experiencing 30 percent month-over-month growth and was quickly outgrowing its home. On the technical side, the team made changes on the fly: They removed a poll that took up too much processing time and made the site load slowly; they had to increase bandwidth and move to an off-site private server sooner than expected.
In the seven months since, Oakland Local has published more than 3,000 stories, blog posts and photo galleries from 52 contributors.
The first year statistics, which were published on OL’s site in an effort for transparency, include:
386,466 visits, with 608,428 page views
1.77 pages per visit, 1.58 minutes average time on site
151,336 unique visitors
In addition, they count more than 3,100 fans on Facebook, 1,626 Twitter followers and 783 registered site users.
Central to the site’s success, Mernit explains, has to do with their growing roster of non-profit and community partners, at more than 35 so far in the first year. Described as “training wheels” to allow partners to build capacity on Oakland Local before branching out, these partnerships include online writing and social media training, as well as publishing or promoting content for other outlets.
It hasn’t been a completely rosy ride. Susan Mernit explained: “As the site quickly grew in local influence and popularity, we found ourselves explaining to other media organizations that had a longer tenure in Oakland, but less understanding of how the web operated that our page views and credibility could be a tool to help them gain more readers and attention, rather than a means to deprive them of readers and influence.”
She and her team found writing about the issue on their site to be useful, helping them reflect on and affirm their core mission. The productive dialogue, she said, led to “a better understanding of some of the frustrations of those who feel caught in the digital divide.”
Challenges now also revolve around infrastructure and sustained growth. The team has sublet co-working space and will bring aboard about six interns for the summer.
The next six months will also find the team focused on building revenue “in a way that fits in with our core mission.” Mernit’s goal is to be able to fund up to three staff members.
With site growth slowing now, down from a high of 30 percent a month, Oakland Local staffers will continue their outreach “to a wider pool of local people,” in order to increase their audience base.
And Oakland Local will continue to focus on lean mobile phones as a delivery device. The site was initially designed to function correctly on mobile devices, and this remains central to its mission of access for all.
Oakland Local Chugging Along
In the months since its launch, Oakland Local has been growing its audience exponentially.
By the end of September, just prior to launch, the site’s staff was putting on the finishing touches and beginning to load content.
Three months later, in December 2009, Oakland Local had 27,320 unique visits and 45,000 page views. By the end of March 2010, the numbers had jumped to 92,227 page views and 45,000 visits - a 40 percent increase.
Other metrics shifted, “to give us an average of 1.7 pages viewed, 1.66 [minutes] spent on site, and 51 percent new visits,” reports site founder Susan Mernit.
Perhaps most important is that the site has recently received funding commitments of $100,000, including: $10,000 from the Harnisch Foundation, $20,000 awarded for cell phone research from the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State, and $70,000 from the California Endowment.
The site has also made great use of Spot.Us - the crowd-funding venture created by David Cohn and launched in the Bay Area. A total of six stories have been funded this way, including an ambitious package of stories on the business of marijuana. Founder Mernit has said that reporting would probably not have been done were it not for the community funding.
The six writers on the site in December have turned into 15 now, most of who are volunteers.
Building strong partnerships with local organizations
Oakland Local went live in mid-October after months of planning by editor Susan Mernit and her editorial team.
Mernit says during this early start-up stage, Oakland Live will be publishing 3 new stories a week, plus blog posts and community content. The site will update a minimum of two times a day Monday to Friday, and possibly three to five times a day. The site is running investigative stories, news, features, and more.
“Being a partner means we post their content on our site as community news, offer them training in social media and using our platform to blog and write articles, and ask them to promote us in their newsletters and materials.”
Oakland Local’s core staff includes the following people:
Susan Mernit herself, as Editor/Publisher. She assigns stories, raises money, writes blogs & articles, and works with nonprofits and community organizations.
Kwan Booth, Senior Producer. Kwan assigns stories, works with our youth reporters, writes and produces content and handles much of our community outreach and training. A West Oaklander, Kwan is passionate about poetry, art, beats, music and empowering others, especially around the digital divide. Contact Kwan at email@example.com
Amy Gahran, Senior Editor, Amy focuses on environment, transportation, development and, of course, “the emerging Zombie beat.” A mobile news guru, Amy is passionate about training and speaking truth to power. A new North Oakland resident, she sees the Town with fresh eyes. Contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kamika Dunlap, reporter, is an award-winning investigative reporter and a former staffer at both The Oakland Tribune and The Mercury News, who focuses on reform issues.
Barbara Grady, reporter, was most recently the issues reporter for The Oakland Tribune and MediaNews Group, covering such issues as youth violence, and homelessness. She focuses on environment issues and youth issues.
Ryan Van Lenning, reporter, focuses on food access and sustainability issues for Oakland Local. He contributes frequently to Green Options, Matador Travel Network, Planetwize, DGuides, and Ethical Traveler.
In addition to this core group, Oakland Local is working with six additional writers, photographer and reporters, including Rhyen Coombs, who worked on The Chauncey Bailey Project, Carmel Wroth, recent UCB grad, Elise Ackerman, formerly of The Mercury News, and Ian Martin and Alison Yin, photo-journalists.
The core team of reporters is supported by an extensive network of connections with local organizations.
Oakland Local has signed up 35 nonprofits and community organizations as partners, out of a total targeted list of about 75.
“Being a partner means we post their content on our site as community news, offer them training in social media and using our platform to blog and write articles, and ask them to promote us in their newsletters and materials,” says Mernit.
Partnering groups are all either within local neighborhoods or cover topics of focus for the site, and include extremely active larger organizations (staff from 25-30) such as Urban Habitat, The Lao Family Fund, Communities for a Better Environment, Just Cause Oakland, and smaller groups (15 and under staff) including Oakland Rising, InsightCEED, East Bay Asian Youth Center, and Kids First Oakland.
Mernit says local non-profit organizers and new folks have expressed delight and surprise at the depth and range of Oakland Local first set of partners, and have remarked on how joining with Oakland Local is one of the few efforts they have seen the smaller non-profits make in what is she describes as a “often a siloed and racially segmented city.”.
As part of the site’s partnership efforts, Oakland Local is offering training in blogging, news literacy and social media. Recently it sent partner organizations to the Public Media Collaborative event “Social Media for Social Action” in Oakland on Oct 23rd. Mernit says they will do two Brown Bag lunches every month that will offer training to partners, starting in early November.
On the technical side, Oakland Live is built in Drupal. “We’ve spent $3,000 to build it, and it uses 40 different Drupal modules,” says Mernit. “Three of the modules are original or highly customized and will be documented and given back to the community.”
The three new modules are: an email to RSS tool meant to publish organization email blasts and newsletters; a feed-handler to aggregate RSS feeds by topic; and a calendar import/export tool that feeds from Gcal to Ical and into then a Drupal calendar module.
“We are also using a Drupal mobile plug in so we have a basic mobile interface, and we have enabled SMS text alerts as an option, using another Drupal module,” Mernit adds.
While the New Voices grant is helping Oakland Local get off the ground, Mernit says the goal is to secure additional funding, build the member base, and introduce a portfolio of revenue strategies for earned income.
“Oakland Local’s immediate priority is to secure additional grant funding; we have participated in an OSI application with The Center for Investigative Reporting, and are planning to apply for investigative reporting funds from The Journalism and Ethics Foundation,” says Mernit. “We have also met and/or spoken with The California Endowment, The Kapor Foundation, and the Irvine Foundation.”
Mernit and her team are also preparing a OSI Prison Justice Media Fellowship application for Kamika Dunlap and Barbara Grady to support their application for a series of stories on Reintegration and women prisoners planned for Oakland Local.
Independent journalist with 30 years of experience proposes an Austin, Texas, nonpartisan site for independent investigative reporting in the public interest, with a focus on creating dialog with community members. Site will synthesize outside news stories while also posting original reporting and commentary. Readers will be encouraged to submit tips and their own commentary. Site will be updated daily.
In the 14 months since he launched The Austin Bulldog website, founder Ken Martin has reported stories that have led to the firing of a local city attorney, forced the Austin City Council to hold public meetings, unlocked 4,800 pages of private emails Austin officials used to conduct city business, and filed 24 open records requests.
His efforts have not only resulted in follow-up stories in the Austin American-Statesman, crediting the Bulldog’s work, they have also leveraged a $25,000 challenge grant from the Kirk Mitchell Public Interest Investigative Reporting Fund and the Kirk Mitchell Environmental Law Fund. Martin has raised $8,600 of the challenge amount so far.
Moreover his reporting on violations of the Texas Open Monthly Meetings act plus a citizen’s complaint triggered an investigation by the Travis County Attorney.
“I’m doing important work that’s making a big impact here in Austin,” says Martin.
Upon the launch of his site, Martin focused on the City of Georgetown and Williamson County. His stories led to the firing of Georgetown city attorney Mark Sokolow for allegedly facilitating improper payments to another city official and other issues.
Beginning in January 2011, Martin turned his efforts to the City of Austin, reporting that City Council members were violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by meeting in private to deliberate on city business before every council meeting. The reports led the council to begin holding public work sessions.
When the city refused to turn over private emails about city business from the mayor and council members, Martin fled a lawsuit that resulted in the release of the emails as public records. The emails showed a pattern of using private emails to discuss issues that avoided public scrutiny. On April 7, the City Council adopted a resolution requiring its members to used city email accounts for city business.
Martin published about 4,800 pages of emails as searchable files and has regularly posted original documents that were the basis of his reporting. He is also exposing other problems in how Austin collects and maintains its public records.
Martin’s reporting has attracted the notice of other local news organizations. He says he gets a weekly check-in call from a reporter at KUT-FM, the local NPR affiliate, to keep up with the Bulldog’s investigations. And he’s been interviewed by several news outlets. He recently agreed to collaborate on an investigation with a local television station.
Martin reports that between January and May, the site has attracted between 2,100 and 3,900 unique visitors per month. They have viewed more than 254,000 pages on the site.
Austin Bulldog’s Charging Ahead
Ken Martin, founder of The Austin Bulldog, notes that investigative reporting takes time, and yet, “it’s work that needs to be done.” His site launched in April 2010 after careful deliberation, spending a lot of time selecting the best platform and ultimately settling on Joomla!, an open source CMS.
“Being a digital immigrant, and new to social media, I had a lot to learn,” he said. But it was time well spent, as Martin is ultimately happy with the final product. “Developing a website from scratch involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of reworking,” he said.
The Austin Bulldog published seven stories since its launch in April through June 1, 2010. “That’s not a lot of volume but the stories are definitely having an impact,” Martin said. “While we’ve been out pursuing other investigations, the regional press has been following and building on our work.” The Austin Chronicle and The Williamson County Sun have both cited Austin Bulldog stories in their publications, he said.
Martin said he plans to increase the volume of stories published by assigning more investigations, after having raised $8,800 and qualifying for his second year of New Voices funding.
Another metric Martin uses to gauge his success is the number and amount of contributions. In the first two months of active fundraising, Martin has attracted 35 contributions; the largest at $3,000.
And in terms of visitors, Martin has seen a slight increase in unique visitors, number of visits and pages from April to May, 2010.
Number of visits:
Martin’s attempts at foundation support have not yielded grants yet, but he remains optimistic. He reports that some of the negative feedback regarding an initial request was that the board “apparently believed we were being too certain about the outcome of the investigations we proposed”.
In his second attempt, he “was careful to avoid judging the outcomes too positively,” and was able to make a stronger case for funding based on additional research, he explained. A decision had not been made as of June 2010.
Martin continues to focus attention on what he calls of his best ideas of the past year, founding the Austin Investigative Reporting Team. While only producing two stories so far, the 26 members may be resources as he plans to “break down a specific investigation into manageable bite-size pieces that team members can do without a major commitment of time and energy.”
“I think we have the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way by pursuing important investigations that other local media are ignoring,” he said.
But fundraising remains “the biggest and most important issue we can foresee,” said Martin. He plans to focus on ongoing fundraising with each story he reports and track down prospective donors with deep pockets to help raise significant amounts to allow him to continue running the site.
The Austin Bulldog is now live.
After success with the IRS, Austin Bulldog is ready to roll
It’s been an eventful four months for Ken Martin, the editor and publisher of the Austin Bulldog. Since his last report in September, he received a letter of approval from the I.R.S. that classified the Bulldog (under its official name as the Austin Investigative Reporting Project) as a public charity, exempt from federal income taxes, and eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. This means that the Bulldog now operates as its own fiscal agent.
“We think that offering this high degree of interactivity in our investigative reporting projects holds great potential for building strong emotional and financial support for our work.”
Martin says the speed of the approval surprised him.
“As it turned out, the application pretty much flew through the IRS review process,” he says. “I sent the application via certified mail on August 13, the IRS received it on August 17, and the approval letter was dated just five weeks later. Some folks I’ve told this locally were shocked that approval was granted so quickly.”
Martin believes that the application was processed so quickly due to the guidance he received from a book he mentioned in his last report, “How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation.”
“It costs $31.49 through Amazon and is easily the best investment I’ve made for The Austin Bulldog,” says Martin.
Martin originally planned to launch the site in November, but illness and other factors slowed him down. “The good news is, I think the odds of a successful launch are better for all the additional work we’ve done,” he says.
Martin also plans to incorporate the crowdfunding idea used by the site Spot.us. He “whittled it down to its essence” and will use that approach to help fund The Austin Bulldog’s investigative reporting.
“I will post pitches to our website with a stated budget that includes the writer’s fee and an amount for our overhead and editing. In addition to posting the pitches on our website, I will, where possible, promote the pitches through e-mails to targeted prospective donors. For example, I have arranged to promote environmental investigative project pitches through a local environmental organization’s e-mail system that goes to some 10,000 members. I’m betting the e-mail promotions will greatly increase the ability to get these projects funded.”
Martin says the people who contribute funds for the Bulldog’s investigative projects will be recognized on the website for their support. And, they will be able to participate in these projects as crowdsourcers, to tell the site’s reporters about angles that should not be overlooked and key sources of information that should be considered.
“We think that offering this high degree of interactivity in our investigative reporting projects holds great potential for building strong emotional and financial support for our work. Listing the contributors this way also enhances the transparency of our operations, so that readers can judge for themselves how our sources of funding connect to the reporting we do.”
He is continuing to search for additional funding, including joining investigative news networks that are already in existence.
Martin plans to launch operations sometime in January. His team is completing website development, and as soon as that work is finished and they have road-tested the site, Martin will start his own reporting. He will also be appealing to his team of freelance reporters and commentators to get busy providing content to publish when the site is ready to launch.
Learning to navigate the legal rapids to become a 501 (C)(3)
Before Ken Martin had applied for a New Voices grant to launch the Austin Bulldog, he had decided that the website would be operated as a non-profit.
“Aside from the benefits of being able to offer tax deductions for contributions, I think operating as a nonprofit sends a strong message that we are dedicating ourselves to the sole purpose of serving the public interest, that we view journalism as a public service that is essential to a free society.”
But what he found was a steep learning curve, a lot of wasted time and an experience, that by sharing, he hopes can save others a lot of effort.
“I think operating as a nonprofit sends a strong message that we are dedicating ourselves to the sole purpose of serving the public interest, that we view journalism as a public service that is essential to a free society.”
Martin, who had already been involved with two other for-profit statrtups, began by contacting a lawyer about help with the Form 1023 that the IRS requires for approval of 501(c)(3) status. But he soon realized that if he continued down that road, it would cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. So he decided to do it himself. Using a sample he found in “Greenlights for Nonprofit Success,” he created a set of draft by-laws then showed them to an accountant and a lawyer. After making some changes based on their suggestions, he decided to review the application using How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation.
“What an eye-opener that was,” Martin says. “Using the line-by-line instructions from the book, I realized I had to radically beef up the supplemental information for the Form 1023. I also realized the bylaws I had already adopted were totally inadequate for IRS purposes. So I adapted bylaws from the CD-ROM provided with the book. After months of work, I sent the application to the IRS via certified mail on August 13, and I’m waiting for a decision.”
Martin recommends other people who are thinking of applying for nonprofit status read “How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation” first.
Meanwhile, the initial board of directors for the Austin Investigative Reporting Project, the parent organization for The Austin Bulldog, was formed. Currently it consists of Martin, his wife, Rebecca Melançon (who has been in publishing for 28 years, but on the business side instead of editorial), and Tom Spencer, a documentary filmmaker who has also hosted two popular public television shows for more than 20 years. Spencer is also is the CEO of the Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, a high-profile nonprofit in its own right. The board is working on adding four more members to represent critical areas of business, journalism, law, and philanthropy.
Currently theaustinbulldog.org site is a placeholder where people can register to be notified when the official site, which is being built using open-source Joomla program, is launched sometime in November. Martin has researched the websites of some 20 other local news organizations to glean ideas and incorporated some of them into plans for the Bulldog. Martin’s biggest concern is how to pay his team of professional freelance journalists. Martin is not sure how much content the site will have ready on launch and continue to publish, a fact that he sees as a key to entice contributions.
Martin’s says the site’s focus will be on publishing high-impact stories, not on high volume. He’s also hoping for lots of citizen participation.
“We want to engage readers in a two-way dialog that advances the cause of democracy, freedom of information and open government,” the Austin Bulldog’s f.a.q reads. “We believe that in many cases our collective audience knows more about the topics we cover than we do, and we want our readers to actively participate in focusing and refining our coverage. We want interaction, lots of it.”
The Bulldog will also use ideas for investigative reporting projects that come from the site’s readers.
Meanwhile, Martin and the board are looking for other avenues of funding. In September, they submitted Letters of Inquiry for matching grants from the Journalism Foundation and the Open Society Institute - an initial $25,000 to match the New Voices grant, and another $75,000 to match other funds they hope to raise in coming years. Martin is also considering applying for grants in the future from the Knight Community Information Challenge ( he plans to talk to the Austin Community Foundation about being a co-sponsor) and the Knight News Challenge.
“If it seems like I’m spending a lot of time focusing on funding, that’s because I am,” says Martin. “I want to raise money to pay for heavy-duty investigative reporting. The next push will be to use the community contacts that I and the other board members have to solicit significant seed money contributions so we can make a strong impact with our reporting.”
Until he has the funds in place to pay his freelancers, Martin will begin doing his own reporting as soon as the website is prepared. He has at least one other writer who’s eager to start as well - a staffer for another publication who wants to contribute. He will also be polling others in his initial team of a dozen writers (all writers he has worked with on investigative stories in the past) to see if they’re willing to begin reporting without assurance of compensation.
Marin says he plans to start the website in early to mid-December.
“I think it’s far more important to get it right than to set some arbitrary deadline that might or might not be met, or rush it and then not get it right,” he says.
Martin says he will start with a soft launch (before seeking interaction with his audience) to make sure everything is working. Once he is convinced all systems are ready to go, he’ll “begin making noise and trying to get press coverage about what we’re doing.”
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida 33124
(786) 553-5392 E-mail Website Twitter
A University of Miami visual journalism professor launches a community news site for one of Florida’s oldest, but newly gentrifying, communities. News stories and visual documentaries are generated by partners, which include journalism students, the Coconut Grove Collaborative, the CG Homeowners Association (HOATA), a local health clinic and local residents.
Formerly called “The Villager: News and Notes from Coconut Grove West.”
When Kim Grinfeder launched Grand Avenue News in September 2009 he deliberated over the right web design and finding the right programmers. But designing and launching the site was the easy part. The real challenges still lay ahead.
Early in the game, several University of Miami professors approached Grinfeder, a visual journalism professor, with the idea of integrating Grand Avenue News and their class curriculum. Grinfeder embraced the offer. “I thought this was a great idea so I let their students go out and work on stories,” Grinfeder said. “In addition, I also sent out my students to do video assignments.” This strategy did not have the results he imagined.
There were too many students involved. The same residents were approached multiple times and became overwhelmed. Grand Avenue News quickly backed away from this strategy and regrouped, Grinfeder said, deciding only to allow advanced students to work on long-term stories and pay others to cover stories that needed a quick turnaround.
Grinfeder was also busy working out a deal with the Miami Herald. The initial plan was for Grand Avenue News to publish stories within the Herald’s site. “This was not going to work as we needed the freedom to have our own site and experiment without being dependent on their IT staff to make any changes we needed done to the site,” Grinfeder said.
Suzanne Levinson resolved that problem in the spring of 2010 when she joined the faculty as an adjunct professor. Levinson, also the online editor of the Herald, taught a graduate class on editing and site management. She also facilitated an agreement with the Herald where they would link to stories on the Grand Avenue News website. The Herald could also republish Grand Avenue stories in their print version in exchance for attribution.
By giving the Herald free content for their print edition, Grand Avenue News managed to reach a broader audience than they would have with an online-only version. “I have no doubt that this relationship between hyplerlocal news sites and larger metropolitan news sites will have it’s place in the future,” Grinfeder said. “The key will be to manage it in a way that it is advantageous to all parties involved.”
Working with the Community
Once the relationship with the Miami Herald was squared away, Grinfeder knew the next challenge was gaining the community’s trust and participation.
“While I knew several of the community members, one thing I was not counting on was that the University of Miami has a long history of doing projects in the neighborhood and not finishing what it started,” he said.
To create a positive relationship with the community, Grinfeder assigned the same students to the same areas. “Consistently showing up at events and meetings was crucial to our success in gaining the communities trust,” he said. People soon became familiar with them and trusted them.
The community is highly fragmented, he explained. Family rifts that are decades old still exist and rivalries between churches do not help unify the community. “I identified community leaders across the board and got them involved using several approaches,” Grinfeder said. “Most importantly, I was clear that we were not supporting any group over another, we were supporting the entire community.”
Once the work-flow with the Herald was in place, things seemed to move faster. Students were energized by the possibility of getting a story published in the paper and the community liked seeing that the Herald was covering their community. Traffic on the Grand Avenue News site rose. According to Grinfeder, their was website receiving about 1,800 unique visitors per month by June 2010.
Grand Avenue News also printed 5,000 copies of a print edition. They distributed them around town to churches, barbershops, laundromats, and anywhere else that would take them.
“The print version seemed to give legitimacy to our publication, I don’t really know how to explain it, but even readers that had consistently been reading our site online treated us differently,” Grinfeder said. “Story leads started flowing in and we started to get valuable feedback from the community.”
They also celebrated with a neighborhood block party. “There was a DJ, face painting, games, food, a raffle, computers setup for people to see the Grand Avenue News website, but most important of all, it was a great opportunity to sit down and talk to the community,” Grinfeder said.
Grand Avenue News is once again redesigning the site and plans to go live with a new site by the end of the summer. “I have several ideas, many of which I collected at the New Voices conference.” Grinfeder said.
His goals include increasing community member content—such as repeat guest columnists—and creating a newsroom out of two to three university classes.
“I am not sure what will work, but my impression is that a little of everything will be the model,” he said.
Bringing a neighborhood together on and off line
If you don’t build it, they won’t come. They may or my not come when you do build it. But for Kim Grinfeder of the University of Miami’s School of Communication, the most important thing to get people to start coming to his New Voices’ grantee site, Grand Avenue News, was actually giving his community a Web site to visit.
“During the past months we have been busy setting up the Web site, gathering content, creating new relationships with the community, and establishing the publishing workflow,” says Grinfeder. “I am happy to say that [Sept. 28] was the official deadline for the soft launch and the site is officially live. The official launch will be in mid-November.”
“These are important stories that are not being covered by local news organizations and we feel we should.”
But before Grinfeder and his team could launch the site, a name change was in order. The original name was The Villager. But after several meetings with people in and around the community, the site became Grand Avenue News (GAN).
Village West is a small section of the leafy, picturesque Coral Gables neighborhood in Miami. Grand Avenue is the main throughway crossing Coconut Grove and is identifiable both from people inside and outside the area. The avenue is dotted with bus stops and mom and pop businesses that Grinfeder says need more attention. The rest of the tiny Village West neighborhood is residential.
“The people here, they feel the pressure of being a part of wealthy Coconut Grove. They feel like they are being left out,” says Grinfeder. “I think it’s just an issue of a lack of information.”
Grinfeder explained that there are services in the community for people to use, including a nonprofit home makeover company and a church homeless shelter, but they often don’t know about these groups.
While waiting for the official site to launch, the Grand Avenue News team was very active.
About 40 students from Miami’s undergraduate journalism program were busy writing articles about the community to seed the initial Web site. (Support from the journalism program will continue in the future, but to a lesser extent.) Grinfeder says the site needs to transition from articles written by the students to articles written by the community.
“We have received a couple of submissions, but without a live website, many people have been skeptical to write something” he says. “They told me that they need to see the site first, which is understandable.”
There are also several short documentaries under production for the videos section of the site, as well as a multimedia piece on the history of the community.
Grinfeder is looking to bring more of the community’s young people into the project. In October he will start training a group of middle and high school students in an after-school program to take pictures of their community. (Canon donated eight cameras to the program.) The project will allow students to carry the cameras with them at all times and photograph their community. If all goes well. Grand Avenue News hopes to have an exhibit online by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Grinfeder says the site will be working on a project with Ransom Everglades, a private high school in Coconut Grove, collecting oral histories of several of community elders. The school has asked the Grand Avenue team for training support.
The site has also hired an independent reporter to conduct an in-depth story on a large development firm that has been buying up many of the properties in the community. Meanwhile, several neighborhood groups have agreed to send the site monthly reports, including: Neighborhood Crime Watch, Homeowners and Tenants Association, the Coconut Grove Collaborative; updates from the county commissioners’ office and the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative.
When the project started to work in the community, members noticed there was no organization helping local businesses promote themselves.
” ‘Help our businesses promote themselves’ was one of the major requests we received,” says Grinfeder. “My Web design class designed a Web page for many of the businesses in the neighborhood and I started compiling a directory for the community.
“The community is deeply fragmented and has been neglected for a long time. We are just beginning to gather all the information about the community. Many residents are very proud of their history and this is something we will begin directing some of our efforts to.”
Grindfeder says he sees four main challenges ahead for Grand Avenue News.
The first is fundraising. While possible funding organizations have been approached, most wanted to see the actual site before making any donations. Site organizers are also looking at online donations and advertising options. Grinfeder says that a more concrete fundraising plan will be in place by the project’s second New Voices report in December.
The second challenge is one that more than a few New Voices grantees have had to face - overcoming the digital divide.
“One of the main concerns… is people’s access to computers,” says Grinfeder. “Digital divide issues are real challenges facing us every day; this seems to be the main hurdle facing our project in the long run.”
As a result, Grand Avenue News is taking several steps, including the creation of a monthly print version of the Web site. Initially the print version will be produced at the University, but the project has identified individuals in the community who are willing to take over this publishing idea provided GAN provides them with a design template.
Other options that Grinfeder and his colleagues are exploring include: Mobile access - users could register their mobile device on the website and receive SMS updates via phone; a SMS gateway to setup a system to deliver news on demand via phone; computer donations for the community. “We are looking to accept computer donations. The logistics of such a project are fairly large, but possible. We are also considering asking some funders to sponsor Internet access.”
The next challenge is also familiar to New Voices grantees - the transition from content created by students to content created by members of the community. While many members of the community promised to help, Grinfeder says, the general attitude was to wait and see.
“Everyone wants to see the site up before committing to anything. Nevertheless, getting the community, beyond the local organizations, involved in the site is a top priority. We hope to start conducting workshops soon.”
The last challenge is a technical one - project members have been having a hard time creating automated news feeds on a micro level. Everyblock is not as flexible as organizers had hoped, so they are experimenting with Yahoo! Pipes filters.
Although Grinfeder feels progress has been made, there is a lot more to come. He says Grand Avenue News has to continue to do community outreach and journalistic stories. “We can’t just do journalism. We have to do both.”
“These are important stories that are not being covered by local news organizations and we feel we should,” says Grinfeder.” The next months will be crucial to show the community what we built and showing them how they can help.”
Towson University’s Center for Geographic Information Sciences will partner with the online public policy site MarylandCommons.com to create a Web tool that will combine Maryland Department of Education data with user-friendly geomapping. M-SIM will give parents, educators, policymakers and journalists data and news about K-12 schools at the local, county and state level, and M-SIM maps will complement news and commentary written by Commons staff and citizen journalists.
Kudos: Fern Shen, editor of the Baltimore Brew (a partner in the Maryland School Information Mapping project), was named one of “50 Influential Marylanders” in April 2011. The award is presented by The Daily Record, a business news publication in the state.
Mapping Project Continues on Course
The Maryland School Information Mapping Project continues to evolve, and both the project leader and the collaborating news site, Baltimore Brew, remain hopeful that the mapping application designed for the site will improve its ability to attract audiences.
“Education was not an original area of focus for Baltimore Brew,” Fern Shen said. When she launched the site, the Baltimore Sun had a dedicated education reporter and Shen decided instead to focus on areas such as the environment, transportation, city government and other local-level issues of interest.
Now, Shen is seeking funding for a reporter to focus primarily on education, complementing the data that will be available through this application when it launches in Fall 2010.
David Sides, the project manager, explained the site will “allow users to navigate to and select Baltimore City schools of interest, and explore student performance and demographic data.” It will also include Baltimore Brew-generated content and allow readers to respond and share information.
Shen and Sides are anticipating the map will generate “lots of traffic”, based on their measurements of similar kinds of content. Neighborhood posts, on issues like a proposed Wal-Mart redevelopment, get some of the most traffic on the Brew. “A good number for us for page-views-per-day, per post would be 1,000 to 1,400,” said Shen. She expects education reporting will attract similar readers.
Sides explains that on the technical end, the launch process has been more complicated: “Establishing tie-ins between the GIS data layers and Baltimore Brew’s architecture, and solving disagreements between map layer projections in an open-source platform has required more troubleshooting time than expected.”
And Shen adds: “The geo-tagging has been trickier and more time-consuming than we had initially thought. Some posts are not geographically based, really.” Shen is also discovering that her initial plan to tag according to broad areas is not enough. Instead she needs to tag with a specific address and re-tag all older stories.
Both the Brew and the Towson team express difficulty in getting the map to co-exist harmoniously within the site’s content. It has taken more programmer time to address this issue than either anticipated.
And Shen expressed difficulty in finding writers to cover stories, particularly on a small budget. “Only so many writers are able to work for peanuts!”
Maryland School Information Mapping Project Takes A Different Route
The team at the Towson University Center for GIS was left searching for another community news site after their original partner, Maryland Commons, abruptly ceased operations.
“We’ve decided to return to our original focus on education.”
“There was some concern,” said project organizer, David Sides at Towson University. They were in the middle of creating the mapping application where readers could view school districts and sift through data and information on a specific school.
“We looked for someone who would be a good fit…we thought of local TV stations with a dedicated education reporter…and we looked at other issue oriented publications.”
In time, and with the help of Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, they settled down with Baltimore Brew.
The new partnership forced them to rethink the project’s focus and scope.
Instead of a statewide mapping system, they decided to focus on Baltimore City and County.
“The initial plan,” Sides wrote, “was to change the focus on the site from schools and educational issues to a site which allowed users to search for and navigate to Baltimore Brew content via the mapping application.”
But that changed again, to better integrate education-related stories and school data into the Baltimore Brew site.
Since Baltimore Brew’s launch, publisher Fern Shen had never covered education stories because the Baltimore Sun had a reporter on the beat. But Shen believes coverage in that field is now lacking and welcomes this opportunity to add education-related content in a meaningful way.
It has not been the simplest transition. While with Maryland Commons, CGIS had spent part of its budget developing the public school performance database that the mapping application was to be based on.
When all is said and done, Sides said, “readers can click on a school and get data according to test scores…demographics.”
User-generated content will also be integrated into the map. Citizens can post data about a school or a certain event.
Once the map is complete, it will also show content that the Baltimore Brew had created for that school, from pictures to articles, allowing easy navigation based on location.
The Annenberg School at the University of Southern California will spearhead the creation of a community news website for a region that is home to African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and immigrants. The project will use multimedia reporting by journalism students, community residents and community leaders and will focus on education, economic development, housing and immigration. Project leaders will target print and broadcast outlets that might also use Intersection stories. They will also work with student-run Annenberg Radio and Television News and will partner with Mobile Voices, a USC Annenberg storytelling platform designed to help low-wage immigrants develop mobile media skills.
Check out their new website for the top news in the Southern Los Angeles region!
New Mobile and Social Media Strategy
In just the last six months, USC-Annenberg’s Intersections South LA, under site founder Will Seidenberg, has redesigned the website and logo and developed the use of social media and mobile news - two entirely new marketing advances for the site. And the future looks promising for the local news site.
With February’s resignation of Managing Editor Emily Henry, Katie Coultier, a scholarship student who has been working with Intersections since she entered USC in the fall 2009, took over daily maintenance of the site. A replacement managing editor is being sought; Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson has funded a one-year, full-time position to replace Henry. Two graduate students have also been hired to work on the site until that position is filled.
In April, the site began working with Mary Hill-Wagner, a former reporter who recently received her Ph.D. in Communications. For the next year, she is working at Annenberg as a community editor and helping with organizational and training systems for USC students and mentors, and community writers, under a grant from the Ford Foundation, says Seidenberg.
In May, Intersections also hired Veronica Villanfane. A journalist who reports in both Spanish and English, Villanfane maintains two blogs and will help Intersections reach the growing Latino community in South LA,” reports Seidenberg.
In February, Intersections adopted a new logo designed by South LA resident Gerardo Hernandez. It will help “raise visibility” in the community.
Website: In April, the Annenberg’s web technology team helped Intersections launch a site redesign to incorporate both the new logo and a new color scheme. A blog roll, which allows the system to register the Zip codes of site visitors, was added to the site. Community contributors are also now able to submit stories for editor review.
Traffic on the site remains steady with about 17,000-18,000 visits a month.
“We notice a direct correlation between active posting and traffic: when we have a steady stream of rich content, and daily news coverage, our traffic goes up and the site ranks high in Google searches for ‘South Los Angeles,’” reports Seidenberg.
Social Media:To help promote the site through Twitter and Facebook, Intersections teamed up with Pekka Pekala, a hyper-local researcher. Twitter and Facebook are now part of Intersections’ daily work flow, says Seidenberg.
Mobile News: The site’s student staff members are working with mobile news experts, including Amy Gahran. “She lead the staff through issues important to developing a strategy for reaching and engaging communities that are best reached through the mobile web rather than a website designed for a computer,” reports Seidenberg. “[She had] suggestions on setting up a mobile website and ideas that would be of interest to a mobile audience.”
With so many changes over the last several months, Intersections South LA has several priorities as they move ahead, including training new employees to recruit more community contributors, developing more partnerships, and investigating new funding.
To see what Intersections’ community contributors have been up to, visit:
Zoning in on Community Engagement Drives Web Traffic Explosion for South LA Site
Intersections South LA experienced a five-fold boom in traffic in late 2010, and founder Willa Seidenberg attributes the increase to a focus on engaging a smaller community.
“The project began as an open-ended endeavor,” she said, with USC-Annenberg students covering a vast area with an approximate population of 750,000. Now, the team will focus on the area formerly known as South Central, with a population of almost 50,000. The new focus will enable more targeted coverage for a more responsive area.
The boost in traffic, paired with the increase in user comments, is marking an important growth spurt for the site and comes as Seidenberg and her team paved the way for a major site overhaul that launched in early 2011.
“The goal is to scale back overall, but do deeper and more meaningful reporting and civic engagement in the areas we are targeting,” she says.
Local residents have been involved in successfully writing stories, Seidenberg says, including a project that teamed Intersections staff members with local residents to create audio slideshows of neighborhood hangouts:
Intersections also gained national attention when it published a controversial editorial by a local mother about illegal immigration. The woman was asked to appear Bill O’Reilly’s show as a result.
“These posts are a window into places that promote community, pride and vitality in the neighborhood,” Seidenberg says.
Other initiatives by Intersections include community reporting workshops, partnerships with other local news organizations and a high-school student mentoring program. Seidenberg says these programs will continue to serve a critical role as Intersections moves into its new phase.
“The team is encouraged by the success of the site,” she said, “and we are looking forward to this next phase of the project’s growth.”
Intersections: No Stopping In Sight
Intersections: The South Los Angeles Report was officially launched in May 2009, with a reception attended by university, community, educational and governmental leaders. A bare bones site went live just before the launch party.
“We felt we needed to have a working site up and running in order to gain interest and credibility in the community.” - Seidenberg
The project leader, Annenberg professor Willa Seidenberg, and her team jumped right into getting the site online and did minimal advance planning and outreach. “It may have been preferable to lay more groundwork before launching,” she said, “but we felt we needed to have a working site up and running in order to gain interest and credibility in the community.”
She explains: “The South Los Angeles area has experienced an onslaught of media attention at various times, such as after the riots or when there is a particularly bad wave of gang crime. But the attention is always negative and not sustained, leaving the community feeling exploited and abandoned. We wanted to assure the community our was a serious endeavor and that we intended for it to be long-term. Therefore, content and engagement started slowly, but has been building steadily ever since.”
From the start, submissions from Annenberg journalism students have been the site’s most prolific and strongest content. For many students, it has been a profound reporting experience. For example, in the spring 2010 semester, adjunct teacher Sara Catania had her undergraduate print reporting class of sophomores cover Inglewood, one of the communities Intersections covers. Intersections agreed to post any publishable stories, even though Sara was not sure any of the stories they wrote would be good enough. Not only did the site get some it got many. In fact, every student in the class had at least one story on the site and some had more than one. Several of their stories were picked up by LA Observed.
At the end of the class, Sara told Willenberg that it was the best class she has ever taught. She said the students were inspired by being published on a real working site, excited to see the comments their stories received, and some of them had the experience of going to cover stories and meeting people who had read their work on the site. As a reporting lab, these students got the very best experience in journalism. And, in return, the community got a lot of coverage it would not ordinarily receive.
The site also had a quite strong start with the mentoring program in the high schools, though that was not intentional. We had some chance meetings at the beginning of the project with some teachers at Crenshaw High School who aggressively pursued our help. Willenberg found that the high school students and the USC students gained so much from the interaction, and that it increased overall engagement in the community, that the partnership went full steam ahead.
Willenberg adds, “If we had it to do over again, we may have resisted the urge to give so many resources to the mentoring before we had established community ties.”
Through June 1, published 46 education stories, 71 community stories, 30 arts stories and 47 politics stories in 2010.
South LA community members produced and contributed 20 stories.
Average number of visitors to the site is 4,966, with a total of 11,348 page views per month in 2010. That number has risen from an average of 1,000 to 2,000 in 2009.
49% of our traffic comes through search engines. 32% comes from referring sites and 19% comes direct.
Most popular content is the community section, followed by our community events calendar.
Willenberg reports she has not experienced any situations she would consider a setback: “Each step we have taken has pushed us forward. If there is any sense of disappointment it is that our number of visitors is not higher. However, given the huge digital divide in the communities we are covering, it is not unexpected. We are also cognizant of the fact that we are building community for the long haul, a process that will take painstaking work, patience and time.”
Scope of Project
The project still revolves around three major missions:
To serve as a reporting lab for USC journalism students to report from under-served neighborhoods;
To be a hyper-local website for the South Los Angeles area, including Inglewood, Compton and Watts;
And to provide news and media literacy mentoring in South Los Angeles schools.
Since its last report the group has:
Tweaked the website. (“We plan to do a full makeover in the coming year when the Annenberg School switches to a Drupal CMS. This interim redesign made some needed changes in the feature box, coverage categories, calendar, added an announcement box and a few other changes.”)
Increased the number of community contributions.
Created a partnership with CD Tech (http://www.cdtech.org) to conduct social and multimedia workshops.
Recruited journalism interns from schools throughout Los Angeles as summer reporters.
Applied for two more grants: UNO Neighborhood grant from USC, a second grant from the McCormick Foundation.
Hired project manager Emily Henry as a three-quarter time employee.
Been accepted as a client of USC’s Marshall School of Business Consulting Program.
The summer of 2010 will be a challenge in terms of maintaining the same level of fresh content on the site, reports Seidenberg. However plans remain in place to keep the site current and prepare for next year.
Project Manager/Senior Editor Emily Henry is now working 30 hours a week.
Second-year graduate Christine Trang will work 24 hours/week during the summer with money from a student worker account. She will be blogging, reporting and planning a recruiting and orientation program for new and returning USC students.
Undergraduate student Ariel Edwards-Levy will work 10 hours/week on reporting
Intersections has “hired” one student intern, and will recruit more, for summer reporting, blogging and other duties.
The site will hold a high school summer workshop the week of July 19. Students will produce audio/slideshows that will be posted on the website.
Single Best Idea
If there is any sense of disappointment it is that our number of visitors is not higher. However, given the huge digital divide in the communities we are covering, it is not unexpected.
“Our single best idea has to be our community workshops,” explains Seidenberg. “They serve a dual purpose: We learn more about the issues and concerns of the community and get content to post from local residents and the workshops encourage and enable residents of an area that is typically under-covered by the mainstream media to take control of their own storytelling network, build an online community, and preserve and share the experiences of the citizenry.”
She continues: “The effect is one of empowerment: the community learns to amplify its voice through a variety of mediums, distribute information for free, and begin to re-define the stereotypes perpetuated by media outlets aimed at audiences outside of South LA. Community members contemplate the effects of negative media coverage, from the social segregation of the area to apathy at the political level, and begin to create a new, more accurate image of South LA in all its vibrancy.”
The Next Year
Seidenberg and her team anticipate the coming year will be one of tremendous growth. Following is a list of their priorities for the next year:
Marketing plan: USC’s Marshall School of Business Consulting Program has agreed to accept Intersections as a client. Over the summer of 2010, the Consulting Program will develop a marketing plan for the organization/website. We anticipate this will help us refine our mission, outline priorities, and identify strategies for monetizing the website.
Advisory Committee: We will form an advisory committee that will help guide the organization’s missions within the community, the University and the high schools. We will identify potential members from all of our constituents: USC/Annenberg, community leaders, education representatives.
Website Redesign: Plan for a full-scale redesign of the website and switch to a Drupal CMS platform.
Publicity: Design publicity campaign to increase traffic to the site and visibility within and outside the community.
Fundraising: Identify and apply for more grants. Explore ideas to monetize the site.
Outreach: Continue to focus on our connection to the Latino community in South Los Angeles.
Mobile: Begin exploring mobile content as this represents a key tool in reaching our audience.
Increasing Traffic, Boosting Involvement, and Seeking Sustainability
With its website live and any fancy financial footwork in its past (see November 2009 report), Intersections: The South L.A. Report is now alive and well. Quite well, in fact, reports Willa Seidenberg, the USC Annenberg professor heading up the initiative, as they have seen tremendous growth in the site’s content this quarter.
“We have fresh stories on the site daily, including a mix of stories reported by USC journalism students, high school students and community residents,” she said.
At the same time, Seidenberg remains focused on efforts to increase traffic and form partnerships with appropriate organizations in the community. The most difficult and time-consuming component, she says, is seeking community participation.
“We realize that fostering an audience and having vibrant community participation will be a long, slow process that will take patience and painstaking old-fashioned, on-the-ground recruiting and publicity. Much of the networking we are doing now has not yet resulted in a swell of activity.”
That said, through partnerships and cross-posting of stories, the site has seen a five-fold increase in visits in the last nine months.
A majority of the content continues to be produced by USC Annenberg students, even during university breaks, says Seidenberg. This comes from Annenberg Radio News (“which features mostly daily, deadline-driven stories), a radio reporting class, undergraduate print reporting classes covering Inglewood and Compton, an undergraduate online class that produced a series called “On Jefferson”, an urban affairs course covering the region and freelance reports by more than a half dozen students.
Project manager Emily Henry supplements the site’s reporting. “She has made invaluable connections in the community an filled holes in our reporting, and brought consistent attention to the site by reporting on city government in Compton,” Seidenberg reports.
Community members have also created content, including:
The stories that appear on Intersections may also start appearing on the website of KPCC.org, one of Los Angeles’ major public radio stations.
“We hope this will extend our visibility,” Seidenberg writes, “and give residents outside of South Los Angeles a different view of an area that is usually covered in relation to crime and poverty.”
Articles are also distributed on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, as well as on community forums. So far, stories have also been cross-posted on LA Observed, Just Schools (an education round-up), Leimert Park Beat, Neon Tommy, Witness LA and The Huffington Post.
In addition, Seidenberg has met with a number of community groups with the hope that they will be an ongoing source of content.
Of the five-fold increase in traffic to the site, about 40 percent come through search engines, 35 percent through social media and 20 percent come directly through the front door. The site’s calendar is the second most popular page, following the homepage. Comments have gone up, and users spend an average of two and a half minutes on the site, according to their analytics.
Seidenberg is continuing to lay the groundwork for the future. Multi-media workshops with existing community organizations are among the ideas for involvement.
Her staff also will continue to visit churches, libraries, and other organizations in an effort to spread the word about the site and, at the same time, use those opportunities for market research, to find out what issues and features potential readers would like to see about their communities.
Efforts to develop mobile content and a periodic printed broadsheet will help them reach an audience that has limited online access.
Siedenberg writes that while Intersections is fortunate to have foundation support, she knows that sustainability is not possible on grants alone. “Therefore,” she writes, “we plan to eventually monetize the website.”
Her next step includes conducting market research to determine the best way to make the site self-sufficient. In the meantime, Seidenberg plans to gain visibility and community involvement with Intersections.
Addendum to first quarter J-Lab report
Reported spending during our first quarter of J-Lab funding was lower than expected for two reasons. We were unaware until the summer that we were required to take a grants administrator exam for certification, as required by the grants office at the University of Southern California. We were also required to submit a much more detailed budget to the USC grants office than the budget we submitted to the J-Lab competition. Once these technical details were addressed, we were given access to the first round of J-Lab funding.
During this period of time, when we had expected to draw funds from our J-Lab account, we requested and received “bridge” financing of $11,000 in summer 2009 from Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson to cover costs associated with expanding the website and improving our coverage. Intersections “soft-launched” as a beta site in February with a formal launch on May 5.
From the time of our application to the J-Lab in early February 2009, we were also supported by technical support from the Annenberg Office of Web Technologies and incremental sums from the Annenberg School of Journalism, in hopes of winning one of the J-Lab grants. These modest sums of money were later followed by the much larger “bridge” financing. By the time we had access to J-Lab funds, The South Los Angeles Report had completed many of the improvements we had originally designated as J-Lab funded-projects. We are now in the process of moving some of those expenses to the J-Lab grant so that our reporting to J-Lab more accurately reflects costs associated with the application we submitted last winter.
Moving forward, much of the balance of J-Lab’s first year award will support a website overhaul [$3,000 to $5,000], expand the hours of our now part time project coordinator to accommodate increased efforts in our South Los Angeles communities [another $4,000 to $5,000] and pay for two “citizen journalist” training sessions [$2,000 to $4,000] with two South Los Angeles-based organizations with deep ties to the community. The first workshop is scheduled Dec. 17; the second one, early next year. As part of our efforts to develop stronger community ties and generate more community-generated content, we also plan to purchase inexpensive video and audio equipment [$1,000 to $2,000] All told, these expenditures will run $10,000 at the low end to $16,000 at the high end during the first year of J-Lab funding. [Annenberg School support in the form of the aforementioned “bridge” financing will cover any overruns, though we do not expect any.]
We also include website traffic data in this addendum that shows The South Los Angeles Report enjoys increasing use by our readers and visibility in our community. Since May, traffic has increased steadily, as the attached document suggests. [The spike in traffic during May occurred on May 5, the day of our formal launch.] We are now visited by 100 visitors a day, or an average of 3,000 visitors a month since May, including a number of readers from India and Pakistan. [We are at loss as to why this is.] We will begin including an analytics report in future accountings to J-Lab.
Off to a good start
Intersections: The South Los Angeles Report experienced a strong start-up year, with promise for future sustainability and growth, according to co-director Bill Celis, associate professor of journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. So strong, team members decided to change its name from The South Los Angeles Report from The South Los Angeles Reporting Project, to reflect the site’s evolution and growing maturity.
“We are working to build more bridges into the community to generate more ... op-ed pieces that speak with candor to and about urban life in a new century.”
Community contributions continue to increase, the high school journalism program is expanding, and the critical summer months were staffed by nearly a half dozen USC graduate journalism students who produced roughly a dozen multimedia reports.
The site— http://www.intersectionssouthla.org —soft launched in February 2009, with a formal launch on May 5. After the launch, the site’s continuing efforts have led to “critical community connections” that have generated substantive neighborhood reporting in fall 2009 for the site.
Celis said the New Voices grant played a key role in this growth.
“The New Voices grant enabled us to hire a part-time coordinator whose chief responsibility is engaging the community through workshops, and other community outreach programs that includes canvassing downtown Compton businesses and residents next month,” said Celis. “Our coordinator also began an aggressive review of the website, comparing its features with those of more mature hyper local sites, and recommended aggregating, for example, daily headlines from other Los Angeles media outlets.”
Celis said the vibrant neighborhoods of South Los Angeles are increasingly represented on Intersections.
Community Coalition, for example, is among the South Los Angeles community groups now contributing to Intersections, both in terms of content and news leads. The coalition contributed a series of high school student blogs and video reports from a Labor Day trip to Northern California to visit campuses.
It also provided Intersections with several news tips, including one idea this past summer about a free health-care clinic it helped organize in The Forum, a former sports arena in the South Los Angeles city of Inglewood. Thousands of South Angelinos sought free health, dental and eye care during the eight-day clinic sponsored by a Tennessee nonprofit. Story: http://tinyurl.com/psuf5s
Individual contributions are fewer in number, but no less significant, said Celis. For instance, an Inglewood African-American resident wrote about the pathology of young African-American high school males. The column received several posts from community members, the themes resonating with them, establishing Intersections a unique clearing house in its early months for South Los Angeles voices http://tinyurl.com/muyhta
“Few of the five African-American and Latino newspapers serving the area carry such honest pieces,” says Celis. “We are working to build more bridges into the community to generate more of these op-ed pieces that speak with candor to and about urban life in a new century.”
All told, roughly 15 percent of the site’s content has been generated with community partners, organizations and individuals, he adds.
Future efforts to generate more community contributions include offering $50 stipends to community contributors, and canvassing Compton, an incorporated city deep in South Los Angeles. Intersections also plans to expand coverage of South Los Angeles’ vibrant faith-based community in 2010.
But Intersection’s earliest and most successful push into South Los Angeles has been in the area’s troubled high schools, according to Celis. Working initially last fall with the USC Rossier School of Education, Intersections began mentoring one class at Crenshaw High School, just south of the USC campus. During the spring 2009 semester, Intersections organized a workshop for South Los Angeles youth that culminated in multimedia work posted to Intersection’s under one of our new categories, “high school notebook.” http://tinyurl.com/yah4w2z
The program was so successful that Celis says it’s not only expanding to another local school, but a successful three-day workshop with the Crenshaw students in the spring had led to a request from local schools for Intersections to hold it on a regular basis for students interested in journalism.
“Either through semester-long mentoring projects or future one-day workshops for high school classes and/or newspaper staffs, students contribute community news to Intersections while also learning media literacy,” says Celis.
In the coming months, these workshops will also be expanded to reach the community at large.
USC Annenberg’s continuing and future role in South Los Angeles
As important as Intersections is to growing members of the South Los Angeles community, Celis says the site is just as important to students at the USC Annenberg School. During summer 2009, to help sustain the site, USC graduate journalism students produced nearly a dozen multimedia reports through directed research credits. One student, for example, produced a two-story multimedia package about South LA youth campaigning for improvement of their neighborhoods and schools before the Los Angeles City Council. This particular project was produced in conjunction with UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, an organization designed to improve educational opportunities for urban youth. We expect to do more joint projects with our UCLA colleagues.
Celis gives credit to USC Annenberg Dean, Ernest J. Wilson, III, and Journalism School Director, Geneva Overholser, now in her second year, for the early success of Intersections. In particular his says Overholser’s support and enthusiasm for Intersections made it possible to introduce the new South Los Angeles Reporting course, one of the seven classes contributing to the site from semester to semester. The South Los Angeles class is a multimedia journalism class that explores life in South LA and it continues to test mobile phone delivery of the news through a relationship with Mobile Voices. Sudents in the class will work closely with Jordan High School in Watts to help students there embrace mobile delivery.
The support from the J-Lab, and the strategic use of the grant money, will enable us to continue growing the project in all the ways we have described here, and will support our ultimate goal of monetizing the site.
Embargoed for release
10 a.m., April 21, 2009
Contact Jan Schaffer email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Eight hyperlocal community media projects from across the United States have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners. Each will receive up to $25,000 in start-up funding over the next two years.
The 2009 winners proposed frequently updated and robust sites generated by a diverse mix of content contributors. All the projects focus on geographic communities. Most will operate under the auspices of journalism professionals.
“Particularly notable among this year’s winners is a deep understanding of what it will take to launch a hyperlocal site and regularly refresh content. They also had great familiarity with digital media tools,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program at American University’s School of Communication.
The awards were increased this year so that grant winners will receive $17,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $8,000 in matching support in the second year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.
“What we can learn from the 48 New Voices community news experiments is all the more important in light of newspaper closings across the country,” said Gary Kebbel, Knight’s journalism program officer.
Added Bruce Koon, News Director of KQED radio and a New Voices Advisory Board member: “With all the anxiety about the future of journalism and news outlets, these projects are a breath of fresh air because of their creativity and commitment to serving communities. They’re providing valuable lessons for the future.”
The 2009 New Voices grantees are:
GrossePointeToday.com - Wayne State University’s journalism program has recruited more than 20 displaced, retired and otherwise available professional journalists to write and edit content from citizen contributors and online journalism students at WSU and the University of Michigan-Dearborn for a full-service news and information site about Detroit’s five Grosse Pointes. Professionals have pledged $20,000 in seed money to support the first year of the program. The site will receive a 30 percent commission on all advertising sold by a 35-year-old, highly successful community directory called “The Little Blue Book.”
Oakland Local - A daily-updated Web site and mobile service will be created to cover Oakland, Calif., with a focus on environment, climate, transportation, housing, local government and community activism in Downtown, Uptown, North Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, and the Dimond District. An editor, publisher and three paid part-time reporters will produce content, as will citizen contributors. The site will geotag content to an XML data map, encourage users to interact via cell phones and employ a range of social networking tools.
Backyard News - A former newspaper reporter and founder of the Linglestown (Pa.) Gazette will expand his model to develop a network of four to six independently operated hyperlocal Web sites, to be updated daily, for communities in suburban Harrisburg, Pa. Backyard News will seek joint ventures to provide local content for the region’s daily newspaper and radio and TV stations. The project will also work to deliver content to cell phones.
Maryland School Information Mapping (M-SIM) - Towson University’s Center for Geographic Information Sciences will partner with the online public policy site MarylandCommons.com to create a Web tool that will combine Maryland Department of Education data with user-friendly geomapping. M-SIM will give parents, educators, policymakers and journalists data and news about K-12 schools at the local, county and state level, and M-SIM maps will complement news and commentary written by Commons staff and citizen journalists.
Intersections: The South Los Angeles Reporting Project - The Annenberg School at the University of Southern California will spearhead the creation of a community news Web site for a region that is home to African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and immigrants. The project will use multimedia reporting by journalism students, community residents and community leaders and will focus on education, economic development, housing and immigration. Project leaders will target print and broadcast outlets that might also use Intersection stories. They will also work with student-run Annenberg Radio and Television News and will partner with Mobile Voices, a USC Annenberg storytelling platform designed to help low-wage immigrants develop mobile media skills.
The Austin Bulldog - A longtime Austin journalist, founder of a monthly magazine and political newsletter, will create a daily-updated Web site for public-interest and investigative reporting, using both professional journalists and input from citizens. The site will also synthesize outside news stories in addition to posting original reporting and commentary. Readers will be encouraged to submit tips and their own commentary.
New Era Media - A Boulder, Colo., foundation will start a blog site covering Colorado news and politics aimed at young people. Initial content will come from 10 citizen contributors (ages 17-30), who will research, develop and post stories. Community contributions will also be invited. In addition, the site will develop feeds that can be posted to Facebook profiles and other social networking applications.
The Villager, News and Notes from Coconut Grove West - A University of Miami visual journalism professor will launch a community news site for one of Florida’s oldest, but newly gentrifying, communities. News stories and visual documentaries will be generated by partners, which include journalism students, the Coconut Grove Collaborative (http://www.cgcollaborative.org/), the CG Homeowners Association (HOATA), a local health clinic and local residents.
Participating in this year’s selection were New Voices Advisory Board members:
Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc.
Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Bill Gannon, director of online production and programming, Lucasfilm Ltd.
Bruce Koon, news director, KQED public radio, San Francisco.
Peggy Kuhr, dean, University of Montana School of Journalism.
Michele McLellan, associate, Knight Digital Media Center.
Rose Ann Robertson, associate dean, student and academic affairs, American University School of Communication.
Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.
Track the progress of New Voices grantees online at j-newvoices.org, where quarterly updates, news and features are posted. Follow other citizen media developments at the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org).
About Knight Foundation The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on ideas and projects that create transformational change. To learn more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
About American University’s School of Communication American University’s School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research and innovative production in the fields of journalism, film and media arts and public communication, working across media platforms and with a focus on public affairs and public service.
A 2008 New Voices Winner uses an awesome 3D wall for his site’s front page.
StoriesThatFly, a New Voices project by Kent State University professor Joe Murray, garnered some ohs and ahs at the recent Grantee Meeting in Washington, DC. His project brings together journalism professors. student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Ohio.com, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
The wall on the Web site acts as a scrolling directory of stories and videos. Its stunning design was created by FlashLoaded and is available for purchase on the site.
For immediate release
Dec. 3, 2008
Contact Jan Schaffer firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. - J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism is calling for a new round of grant proposals to fund “New Voices” community news start-ups around the country. Eight projects will each receive up to $25,000 in grants during the course of two years.
The eight projects to be funded in 2009 will join 40 other New Voices start-ups that have received micro-grants since 2005. The projects have been selected from 845 proposals.
This year, New Voices project funding has increased to $25,000 from $17,000 over two years as part of a new J-Lab grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to seed micro-local news projects; support them with an educational Web site, the Knight Citizen News Network; and help foster their sustainability with second-year matching grants.
The 2009 projects will receive $17,000 the first year and are eligible for $8,000 in matching support the second year.
At least three of the 2009 grants are targeted for news initiatives in the 26 communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, but projects from all parts of the U.S. are encouraged to apply.
“We are especially seeking ideas from people who find something missing from their local media landscape and crave news and information that engages and builds a sense of community,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the program. J-Lab is a center of American University’s School of Communication.
Eligible to receive New Voices funding are 501(c)3 organizations and education institutions or individuals working under the sponsorship of a nonprofit fiscal agent. Only start-up projects may receive funding; ongoing efforts are not eligible unless they are proposing a new venture.
Projects can produce news and information for a geographic area, such as a town or county. Or they can serve a community of interest.
All New Voices projects must develop a publicly accessible, regularly updated Web site to showcase their efforts and have a plan for generating a steady flow of fresh content year-round.
To receive information about New Voices, e-mail contact information and a request to subscribe to the J-Flash newsletter to email@example.com.
About Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on ideas and projects that create transformational change. To learn more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org), the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, www.j-learning.org, and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (www.newmediawomen.org).
About American University’s School of Communication American University’s School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research, and innovative production across the fields of journalism, film and media arts, and public communication. The school’s academic programs emphasize traditional skills and values while anticipating new technologies, new opportunities, and new audiences.
Two New Voices 2006 projects have won prestigious journalism awards!
ChicagoTalks was named the winner in the Student Category from the Investigative Reporters and Editors. The series, called “Public Payroll, Family Affairs: Aldermen Keep It Relative” by Allison Riggio and Hunter Clauss, was published in 2007 in both CreatingCommunityConnections.org and the Beachwood Reporter. A six-month investigation of payroll records and hiring practices revealed that at least six of Chicago’s 50 City Council members employed relatives on their publicly funded ward staffs. The IRE judges wrote, “After its genesis as a class project at Columbia College in Chicago, this story grew into an interesting expose of nepotism in city government. These student reporters used public records requests and numerous phone calls to identify relatives of city council members who are on the public payroll. Persistence and aggressiveness overcame the obstacle of not being taken seriously by some sources. Both the writing and the sourcing are clear. The importance to readers is high.”
Great Lakes Wiki was among the top three student-produced online news reports in the nation by the Society of Professional Journalists. SPJ’s annual Mark of Excellence Awards honor the best in student journalism. Michigan State University students Andy Balaskovitz, John Allison & Ian Walker were named national finalists in the in-depth online reporting category for their work on “Pine River Superfund Site.” Their investigation details the history and current condition of the environmentally plagued Pine River in St. Louis, Michigan, where Michigan Chemical (now Velsicol) operated a plant. A producer of both DDT and PBB, the company dumped pollution and toxic waste in the river.
Two of the movers and shakers at GreaterFultonNews.org were named among the “40 people to Watch under 40” for 2008 by Style Weekly of Richmond, Va. Congratulations to GFN co-creator Annette Cousins and blogger John Murden.
As a “microblog,” Twitter is built for speed. Posts are capped at 140 characters and can be updated via the Web or cell phone text messages, meaning even if you happen upon breaking news and don’t have your laptop handy, you can still break the story.
Over the last several months Twitter has finally hit its stride as a leading tool for finding and sharing timely information from all sorts of places and sources. Its usefulness for breaking news is obvious. However, Twitter is equally useful for tracking ongoing stories and issues, getting fast answers or feedback, finding sources, building community, collaborating on coverage, and discovering emerging issues or trends.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ten innovative citizen media projects have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners and will each receive up to $17,000 in start-up funding.
Many of this year’s winners focus on special-interest communities as well as geographic locales. One grantee will create a new model for regional news coverage in Ohio and Indiana. Others will start news and social networking sites for war veterans, families of prisoners, aviation buffs, immigrant and Native American communities and the eco-conscious.
“These winners want to build new avenues producing local news and new ways to invite citizens to share particular expertise,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program.
Grant winners will receive $12,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $5,000 in matching support in the second year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.
“The number of applicants signals the growing interest in the power of citizen media to create a sense of place for all kinds of communities,” said Gary Kebbel, Knight’s journalism program officer.
“New Voices has seeded some of the most exciting examples of journalism - and of active citizenship - in the United States today,” said New Voices Advisory Board member Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
The 2008 New Voices grantees are:
Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project. Partnering higher learning with public and commercial media, this project will create a regional news service for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists and students at Miami University and Earlham College will produce stories for an interactive Web site and content will be shared with local mainstream media. Pilot partners include WMUB public radio, the Cincinnati Business Journal, Cox Ohio newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown, and Gannett’s Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana. They seek to create a new model for covering regional news.
The Kentucky Citizen Media Project: The Lexington Commons. A University of Kentucky partnership will build a digital neighborhood newspaper. While it will highlight Lexington news, the leaders also hope to build a sense of community across lines of race, ethnicity and income. The university’s Department of Community and Leadership Development is spearheading the project in partnership with the University’s Cooperative Extension Service, which will help recruit citizen reporters, and the Department of Agricultural Communications, which will launch and maintain the project’s Web site.
Grass Roots: Digital Journalism in the Nation’s Birthplace of Aviation. Kent State journalism professors will mentor student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Ohio.com, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
Cool State Online. California State University-Los Angeles journalism students and faculty will partner with community groups to launch “micro-bureaus” to cover the San Gabriel Valley’s largely Asian and Latino community. Computer science grad students will help build a news management system for the project.
Green Jobs Philly. A Philadelphia Web entrepreneur will spearhead a new Web site and quarterly publication to cover “green” jobs, grants, and economic initiatives by local businesses, universities and nonprofits. The site plans to translate content to Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese in the future.
The Appalachian Independent. Civic group will create a bi-weekly online newspaper community for the rural community around Frostburg, Maryland, modeled on the National League of Cities’ Inclusive Community Program. Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland students and faculty will participate.
Immigration: The View from Here. KBUT-FM community radio in Crested Butte, Colorado, will explore the local impact of immigration, which has tripled in the last decade in rural Gunnison Valley. The station will train citizen journalists and produce stories for its daily news show and 30-minute specials. All content will be in English, with Spanish translations posted online. The station will share MP3 files of the features with all the state’s community radio stations.
Voices of Rural Alaska. Koahnic Broadcast Corp. will train people in remote Alaskan native villages to record interviews, first-person diaries and reports on issues that affect their daily lives. One-to-three minute segments will be broadcast monthly on KNBA-FM and National Native News. They will also be available online as podcasts and offered to the Alaska Public Radio network.
Voices for Veterans. A community technology center in Columbia, S.C., will create a social network and information Web site for returning veterans. Three nearby military bases and a VA Hospital provide a ready audience for monthly Webcasts and a moderated blog. The project will focus on jobs, services, GI bill benefits, counseling and transition to civilian employment.
Family Life Behind Bars. A CUNY Graduate School of Journalism professor and students will create a Web site for families of prisoners. Users will be able to share information and tell stories about the financial, social and emotional impact of incarceration, separation and stigma on their lives.
Participating in the selection were New Voices Advisory Board members:
Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc., Annapolis, MD.
Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Bill Gannon, Director of Online Production & Programming, Lucasfilm Ltd.
Bruce Koon, News Director, KQED Public Radio, San Francisco.
Peggy Kuhr, Dean, University of Montana School of Journalism.
Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.
Donna M. Reed, vice president of news and multimedia, Media General.
Adam Clayton Powell III, Vice Provost for Globalization, University of Southern California.
Thomas Kunkel, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.
Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.
Track the progress of New Voices grantees online at j-newvoices.org, where quarterly updates, news and features are posted. Follow other citizen media developments at the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org).
Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and interests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Four of the 2008 New Voices projects are in Knight communities.
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate public life. J-Lab supports and spotlights journalism innovations, interactive storytelling, citizen media, entrepreneurship and research.
Cheryl Gibbs, Assistant Director, Journalism Program, Miami University
• Oxford, OH
Miami University Journalism Program
260A Bachelor Hall
Oxford, OH 45056
(513) 529-1923 E-mail Website
Partnering higher learning with public and commercial media, this project will create a regional news service for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists and students at Miami University and Earlham College will produce stories for an interactive website and content will be shared with local mainstream media. Pilot partners include WMUB public radio, the Cincinnati Business Journal, Cox Ohio newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown, and Gannett’s Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana. They seek to create a replicable model for covering regional news.
Miami Valley News Network Struggles with its Vision
While efforts to create a regional news service met with limited successes and a revamped Miami Valley News Network website was launched in 2012, project leader Cheryl Gibbs reports frustrations on many levels.
On the plus side, journalism faculty at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, changed the Online Journalism class so that students post their stories to MVNN.org. And the project helped the school:
Generate quality news content in many classes.
Provide content to legacy news organizations.
Provide free student labor.
But, Gibbs said, the project suffers from having no full-time faculty or editors and no dedicated grad students or work-study students.
She said the region's legacy media were not in a financial position to pay for stories that might produce a revenue stream to support the project. And Oxford itself was probably too small of a community to generate philanthropic support. Moreover, officials and residents might be overwhelmed if a corps of students were dispatched to report on the town.
A possible solution, she said, would be to reimage the Miami Valley News Network as a selective "off-campus" semester program based at the university's Middletown campus. Students could earn 16 credits by generating authentic news coverage for a community of more than 50,000 people. Student could either file stories on MVNN or work for the local Middletown Journal.
For the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project, the first year has seen its share of successes and frustrations.
As project director Cheryl Gibbs noted, after many stops and starts Mi-Whi (the site’s abbreviated “nickname”) has its basic web portal built. But problems with the university’s firewall meant the site was not visible to the outside world until July. Those problems have been fixed, though, and you can see the new site at http://www.mi-whinews.org.
After the launch, Gibbs said, “Whew! What I know now, having worked on the portal!”
Her basic goal was to create a portal that an “eighth grader could use to submit a story and a photo,” and provide a place where content from the site’s professional partners could be aggregated, creating a truly regional news site. “It does those essential things, but it’s not as beautiful as I’d like it to be—or as interesting/interactive,” said Gibbs, an assistant professor of journalism at Miami University.
The next step, technologically, will be to “dress up the portal a bit,” Gibbs said, adding that she’d “like to include a carousel on the front page, for example.”
The portal’s lack of visibility (until recently) meant that while the 12 to 46 students who had worked on the site had created a steady stream of content, there had been no place to showcase it. You can now see past examples of the students’ work on the newly visible portal.
“If I had to pick one example that comes closest to the perfect example [of what the students can contribute to the site], it would be the story they did on education and the economy, in part because the students also held public forums about those stories,” said Gibbs. You can read a news story about one of those forums here and you can watch a video recording of the forum here.
“Whew! What I know now, having worked on the portal!”
This fall, students in at least two of the journalism department’s Intro to Journalism classes (25 students each) will be producing citizen journalism stories in addition to the work Gibbs’ online journalism students (18) will be doing with a partner newspaper. “Now that the portal is up, we have the capacity to engage many more students in producing real stories for real news organizations, and one of my tasks is now to work with my colleagues to try to get as many of them on board with that as possible,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs said Mi-Whi has also begun scheduling meetings with its media partners and with libraries and other community organizations to discuss plans for its citizen journalism initiative. Currently plans call for the initiative to kick off during spring semester in 2010.
Mi-Whi is also seeking funding from community foundations to purchase camcorders and other equipment to place in public libraries, so that citizen journalists can check them out. Mi-Whi will then need to work with its media partners to develop a training format, and train students as trainers. It will then schedule citizen journalism trainings in various communities by partnering with community organizations and schools who may be willing to host those trainings.
Mi-Whi continues to grow its list of partners, especially in the area of community organizations. Gibbs said there has been a degree of ebb and flow in these relationships; editors/news directors come and go, or turn their attention away from the students’ work on Mi-Whi and toward other projects. Yet all of its original partnerships remain viable and new ones have been cultivated, particularly new partnerships with Girls Inc. and Whitewater Community Television in Richmond, Indiana.
But Mi-Whi’s relationship with Miami University’s IT department is one that Gibbs did not foresee. The project had originally hired an outside designer to help with the site, but when problems developed with deliverables, Gibbs found herself relying on the university’s IT department. She believes this partnership has value for both parties. The difficult patches have come, however, when Mi-Whi has called on the IT department to go beyond its “comfort zone” on computer server security issues. “A lot of the conversations I’ve had with the IT folks remind me of conversations I’ve had or overheard with the gatekeepers of journalism when similar concerns began to arise there,” said Gibbs.
Surprisingly, Gibbs said that the response from the IT folks has been that they want to be involved in the project because they actually enjoy finding ways to rise to these challenges.
Another challenge is the struggle to work within the university’s current budget restrictions to ensure that the project will be sustained. Yet despite the harsh economic climate, the university has given permission to hire a faculty member who will serve part-time in journalism, part-time in interactive media studies, and that position has been authorized at a “clinical faculty” level (which means the person will not be required to have a Ph.D., only a master’s degree). Gibbs said this person is expected to take a significant leadership role in the Miami-Whitewater project.
Mi-Whi News’ student journalists continue to contribute content to the story-budget site, content that is then made available to area news organizations. Success in partnering with media outlets, however, remains uneven: Some, but not all, area newspapers are picking up student-generated copy. Says project leader Cheryl Gibbs, assistant director of Miami University of Ohio’s journalism program: “We remain optimistic and are continually working to sustain existing partnerships and cultivate new ones.”
Student journalists are working with an editor from the Dayton Daily News this semester, but they are not collaborating directly with other local papers, in Middletown and Hamilton, Ohio. Student stories have been used in the past by those news outlets, both in print and online. Says Gibbs: “It is clear that we need to form personal relationships with editors at the early stages of creating student work we plan to offer to them.”
Mi-Whi News continues to partner with The Palladium-Item in Richmond, Ind. Students’ work on a special website set up for the newspaper’s coverage of the 40th anniversary of a deadly explosion in Richmond contributed to the paper’s winning a first-place award for public service from the Associated Press in Indiana. However, layoffs at the newspaper have complicated the partnership, as key newsroom contacts have assumed additional work and are considerably busier than ever.
Mi-Whi - short for the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project - is waiting for the completion of a web portal that will allow greater interactivity among student journalists, local news outlets and readers. The Richmond, Ind.-based web design firm Summersault is working on a portal that will allow student, citizen and professional journalists to upload to and preview stories on the Mi-Whi site. Student-generated material is posted to the website after it has been fact-checked and edited by a professional and/or faculty editor.
Designated media partners will be able to access a raw materials archive (primarily audio, video and documents gathered by student journalists), while readers can search the archives, view printer-friendly versions of stories, e-mail content and contribute feedback. Regular users may set up accounts to receive e-mail updates and post attributed comments. Data drawn from this user base could be used in the future to solicit readers’ thoughts or even contributions based on their demographic profile.
Gibbs and her team are actively seeking grants to continue the Mi-Whi project. Two faculty members are working to secure National Endowment for the Humanities funds to collaborate with the Dayton-based ThinkTV on a documentary. In addition, Gibbs has contacted the university’s development department about creating a “donate” button on the Mi-Whi website.
The mood at Mi-Whi is upbeat. “The most amazing thing about this project is seeing students get excited about using these new tools for doing journalism - and exploring ways to use these tools in innovative ways,” Gibbs says, adding, “The students also are transformed by doing actual journalism in which they interview real people about actual situations.”
Among the web projects created by Miami University journalism students was www.JRN421TheLearningCurve.com, which grew out of an assignment to look into declining funding for public education in two communities near Oxford - Union County, Indiana, and Middletown, Ohio, a former industrial center that Forbes magazine recently dubbed one of the “fastest-declining towns in America.” Students gave public presentations of their work in each community.
Journalism major Danny Lautar, who reported from Middletown, wrote of his experience: “No longer is [journalism] just my major or a ticket to law school. It’s a real profession and it’s a passion that I’m now glad I have pursued.”
The Miami-WhiteWater Valley Public Media Project has landed on a snappy new name: Mi-Whi News. Based at Miami University, the project is pulling together students, community, and mainstream news organizations to partner on regional coverage.
One of the partners is the Richmond Palladium-Item in Indiana, a newsroom where Mi-Whi News coordinator Cheryl Gibbs once worked. “Five department level managers were recently eliminated there. They are a small enough paper, so they are open to the help,” she said. “They don’t have the tech equipment. So, our school will provide cameras.”
In October 2008, students participated in a Palladium-sponsored online chat during the vice presidential debate. Gibbs says it was a good experience, despite technical difficulties. The students also put together a special report for Election 2008.
“We’re experimenting with news way of doing journalism,” says Gibbs. “We’re learning about Twitter, Mogulus and bandwidth.” Mogulus is site that enables users to create their own TV studios. Mi-Whi used it to stream a candidate’s forum in Richmond.
The project is continuing to reach out to new potential partners. WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio and Whitewater Community Television, the cable access channel in Richmond, have both expressed interest. Community partners are encouraged to use Mi-WhiNews content, with credit.
“Students are getting excited about doing multimedia. We’re helping them write to a professional standard. They do a lot of good work that doesn’t get any audience. So this is a good way to make it public and serve the community,” said Gibbs.
Mi-Whi has hired Summersault.com to design its open-source web portal where assignments will be tracked and all content will be aggregated.
Gibbs’ advice to other citizen media initiatives: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, do it anyway.” Professors are learning to use new technologies right alongside their students.
RICHMOND, Ind. — Earlham College students will have a chance to change how local news is reported, thanks to an innovative partnership between Earlham and Miami University and funded by the New Voices program of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, administers the program.
Ten innovative media projects were selected from a record pool of 312 applicants, reports J-Lab. The grant winners will receive $12,000 in first-year funding to launch their program and $5,000 in matching support in the second year.
The project, known as the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project, will partner higher education with public and commercial media to create a new regional newsgathering model for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists along with students from Miami and Earlham will produce stories for an interactive website and content will be shared with more traditional media outlets.
A University of Kentucky partnership will build a digital neighborhood newspaper. While it will highlight Lexington news, the leaders also hope to build a sense of community across lines of race, ethnicity and income. The university’s Department of Community and Leadership Development is spearheading the project in partnership with the University’s Cooperative Extension Service, which will help recruit citizen reporters, and the Department of Agricultural Communications, which will launch and maintain the project’s website.
Abraham Lincoln spoke of a long-lasting government by the people and for the people. In the spring of 2008, Seungahn Nah launched an online citizen journalism initiative in Lexington, Ky., with that same ideal - a nonprofit, digital neighborhood newspaper created by the people, for the people. The result was the Lexington Commons, a place for citizen journalists to post stories, pictures, videos and information gathered from the community. Since the website’s launch in January 2009, the staff has worked toward fulfilling their mission and visions of building a local outlet for community and dialogue, despite challenges in staffing, technology and citizen input.
Nah, who serves as founder of the Kentucky Citizen Media Project (KCMP), is a professor at the University of Kentucky, which jointly runs the Commons. He was first inspired by the model of community news employed by Madison Commons, another New Voices funded site, Nah said.
Since its launch, the website has successfully delivered local news to the Lexington/Fayette county area, with a growing emphasis on coverage of local nonprofit organizations. In addition to news reporting, the Lexington Commons site features blogs and forums for networking, as well as workshops and ongoing training for citizen journalists.
He had planned to use a Blogspot website, but the platform proved to be insufficient for the project’s needs and KCMP hired a computer science graduate student to design their new site.
“It didn’t provide enough space for the kind of Web 2.0 technologies the site [features], like podcasting audio and video files,” Nah said.
The site groups information into 14 issues, including politics, business, culture, sports, environment, housing, schools and youth. Moreover, a map on the homepage divides the city of Lexington into quadrants, each with links to the area’s neighborhoods.
Along with the news stories that include videos and photos, it also features several widgets including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS, blogs, weather, reader polls, a community calendar and more.
Social media has become a large asset to the project, as they continue to attract new readers to the site through Facebook and Twitter. The Lexington Commons also uses a Google mapping function to report hyperlocal news stories and hopes to expand their digital repertoire to smartphones.
“With smartphones in hand, neighborhood reporters could effectively document everything from severe weather in their area to a new retailer breaking ground,” Nah said.
However, social media have proved to be problematic.
“The Lexington Commons switched to a Facebook fan page from our former Facebook group to take advantage of the fan page format’s features and enhance the user experience,” Nah said. “Unfortunately, when we invited our former fans to become part of the new page, Facebook shut down the new page due to a new policy of which we were not aware regarding friend invitations.”
The project’s growing emphasis on coverage of local nonprofit organizations encourages its readers to participate in such local charitable organizations and provides links to both public and private community events. According to Nah, recent reports on the site utilizing text, photographs and/or videos have featured the work of nonprofit organizations including Surgery on Sunday, Kentucky Pink Connection, Lexington Habitat for Humanity and the Ronald McDonald House.
In addition, citizen reporters recently reported on the primaries for the Lexington mayoral race and also created a forum encouraging citizens to take part in a survey regarding the Lexington police.
“Local nonprofit organizations benefit from the increased exposure, while local citizens learn about new opportunities to get involved in their community,” Nah said.
Attempts at Public Participation
The project aims to train its own citizen journalists through free workshops open to the public, although this has proven to be more difficult than anticipated.
According to Nah, the classes cover journalism ethics, media law, how to recognize news and how to write a story. Participants are taught how to use the Lexington Commons website and how to post stories, blogs and podcasts. Citizen journalists must complete at least one training session to be able to write for the Lexington Commons.
As of March 2009, nine journalists had been trained and they have not contributed much content to the website. To remedy this, Lexington Commons reached out to journalism classes at UK, who began creating content for the site in fall 2009. The project also encouraged citizens to help build social networks using Community Connects Citizens, a social networking feature that allows website users to post a profile and meet Lexingtonians with similar interests.
Currently, the Lexington Commons holds partnerships with many University of Kentucky departments, including Agriculture Communication Services, Cooperative Extension Service, Nonprofit Leadership Initiative and Public Relations, as well as WUKY public radio. According to Niki King, efforts to partner with the Lexington Herald-Leader did not come to fruition. However, they hope to obtain another partnership with the Lexington City Council and are also working to become included in the Nonprofit News Network, an aggregator for nonprofit news and information.
While they are largely pleased with their progress, the Lexington Commons team has also encountered many human resources challenges. Obstacles to project growth thus far have largely been due to a high turnover of project coordinators and student interns.
“Student interns have struggled to meet deadlines and produce the quantity and quality of content the project desires,” Nah said.
The recent project coordinator and Webmaster both left during summer 2010 for full-time jobs in the community, and students graduate and take jobs elsewhere as well. Fortunately, the Lexington Commons gained another project coordinator and Webmaster soon after their predecessors’ departures, and new interns continue to be recruited throughout the new school year - the project hopes to identify some of these students as regular contributors.
Searching for Funding
By mid-November, 2010, in the hope of earning more funding, the Lexington Commons had five letters of inquiry under review to national and local foundations with related missions, totaling $285,000 in requested grant money. They hope to hear from the foundations beginning in late 2010. The grants will allow them to re-energize the project and fund a full-time project coordinator, a part-time graduate assistant, four student interns and four citizen journalism workshops.
“Until we have this stability and strong leadership, such a project in its nascent phase will have trouble reaching the critical mass it needs for success,” Nah said.
According to Nah, the University of Kentucky is able to continue its financial support despite its own financial troubles. The project director’s research fund will contribute additional funding to help make the project sustainable, though the aid is minimal. The Lexington Commons is also developing a business model for internal funding while continuing to seek external funding.
Though the Lexington Commons has accomplished much, future goals remain for the project, including:
Recruit more neighborhood storytellers by partnering with some of Lexington’s 250 neighborhood associations
Train mobile reporters to upload stories, photos and videos in real time
Offer internship opportunities for high school, undergraduate and graduate students
Identify individuals who can facilitate relationships with minority groups such as the black, Hispanic, Asian and LGBT communities, which tend to be overlooked by mainstream media
Build a sustainable business model through a public donation system using PayPal
Continue to provide good quality of contents and information regarding the community
Highlight the nonprofit organizations and their volunteers through the nonprofit news network features
Continue to create more discussion topics through the public forums and encourage community members to participate
Continue to build social networks among community members through social networking sites and various features
Despite the project’s rocky start in 2008 and early 2009, Nah hopes that the Lexington Commons will grow and stay a useful tool for community knowledge and connections. He expects the project to contribute to the community by continuing to highlight nonprofit organizations, create more public discussions and enhance social networking of readers. With time, dedicated contributors and financial stability, the Lexington Commons can remain an important, sustainable University of Kentucky initiative by the people, for the people.
- Rachel Karas
Lexington Commons Focuses on Local Non-Profits
In the spring of 2008, the Kentucky Citizen Media Project (KCMP), created in part by the University of Kentucky and funded by New Voices, launched an online citizen journalism initiative to give new, diverse voices a local outlet.
The goal of Lexington Commons was to encourage dialogue among citizens and build community through digital communication. It was envisioned that the Lexington Commons website would be a place for citizen journalists to post stories, pictures, videos and information they gather from the Lexington community. There was also a desire to host blogs and forums where residents could converse and network.
Essentially, the Lexington Commons was to be a nonprofit, digital neighborhood newspaper, created by the people, for the people. Workshops and ongoing training for citizen journalists, along with high quality of contents and discussions among community members, were key to the project concept, as citizen journalists were meant to be the primary content creators.
The site was launched in late January, 2009. Since then the staff has continued working towards fulfilling the mission and vision.
Lexington Commons has received growing support from nonprofit organizations throughout the community. Seungahn Nah, director of the project, wrote: “We have been producing a significant amount of citizen stories covering these different organizations and those volunteers who have been working for the nonprofit sector. We feel that these stories have continued to be a great way to enhance both PR for the different organizations as well as promote the Lexington community. Recently, we have been building our neighborhoods section, continuing the goal of encouraging local citizens to participate in forums and blogs.”
Nah indicated that the staff has been striving to reach the original mission. Overall content creation has increased significantly and production of stories has become more frequent.
The Commons staff is encouraged to report that the nonprofit organizations it works with are tremendously happy with their work and generally appreciate the platform for outreach.
The webmaster is expanding information on the site as a tool to bring neighborhood associations closer together. “Although we have maintained partnerships with university and community organizations, we also have a goal of partnering with the City Council,” Nah said, “which will bring us closer to our goal of connecting with citizens around the community… and continue to pursue partnerships with other institutions and organizations.”
In July 2010, Lexington Commons counted 269 Facebook fans, a number it says steadily rises, as does the number of visitors to their site. They credit their social media presence with driving traffic growth.
“We have reached a point in our project where we would like to expand our influence,” explained Nah. But like other university-based projects, it faces a lack of employee dedication and support because it relies heavily on students and student interns for content creation. “We are experiencing a sense of immaturity,” said Nah. “Employees regularly miss deadlines given and find their priorities lying elsewhere.”
His hope is to re-energize staff and keep the project infused with fresh, cutting-edge ideas. They also hope to increase participation at citizen journalism workshops. And, perhaps most importantly, their challenge remains to find secure and sustainable financial funding, from internal and external funders.
The founders of Lexington Commons believe the local nonprofit community is “seriously camouflaged” by the local mainstream media, and so the Commons will remain a place to highlight local nonprofits and celebrate their impact on the community.
Citizen journalists interview local nonprofits and produce multimedia reports - articles, video and photos - which they believe bring more life to the story.
“We continue the hope to expand out from strictly nonprofit news and have the ability to cover neighborhood and community local news as well as we have planned,” wrote Nah. In addition, they have a community event and social calendar that highlights local nonprofit events.
Lexington Commons has partnered with: University of Kentucky Agriculture Communication Services, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky Nonprofit Leadership Initiative, University of Kentucky Public Relations and WUKY Public Radio.
Although Lexington Commons has encountered various challenges, founder Seungahn Nah expects the project to contribute to community by continuing to highlight nonprofit organizations and their volunteers, create more public discussions, and enhance social networking of readers.
After a rocky start, Lexington Commons looks to reconnect with its community
For The Lexington Commons project, the first months of 2009 were tough ones. A lack of workshop participants and citizen journalists meant the project’s website, which launched in January of 2009, was not able to create much content, according to Seungahn Nah, director of the Kentucky Citizen Media Project.
“This fall will see a renewed effort to recruit citizen journalists through various media and community sources.”
But Nah says Lexington Commons will begin a renewed effort this summer to bring information and news to the site with interns doing stories on local nonprofits.
Nah says the fall of 2009 will see that effort continue with a drive to recruit citizen journalists through various media and community sources, especially established print and online local media outlets like Smiley Pete Publishing, whose publications focus on the Lexington community and neighborhoods.
Once they have received training, Nah hopes these citizen journalists will cover community issues and problems (e.g., local politics, the economy, city development, environment, agriculture, education, health, youth, culture, etc.) with a focus on specific neighborhoods. Nah also hopes that trained citizen reporters will participate in online discussions regarding community issues and problems. Nah says the site will also post profiles for those individuals who have contributed to the Lexington community as members, volunteers, and donors.
Lexington Commons has also reached out to local journalism classes. Starting in fall 2009, approximately 100 Univerity of Kentucky community journalism students, who can create content on a regular basis, will work with the site.
To further boost content, Lexington Commons will exchange community news and information with local partners: the University of Kentucky’s Public Relations Department and the Agricultural Communication Services, along with WUKY public radio. WUKY will not only exchange news and information with the Lexington Commons but will also provide technical support for citizen journalism workshops.
Lexington Commons plans to invite community leaders and bloggers as guest columnists and plans to aggregate links to community blogging sites on the citizen media site.
Finally, Nah says plans for 2009 call on Lexington Commons to encourage ordinary citizens to help build social networks under Community Connects Citizens on the citizen media site.
Taken all together, Nah says Lexington Commons will make every effort to produce content on a regular basis, which he hopes will attract general users and contributors to the citizen media site.
The Lexington Commons launched its website in late January 2009. Still a work in progress, the site allows users to navigate in various ways, including by area of town. A map on the home page (www.kylexingtoncommons.org) divides Lexington into quadrants, each of which contains a list of live links to the area’s neighborhoods.
The website also groups information by issues - there are 14 - including politics, business, culture, sports, environment, housing, schools and youth. Citizen reporters can tag their stories by neighborhood and/or issue when they upload material to the site.
Other Lexington Commons features are an interactive poll (a recent question: “Will the CentrePoint project improve downtown?”) and a weather box and forecast. The “Lex Wire” provides links to local news published elsewhere and to blogs that discuss all things Lexington.
Local nonprofits and neighborhood associations can log onto the site to post news of events on the community calendar.
Coming soon is a social-networking feature - Community Connects Citizens - that will allow website users to post a profile and meet others in Lexington with similar interests.
The second round of citizen journalism training began in February, with free classes scheduled for the first Saturday of each month. These classes follow a series of workshops held in fall 2008, in which five citizen journalists were trained. The workshops cover basic journalism training, with discussions of journalism ethics, media law, how to recognize news and how to write a story. Participants are taught how to use the Lexington Commons website and how to post stories, blogs and podcasts. Class exercises help participants build skills such as writing ledes, structuring stories and interviewing. Citizen journalists must complete at least one training session to be able to write for the Lexington Commons. To date nine journalists have been trained.
Niki King, project coordinator and workshop instructor, says attracting citizen journalists has been a challenge. Efforts to partner with the Lexington Herald-Leader have not panned out, but the Lexington Commons has joined forces with local nonprofit radio station WUKY. Station staff broadcasts news of the free journalism classes and in the future might help teach them.
The first two Saturday workshops this year drew about five people each, King says. To boost attendance, she has linked up with a local high school journalism teacher, who has recruited 10 to 15 students to take part in the next workshop.
“Our hope would be that they’d tell whatever stories that they think need telling,” King says.
- Hope Keller, 3/18/09
Look Out: Lexington Commons is a Comin’
When Seungahn Nah got his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin, he studied with Lew Friedland, the creator of the Madison Commons, a hyperlocal citizen site funded by New Voices in 2005. Nah was inspired by this model for community news.
Now a professor at University of Kentucky, Nah created the Kentucky Citizen Media Project (KCMP) and with New Voices funding will launch Lexington Commons, which Nah said will be a “nonprofit, digital neighborhood newspaper, created by the people, for the people.”
According to Nah, “Lexington Commons will give new, diverse voices a local outlet, encourage dialogue among citizens and build community through communication.” The project has begun recruiting and training citizen journalists who will contribute stories, photos, videos, blogs, and other content.
Over the summer, KCMP hired a graduate student (who has a B.A. in journalism) to design and implement tutorials for citizen journalists. These sessions will be offered quarterly, but Nah hopes to eventually host monthly workshops. These sessions will cover the basics: news value, writing, interviewing, computer-assisted reporting and ethics. The workshop will also provide extensive background on the history of Lexington and major issues facing the city.
Nah says five people signed up for the first training, which was promoted through the university, community media groups and the project’s MySpace and Facebook pages. Participants in the initial trainings will create the content that will be posted on the project’s site when it’s up. Nah expect that to happen by the end of October 2008. Graduates of three-part series will be given a “citizen reporter press pass” which Nah hopes will seal their commitment to contribute to the site in the future.
Also over the summer, KCMP hired a computer science grad student to design the website, which is in the final stages of design. KCMP originally hoped to use BlogSpot, a site created through the University of Kentucky’s Department of Community and Leadership Development, “but it didn’t provide enough space for the kind of Web 2.0 technologies and content the site will feature, like podcasting audio and video files,” said Nah. Instead, he purchased a new server for $4,500 and reached out to the site developer of Madison Commons, a decision he’s certain will enhance the project’s technical capabilities. The server will be hosted at U.K.‘s College of Agriculture.
“We have brainstormed some ideas to attract audience to the site,” said Nah. “The Lexington Herald-Leader has expressed interest in a partnership. They can post what our citizen reporters write and vice versa. Once we have a partnership with the major newspaper company in town, we can more easily publicize our project.”
In addition, Lexington Commons is working with the cooperative extensive service whose county station agents work on a wide range of community issues beyond agriculture and natural resources. The site plans to host neighborhood association newsletter content and a special section dedicated to news and information from local nonprofits. These services will widen the circle of interest in the site. “We’re wide open to the public,” said Nah. “I don’t think there is a magic number in terms of audience visiting our citizen media site or number of citizen reporters or number of posts. What matters, in my opinion, is how we can make a news audience that can deliver news and information and discuss issues in the community.”
California State University-Los Angeles journalism students and faculty will partner with community groups to launch “micro-bureaus” to cover the San Gabriel Valley’s largely Asian and Latino community. Computer science grad students will help build a news management system and the University Times will publish content.
The CoolStateLA New Voices project to engage students in covering Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley has hired two student reporters to generate material exclusively for the endeavor, reports Jon Beaupre, the California State University (CSULA) professor in charge of the effort.
Beaupre also has established a new website to house CoolState’s New Voices material. “We’ve just registered the name ‘10Valley.com’ for the project,” he says. “It refers to the 10 freeway, which runs down the center of the Valley.”
“We just need to put time and effort into the process to see what will work and what won’t.” - Jon Beaupre
Now the roughly 250 New Voices stories created by student journalists since the project launched in mid-2008 will have their own home. Until now New Voices material has been part of the mix at CoolStateLA.com, which also contains content created by reporters for the university news site and the University Times newspaper.
The CoolState New Voices project also is moving forward with plans to create microbureaus in the string of communities that make up the San Gabriel Valley, which stretches 60 miles west to east from Los Angeles. Beaupre seeks to establish a minimum of two bureaus, each of which would consist essentially of a desk for a student reporter in the newsroom or office of a community partner.
One of the new hires, Gareth Howell, is posted in CoolState’s microbureau at Youth Radio, the first community partner to sign onto the New Voices project. Youth Radio is a nationally recognized training, production and distribution organization that has contributed widely to National Public Radio and other national news outlets. Howell is teaching the students about radio journalism and their audio stories, in turn, will be available on www.10Valley.com.
The other new student journalist, Stephanie Hill, was hired to work in the CoolState newsroom to manage the New Voices project. In addition to assigning, editing and reporting stories, she also is helping to locate potential community partners and handling Web-site matters.
Plans for a second microbureau in a newsroom of the San Gabriel Valley News Group have not panned out. Beaupre’s main contact at the newspaper group, which has three papers in the Valley, was promoted to a new editing position last year and since has been unable to help with the New Voices effort.
Beaupre is scouting out other prospective community partners - which could include Los Angeles County libraries, senior centers, high schools, and colleges and universities - and has high hopes for success.
“We are still moving forward with a planned two bureaus,” Beaupre says. “It is my hope and desire to simply continue adding bureaus as we contract with community sponsors and raise funds. Practically speaking, I’d love to have five bureaus up and operating within the next year.”
Beaupre is philosophical about the challenges in matching student journalists with community partners. “The whole thing is an experiment,” he says. “We just need to put time and effort into the process to see what will work and what won’t.”
Meanwhile, the CoolStateLA.com website has continued to gain in popularity. For all of 2008 the site received about 31,000 unique page views. This year to date the site has gotten more than double that, close to 77,000 unique page views.
Beaupre has secured his New Voices’ Year Two match, raising $2,000 in display advertising in the university’s newspaper, the University Times, and on the CoolStateLA.com website. He also received $3,000 from the Youth Radio Los Angeles bureau, an in-kind donation that included the use of office space and equipment and staff support.
Also, Beaupre reports that CoolState is now an affiliate of The Associated Press, which gives the news operations timely access to breaking developments. The cost of the affiliation is divided among the University Times, CoolStateLA.com, Cool State Radio and the New Voices project, making the outlay “nominal” for each venture, Beaupre says.
Another encouraging development is the completion of CoolState’s news management system prototype - a collaborative project with CSULA graduate computer science students. “The system is Web-based and can handle text, audio, video, photo, animation and any other sort of new media,” reports Beaupre, who dubs it an “inside track” to manage, edit and repurpose news products. “For example, as we get Youth Radio online, they will be able to examine our daily news budget and we’ll be able to examine what they are working on,” he says.
CoolState’s two New Voices reporters will follow several stories in the coming months. Among them:
* The scramble by local candidates to replace Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who was chosen to serve as U.S. secretary of labor.
* The economy: With Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate pushing 12 percent and its poverty rate over 11 percent, the San Gabriel Valley - “with its used car lots, Asian markets and restaurants and warehouse industries” - is particularly hard-hit, Beaupre writes.
* “Legal” marijuana dispensaries: Much of California has agreed to them, but a number of Valley cities are considering moratoriums on the outlets.
* The effect, if any, of federal stimulus spending in the Valley.
- Hope Keller, 6/5/09
Cool for School
Operating out of the offices of the 50-year-old campus newspaper, CoolStateLA.com has a very modern aim: to create a multimedia citizen-journalism website to present local news that the area’s increasingly strained mainstream media outlets are not covering.
“The goal is to find new and effective ways to harness the power of computers to deliver higher quality news,” says Jon Beaupre, the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), professor in charge of the project.
“We want to make better citizens.”
Beaupre also states another, overarching goal of the CoolState project, which uses text, photos, video and audio to deliver the news: “We want to make better citizens.”
Cool State seeks to cover the San Gabriel Valley from a hyperlocal perspective, reporting on developments in the burgeoning area east of Los Angeles that is home to two million people, most of them Asian or Latino. It also hopes to partner with local ethnic media organizations to translate Cool State’s content for foreign-born news consumers.
CoolState shares five general assignment reporters with the campus paper, the University Times. The reporters dedicate 10 percent to 20 percent of their efforts to covering stories for the online venture. Beaupre reports that CoolState is close to hiring its first employee who will work entirely on Web-site pieces.
Students are expected to write, shoot video and still photos and record and edit audio, Beaupre says. “All of our reporters know they are expected to work in all forms, media and platforms. I think it is fair to say they have embraced the concept without a single hesitation and with lots of enthusiasm.”
Even as the CoolState team struggled with the logistics of setting up a new media venture in the second half of 2008, it still managed to produce a considerable amount of news from the San Gabriel Valley, thanks mainly to student journalist Marlene LeBouvier.
The indefatigable LeBouvier visited most of the 31 cities in the valley, where she picked up local publications that she combed for news tips and sources. She filed about three dozen stories and was a prolific photographer. “The coverage has been lively, vibrant and visually oriented,” Beaupre reports. “What the stories have lacked in depth and polish they make up for in breadth of coverage and understanding of their topics.” Her graduation in December has left Beaupre searching for a new lead reporter.
Because the coverage area is large—the Valley stretches 60 miles west to east—Cool State is working to set up a network of community partners to house “microbureaus” staffed by CSULA student journalists. Possible partners include Los Angeles County libraries, senior centers, high schools, colleges and universities and “Big J” journalism outlets.
Beaupre and his CoolState team succeeded in setting up a community partnership with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which is part of the MediaNews Group chain. Beaupre and his team, seeking a newsroom point person to oversee a CoolState intern, doggedly wooed Frank Giradot, an editor - sealing the deal by bringing him lunch in the newsroom.
However, Beaupre is now looking for another newsroom contact, since Giradot’s job responsibilities have significantly increased with the Valley Tribune’s recent acquisition of the copy desks of The (San Bernardino) Sun and the (Ontario) Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. “It seems likely that we will need to recruit another liaison within that newsroom, as Mr. Giradot’s time will be severely limited,” Beaupre reports.
A student journalist is already in place 20 hours a week in the offices of another community partner, Youth Radio. The CSULA student helps teach high school students how to produce radio news programs and in turn sends story ideas back to the CoolState newsroom on campus.
Besides securing community partners to establish microbureaus throughout the San Gabriel Valley, Beaupre and his team face several other challenges:
CoolState’s business manager has been out on an extended medical leave, creating a backlog of tasks that Beaupre must handle in addition to his other responsibilities.
CoolState generally loses 25 percent to 50 percent of its staffers each quarter due to graduation, attrition or unavailability.
The learning curve on student payment has been steep. Beaupre says he must be careful to use the New Voices grant to pay student journalists in a way that does not invalidate or otherwise endanger their financial-aid packages.
Finding strategic partners in the for-profit sector is a priority. “We hope to recruit a ‘super ally’ to help brand and underwrite our efforts,” Beaupre says.
CoolStateLA.com has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors to the website. In October 2008 the site received less than 500 unique visitors. In November the number more than doubled, to 1,171 unique visitors. In December it rose again, to 2,150 visitors, who made slightly more than 13,000 page visits.
Kent State journalism professors will mentor student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Ohio.com, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
“Stories That Fly” Continues On Course, More or Less
It’s been quite a ride this year for Joe Murray, whose “Stories That Fly” project involving narrative nonfiction and online storytelling about aviation remains sky high. The Ohio Board of Regents recognized Murray with one of 10 Faculty Innovator Awards, his project received an additional $30,000 in grant money, and donors are willing to help buy a 1946 Piper Cub aircraft for the project if he can contribute $10,000.
Despite those gains he notes that his team at Kent State University produced about one-third as many online stories in the project’s second year while he trained his eyes on fundraising. “I am disappointed that we did not produce more, but it is necessary to support the project with external funding to continue our success into the future.”
That meant writing 10 competitive proposals, totaling $935,000. While four proposals were not funded, four were, totaling $30,000. Two proposals for $147,000, which would exclusively support fieldwork and story production, are pending notification in the fall. Murray is also collaborating on two currently funded research projects.
And Murray has spent time cultivating prospective partners by writing three 4,500-word feature stories published nationally in Pilot Magazine.
Students produced an additional 20-30 features for the “Stories That Fly” online magazine and another 15-20 story assignments will be added next month.
Meanwhile, outreach continues as Murray has conversations with the editor of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s magazine (circulation 700,000) which may write a piece about “Stories That Fly”.
Murray has also spent time searching for an aircraft that would improve access to the many rural airfield and farms in Ohio. After contacting more than 70 owners and pilots, he reports that he found one priced at $50,000, as well as two local pilots who are willing to donate $40,000 toward the purchase. He is currently seeking the remaining $10,000. The plane would also help his project attract students and allow for collaboration with researchers in the biology department. They plan a partnership with the Knight Center for International Media and onewater.org to have biology and journalism students create stories about local water ecology throughout Northeast Ohio.
This year has also seen an impact on the curriculum, reports Murray. Two professors have assigned writing and photojournalism students to generate content for “Stories That Fly”. On another bright note, Murray was able to replace textbooks with online content, saving his students approximately 80 percent in out-of-pocket costs every semester and earning him a Faculty Innovator Award.
The site was also recognized as a notable entry in J-Lab’s Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism in 2009.
Murray is taking this time to consider his site’s social media strategy. Rather than direct e-mail subscriptions, he has recognized the significant presence of a large aviation community on Facebook. The site’s Twitter followers - about 400, he reports - include aviation and adventure travel marketers, commercial, private and military pilots, flight training organizations, national and international aviation magazines and blogs, schools, airlines, film producers, authors storytellers, journalists and even NASA. Combine the two, and Murray believes he can capture a greater audience than by subscriptions alone. “It will also reduce workload to manage subscribers and eliminate the subscribing hackers and spammers,” that are attracted to the site.
That social media drive, along with uncovering an extra $10,000, will be a part of his plan for the coming months.
“Stories that Fly” Gets Off the Ground
After nearly a year of collecting content, the Stories That Fly crew launched its online magazine May 2 with a fete for aviation enthusiasts, Kent State University faculty and students and members of the public.
Several pilots flew in to the University Airport and caught a free shuttle provided by the university’s flight school to get to the celebratory barbecue on time, wrote student reporter Leila Archer in a May 4 story for StoriesThatFly.com.
As his site got off the ground, editor and project leader Joe Murray - a Kent State journalism professor and a pilot - reports that Stories That Fly, or STF, will begin a partnership with the Denver-based PilotMag, which has a hard-copy circulation of 800,000 and receives 3 million Web-site visits a year. One of Murray’s feature-length articles appears in PilotMag’s May-June issue and another will be published in July-August. Both stories are illustrated with photos by student photographers.
PilotMag would like to incorporate STF into its Web-site redesign and share its own videos and stories on the STF site, adds Murray, who will discuss further opportunities with PilotMag’s publisher this summer.
Murray also reports that he is developing a partnership with Kent State’s aeronautics and flight program, “We can leverage their expertise in flight education and safety in a lot of good ways.”
He is also happy to report that Stories That Fly has snagged the attention of the editor of AOPA Flight Training and AOPA Pilot magazines. Murray said the editor would like to run a story about Stories That Fly in one or both of the national aviation magazines, which have a combined hard-copy circulation of 493,000 and log more than 5 million online visits annually.
Murray has met his second-year New Voices match and also has applied for two other grants to sustain and advance his project. The awards would allow his team to expand its coverage of aviation and the environment and extend its reach into rural Ohio communities and airfields, Murray says.
So far, 20 photojournalism students have contributed pictures, 25 writing students have provided stories and research, and about 100 people have taken part in articles and interviews. In addition, 284 people have signed up to follow STF on Twitter and 40 have joined the site as subscribers.
The Stories That Fly site employs several up-to-date features to engage its audience, including an eye-catching 3-D Wall that functions as the site’s home page, a user-commenting feature and a 10-star voting system for all content, a Flickr group and a YouTube channel. Users can submit original content and receive updates via Twitter.
Site user David McCartney contributed a story about a Florida subdivision that is centered around an airfield. “Imagine the thrill of living a few feet from your own airplane and wishing it ‘sweet dreams’ every night from just down the hall,” he writes - adding, however, that some of the community’s home hangars are used as “ballroom dance floors.”
Whatever floats your boat - or your plane. Stories That Fly also offers a three-minute feature about the pilot of a “float boat,” a small plane with pontoons that can land on and take off from water as well as land. Murray shot the footage himself, from the ground and aboard the bright yellow aircraft. He talks with pilot Dan Marks as Marks traces the course of a river and buzzes above the green summer countryside. The video story leaves you wanting more. It is also educational: Viewers learn that if they don’t retract the landing gear on their pontoons before setting down on water, they’re likely to capsize the plane.
Photos by Stories That Fly staff.
- Hope Keller, 6/11/09
“Stories that Fly” Takes Off
The online aviation magazine Stories That Fly will officially launch on Saturday, May 2, 2009, with a daylong celebration at Kent State University’s newly renovated converged media complex. Project leader Gordon (Joe) Murray and his team are finishing work on the magazine’s Web site, which even in its prototype stage has attracted online visitors.
The attractive, interactive online magazine has succeeded in gathering content from Kent State faculty and students as well as from members of the aviation, academic and general public. Approximately 30 stories are now being produced from interviews and video footage recorded in summer 2008. The Stories That Fly team aims to have one to two months’ worth of feature stories, video, photographs and photo essays in reserve so that roughly five new features can be published every month once the site goes live, as well as an unlimited number of contributions from the public.
Murray and his colleagues have focused on making the Web site engaging and easy to use. “We are ... integrating, developing and testing a targeted variety of interactive features intended to facilitate social networking, the sharing of content and contributions from participants, members of the aviation and academic communities and the general public,” he writes.
Among the Web site’s features:
Users can subscribe to the magazine online (it’s free).
Subscribers may comment on all stories via a reply dialogue associated with each feature story, video, slide show and regular column.
A 10-star ranking system allows site users to “vote” on all stories and other material.
A Flickr group permits users to upload images to the Stories That Fly site to share with others.
Via a YouTube channel, users can upload video clips to the Web site.
On the main page, video excerpts of features are presented in an interactive, 3-D video wall to attract and engage users and encourage them to enter the magazine site.
A “share this” link accompanies every story, video, news item, event and slide show to allow users to e-mail content directly from the magazine.
Users also can post magazine content directly to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
Content-wise, Murray and his team are experimenting with slide shows (photo essays) and with short- and long-form articles. The idea is to test reader interest in the various formats.
Challenges remain. “A number of technical hurdles are being overcome that are related to the preview videos that will be presented on the video wall,” Murray reports. “We are experimenting with formatting and quality settings for video and audio that will be delivered via YouTube.”
To sustain the online venture, Murray has been talking with numerous aviation-related groups, including Jeppesen Sanderson, a publisher of flight information; the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA); and the Kent State University School of Aeronautics.
Murray reports that he will receive $2,500 from the University Teaching Council as well as a $3,500 fellowship from the Faculty Professional Development Center, which will be his match for Year Two funding from J-Lab. He does not now have the money to hire an ad sales representative, but he hopes to do so in the future. The Stories That Fly team has engaged Jennifer L. Kramer, manager of public relations and marketing for Kent State’s College of Communications and Information, to organize the May 2 public launch.
Funding is Murray’s primary worry. He estimates that the magazine will need approximately $25,000 to cover annual stipends and expenses. “This is not a lot of money,” he writes, “but without it the project will fail.”
Kent State journalism professor Joe Murray and his project co-pilots Jacquie Marino and Gary Harwood (and their students) have flown all over the state of Ohio, shooting video, photographs, writing stories, all about the world of aviation. It’s a rich beat in a state that’s home to 18,000 pilots, 166 public airports, 772 private air fields, and a $10.5 billion flight industry.
Marino teaches the advanced storytelling class at Kent State; Harwood teaches photography. Murray is the new media czar. All of their students are on board. And, how often does a student reporter get to fly to an assignment in a plane piloted by a professor? Murray is expecting 25-30 stories to come out of it. And the stories are as colorful as the characters they cover:
* A hot-air balloon fair.
* A septuagenarian flight instructor.
* A 15-year-old, too young to drive, pilots her first plane.
* A small field airport owner who attracts 450 people to his airport diner every Sunday.
* Mechanics who can fix everything from the fabric on a 70-year-old antique to the most modern twin-engine turboprop.
* Airplane owners who donate time to fly sick patients to the hospital.
* A former steelworker who races pigeons at a local airfield.
Some of the features will be written by aviator/citizen journalists. Murray said Forest Barber, who owns an airfield and knows everyone, is interested in doing a column. He also has a grad student who might write a column called “Flight Groupie,” which would look at aviation traditions and rituals from a general public perspective.
“The aviation community is very enthusiastic about it,” said Murray. “I was starting to worry it might wear thin, since they are hearing from videographers, writers, photographers, going out multiple times, but it hasn’t.” The project has received positive press on campus.
Murray newest idea for the site is to put a video wall on the front page. “It was an epiphany for me. You’ll see 30 videos in a 3-D space, you can hover over them, as windows into each story.” The video wall creates the effect of looking out of the front of an airplane windshield.
Murray said he’s starting to plant some seeds for a public launch in the spring, possibly with an event at Kent State, which has a new J-school with a huge auditorium and three giant screens. He’s considering coupling the launch event with some usability testing on the site.
With the “skyrocketing” price of commercial air travel, you might wonder how much it costs for project staff and students to traverse the state by air. Murray said he can rent a 4-seat plane from Kent for $65 to $85 an hour or borrow a plane from a friend. Airplane fuel is $5 a gallon. He can take students 100 miles away in a 45-minute flight. “I can drop them off and pick them up in one day. Cutting travel time in half,” said Murray, who paraphrases an old bush pilot, “A mile of road will take you one mile. A half-mile of runway will take you anywhere.”
Philadelphia’s eco-economy is featured in this bimonthly newsletter sent to thousands of local officials, organizations, businesses and job seekers. The focus of GreenJobsPhilly is on grassroots initiatives because most new jobs in a tight economy will be created by small local businesses. This site also makes it free and easy for Philadelphians to offer and request green jobs, services, grants and loans. Plans are to translate content to Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.
Paul Glover, Editor at Green Jobs Philly, has written a book about his initiative. “America’s neighborhoods can employ themselves to reduce living costs, while rebuilding toward balance with nature—without waiting for either government or Wall Street. By doing so they take power over food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, and finance. They build a solid future for the next generations.”
Green Jobs Philly News Becomes A Switchboard for Greening Economy
Five years ago, there were quarterly ‘green’ meetings in Philadelphia. Today, there are several daily, says Paul Glover, whose Green Jobs Philly News serves principally as a compiler of ‘green’ news. “It provides a lively and efficient digest of Philadelphia’s economic greening,” he says, “but we have created original content, too.”
Articles from GJPN have appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia City Paper, and Grid magazine. These drive more traffic to the website, and Glover noted he has scooped other media by meeting innovators at festivals and in parks, prompting stories by mainstream press.
Green Jobs Phillly News’ subscriber base of current emails reaches over 7,000. Many others visit the site via links, RSS feeds, forwarded emails and searches.
During the past 23 months, he has issued 21 editions of the News. He estimates his web version receives about 120 hits per day, and double that number subscribe to his RSS feed. By his estimation, the News is viewed 12,000 times per month.
The News is now distributed via Constant Contact, giving Glover statistics for the number of times an email is opened and the usage. It shows a 22 to 25 percent open rate, or roughly 1,200 to 1,400 of 7,000 subscribers, he says, as well as a 32 percent click rate.
“Our opens rate [the percentage of people who read the email from GJPN] is nearly the highest among all sectors tabulated, and our clicks rate [the percentage of people who click on a link within an email] is higher than any other sector.” That is, Constant Contact has indicated GJPN’s click rate is higher than the average for other categories, such as education-, sports-, or news-themed newsletters, says Glover.
He also noted that 12 percent of visitors remain on the site for more than 15 minutes, with dozens browsing for more than an hour.
“We’re action-oriented, providing links to new local initiatives, prompting readers to help create good news.” He adds that the letters section reflects enthusiasm for the News and a reliance on Glover for connections and advice.
Despite those statistics and anecdotes, Glover has found it difficult to sell online ads for Green Jobs Philly News.
Glover also describes himself as a serial entrepreneur: “I start organizations,” all of which fit in with greening the Philly economy, he explained. Among these is the Patch Adams Free Clinic for primary care and green jobs training; Philadelphia Regional & Independent Stock Exchange (PRAISE), which gathers capital of all kinds for eco-development; Philadelphia Fund for Ecological Living (PhilaFEL) which gathers donations for installation of green technologies in lowest-income neighborhoods; and Neighborhood Enterprise SchoolTeachers (NESTS), which rewards and credentials low-income neighbors for teaching neighborhood kids.
Green Jobs Philly News often links to these organizations, which Glover often starts and then hands off to others to run on a day-to-day basis. There’s no conflict of interest, he says, since this is “a new medium that is different from hum-drum media. There’s no bad news.”
He also delivers speeches to religious, civic and professional groups about green jobs.
Green Jobs Philly News continues to evolve, says Glover. He has reserved the domain trabajosverdes.org (which translates to green jobs) and is preparing to launch content in Spanish soon, too.
“I’ve done good for others,” he said, “but haven’t been as successful” financially himself. He also wishes he had greater technical and advertising-related skills: “If I could get a partner who can help with advertising, fundraising and is an internet-savvy person, the site could be solid and reliably permanent.”
Green Jobs Philly Gears Up
Green Jobs Philadelphia News continues to gain subscribers, with more than 5,200 people now signed up to receive the monthly e-mail publication - a nearly 25 percent increase since February. The Green Jobs Philly website had 3,720 unique visitors in May, up from 889 uniques when GJP launched in August 2008.
The newsletter serves to market GreenJobsPhilly.org, a digest of everything green-related in the Philadelphia area. Project manager and site founder Paul Glover updates the site, which functions primarily as an aggregator, as often as news and information come in.
Glover, the one-man showman behind Green Jobs Philly, is also working to create local microbusinesses that will help green Philadelphia and build on his New Voices-sponsored website and newsletter.
Green Jobs Philly is also providing original content - Glover has written 18 articles and linked to hundreds of stories and new initiatives. He and the site also work as a switchboard, linking job seekers with companies and individuals offering employment. About 550 people have registered to be able to offer and/or request jobs. Of those, 348 people sought jobs, 221 uploaded resumes, 48 offered green jobs, 30 offered green services and 28 sought grants.
To help evaluate the impact of his site, Glover has contracted with Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing company that also provides web services to small firms and groups. Constant Contact reports that Green Jobs Philly’s “click through” rate - the percentage of site visitors who click on a link to open it - is 33 percent, about six times higher than average for websites monitored by Constant Contact. “The site is ‘sticky,’” Glover says. “Many of my subscribers are on it for over an hour.”
Glover reports that all his GJP stories have been copied or linked to by a number of blogs. Several magazines also have reprinted his articles.
Glover has made his New Voices’ Year Two match, consisting of $1,000 from in-kind donations, $1,000 from speeches, $2,400 from teaching at Temple University, $400 for a January 2009 City Paper cover story he wrote and $200 in advertising.
Among Glover’s in-kind donations was an original illustration of a “greened” Divine Lorraine Hotel by an artist who usually charges several hundred dollars for his work. Glover paid $50 for the painting of the former luxury apartment building, which stands at the corner of Broad and Fairmount streets, awaiting its transformation. The artwork illustrates the 12th Green Jobs Philly newsletter, published May 15, 2009.
Glover’s launch of the Green Jobs Philly site prompted Temple University to ask him to teach two Metropolitan Ecology classes. Glover reports that he will cut back to one class in the fall to better devote himself to his website, newsletter and related projects.
His expertise also means Glover is in demand as a speaker; he has given about a dozen speeches in the last year. In addition, Glover estimates that he’s been interviewed on the radio at least 30 times since GJP launched, discussing his plans for a local currency and a health co-op. (Glover was quoted in an April 2009 CNN.com story about local currencies).
Glover is working on several spin-off ideas, including the creation of a Philadelphia factory that would manufacture insulation using recycled materials and employ citizens with the least formal education.
This enterprise and others would “raise the profile and credibility of GJP as a leader creating new institutions” and accelerate the greening of Philadelphia’s economy, Glover says.
Glover would like to increase the frequency of his e-mailed newsletter. “With reliable funding, Green Jobs Philly could publish weekly, filling in where conventional media lag,” he says. The semester over, Glover is now pedaling his bicycle around town seeking potential advertisers. He has also made a list of about 20 Philadelphia-based grantors and begun submitting grant proposals.
Esoteric as his ideas may seem, Glover told the CNN interviewer that he’s never been busier: “As the economy has fallen apart, my phone has been ringing off the hook.”
- Hope Keller, 6/4/09
Green and Growing
In six months, Paul Glover’s GreenJobsPhilly.org website and newsletter have developed a devoted readership in Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city, with a population of nearly 1.5 million.
“Readership” might be putting it too mildly; “fan base” better captures the enthusiasm of Glover’s audience, which apparently includes a bunch of Big-J journalism types. “A treasure trove” is how Philly.com (the website of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News) recently described the Green Jobs Philly newsletter.
Philly.com, in its Earth to Philly blog, also hailed the Green Jobs Philly newsletter as “the value-packed local resource that everyone who’s down with the ‘Green’ thing is reading. Some people, in fact, have been known to start hyperventilating when the new issue comes out.”
Launched in September 2008, the website functions as a bulletin board for those seeking and offering green jobs in the Philadelphia metro area, as well as for people looking for or providing venture capital and grants. As of mid-February, 115 resumes had been uploaded to the site and more than 300 people had registered as users. The website - which is updated as job, loan and grant information comes in - receives about 3,000 unique visitors per month.
Philadelphia officials, businesses, organizers, environmentalists and jobseekers read Glover’s newsletter, which is e-mailed to more than 4,300 subscribers once or twice a month. (Click here for the most recent newsletter, Glover’s ninth, which includes the first article in Spanish - a translation of a story Glover wrote for the Philadelphia City Paper.) The newsletter highlights green economy initiatives by local businesses, universities, nonprofits, government agencies and individuals; it also features a calendar of relevant local conferences, meetings and cultural events. Glover hopes eventually to feature online videos showing Philadelphians performing environmentally beneficial work, as well as Flash animation that explains how the work is done.
Glover reports that J-Lab/New Voices’ support for the site has “conferred broader authority” on his overall project to “green” the Philadelphia economy. In addition to being asked to write for local publications, he was recently interviewed by Pacifica Radio and is frequently sought as a speaker by Philadelphia neighborhood and church groups. Also, Temple University has invited him to develop and teach a green jobs course. Glover says he plans to train students to research and post content to the GreenJobsPhilly.org site.
Glover eventually would like to publish a quarterly print edition of Green Jobs Philly, which he hopes would raise his venture’s profile and provide advertising income. He also plans to update the website - “make it look a little spiffier” and make the archives more easily accessible. In addition to articles in Spanish, he is seeking a translator to prepare Chinese-language articles for publication, and down the road he would like translations into Vietnamese, Korean and other languages.
Glover’s larger plan is to create a network of organizations that will work to green Philadelphia’s economy and change the dismal arithmetic of the city, which has double-digit dropout and illiteracy rates and tens of thousands of uninsured. He has a kind of citywide Works Progress Administration in mind, which he calls the Green Labor Administration, or GLAD.
Glover’s biggest challenge is finding the time to expand his venture. “If I were five people we’d meet much more of the city’s green networking needs,” he says. “I’m excited to find and report the accelerating volume and variety of initiatives here, but am too busy with daily work to quickly build the broader organization.” Calling himself “old school,” Glover says he is gradually learning the technology that will allow him to post multimedia news items to the website. He is also working with two grant writers to help him sustain the GreenJobsPhilly website and newsletter and to enable a second-year matching grant from J-Lab.
- Hope Keller, 2/24/09
All Things Green and Local
On Sept. 15, 2008, 3,706 residents, public officials, neighborhood organizers and environmentalists in Philadelphia received an e-mail announcing the launch of GreenJobsPhilly, a new website publishing news and promoting opportunity in the evolving local green economy. The site is a clearinghouse of everything green when it comes to jobs, services and grants sought and available on the local level.
Project director Paul Glover said he’s contacting businesses, nonprofits and government agencies, inviting them to post jobs on his site. Job seekers are also posting jobs wanted. The response has been very positive; the listings are free. Ten jobs have been posted; 31 job seekers have deposited their descriptions into the job bank. Glover said the presidential campaign and the economic downturn on Wall Street have given new attention to the green-collar jobs as a solution for both climate change and rising unemployment.
As of Oct. 16, GreenJobsPhilly had distributed four editions of its twice-monthly e-newsletter. Each edition includes comprehensive coverage of related legislation, book reviews, links to resources and research, job opportunities and more. Glover said people in the community are sending him event listings and other content, which he is editing and compiling in the newsletter.
The newsletter spotlights some of the green job seekers and quotes from their posts on the website. For example: “I love to help people make their flat roofs last longer and use less energy, while avoiding costly repairs. I specialize in small repairs, cool roof coatings, and vegetated roofs. I’m certified by two different companies in green roof installation, and have over two years of experience on flat roofs and nine years of construction experience.” Anyone need a roofer?
Glover is proud of one promotional gimmick he’s using to attract e-subscribers. Every e-mail in his database is assigned a number and on a monthly basis, he randomly picks a person to receive a $10 gift certificate donated by the Infusion Coffee Shop in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.
Glover, a longtime community organizer, isn’t relying on viral marketing to get the word out. He’s been pounding the pavement, speaking at schools, church groups, doing outreach at every environmental-themed community event. In early September, he joined over 200 businesses and groups at the GreenFestPhilly, an outdoor fair.
Glover said he’s still in the learning curve, as he manages new web publishing tools, databases and college interns. He’s reserved the right hand column of the home page for advertising, but hasn’t decided yet what to charge for it.
Cherie Snyder, Alternative Newspaper Facilitator, Citizens for a Secular Government
• Frostburg, MD
Citizens for a Secular Government
Frostburg, MD 21532
(301) 689-0195 E-mail Website Twitter
Civic group will create a bi-weekly online newspaper community for the rural community around Frostburg, Maryland, modeled on the National League of Cities’ Inclusive Community Program. Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland students and faculty will participate. The Appalachian Independent has launched its website: www.appindie.org.
AppIndie slowly becoming “highly valued and much needed”
AppIndie’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Google increases traffic
You know you’re having an impact as a budding community news organization when local town officials cite you as being “highly valued and much needed.” The Appalachian Independent earned these accolades this year for its coverage of events and news in Frostburg, Md., and nearby communities.
And it received a $10,000 grant for 2009-2010 from the Ottaway Foundation in New York for general operations and to boost participation by young people in the website.
The Appalachian Independent (AppIndie.org) has slowly been growing in the number of unique visitors and contributors. Project director Cherie Synder reports significant readership increases: Between January and July 2009, the number of unique visits has grown from 2,271 to 11,568, while the number of pages views more than doubled from just over 16,000 to 34,000. An important part of AppIndie’s strategy to reach new readers has been the creation of Facebook and Twitter accounts, and better use of SEO for Google. Currently the site has 12 Twitter followers, 76 Facebook friends, and has found that 33 percent of all traffic is now coming from Google.
The AppIndie news story with the biggest share of readership this quarter was a major fire May 26 at the old Prichard’s Hardware store in Frostburg. Dramatic photos that were posted for this story came from Frostburg resident Steve Sullivan, who lived just down the street from the buildings that were involved. His spectacular photos were shot after he grabbed his camera and ran to the scene in the middle of the night.
Other important stories included an 11-part series on “The Raging Controversy of the Allegany County Road Patrol,” which probed possible overtime pay irregularities, and “Deluge Devastates Saturday’s Delfest Festival,” which received more than 4,234 views of on-the-scene coverage and photos of a near-tornado that struck a local concert. There is also a new series on wild flowers, “Weed or Wonder,” written by Mary Spaulding. Kara Rogers Thomas has been covering the new Mountain City Traditional Arts Center in Frostburg.
Synder reports that the number of published articles has decreased, reflecting fewer submissions by core staff due to other work/family commitments (content is still primarily being generated by the core staff of 11). There are, however, steadily increasing numbers of articles submitted by readers, community members, local groups, such as the Frostburg Rotary and students at Allegany College of Maryland and Frostburg State University. In addition, an FSU journalism class intern who is assigned to AppIndie has been submitting articles throughout the spring semester. A total of 33 non-core staff contributors submitted articles that were published since March 1.
AppIndie has been steadily working to increase citizen journalist submissions and reader involvement. Craig Etchison and Kurt Hoffman have held three information and recruitment sessions in the community to encourage citizen involvement, but attendance has been low. The home page of the paper also now has a large icon - WANTED: CITIZEN JOURNALISTS! - that provides information on how to get involved. In addition, the site has a “comment button” after each story to encourage reader involvement.
But Synder says that recruiting more contributors and encourages readers to interact with stories on the site continue to be a challenge and the source of much discussion among the core staff. The staff is considering a number of ideas to boost the level of citizen dialogue and the number of contributors, including:
Obtaining a full time AmeriCorps volunteer (recruited from FSU or ACM) who would work to actively publicize the website and recruit citizen journalists from community groups and in the general community.
Issuing a call for applications from interested individuals to serve as “roving reporters” and identifying two or three who would serve in this capacity in return for a small stipend.
Recruiting an intern to work under the supervision of a core staff person and be responsible for doing outreach in the community, writing stories and recruiting citizen journalists, particularly students.
In the meantime, Synder says the site has made significant technological process. A comment button has been added to story pages and the website now has Twitter and Facebook accounts. The site has also purchased three new Flip video cameras for use by core staff and reporters, as well as Adobe CS4 software so that it can create and offer podcasts. AppIndie also received approval from J-Lab for a technical contract to redesign the site and develop a community page and calendar.
Sustainability has also been a primary focus for the past four months. Along with a donation button on the home page, AppIndie has sent out an e-mail letter to readers, members and supporters requesting donations towards their local match for the 2009/2010 J-Lab grant. Still pending are proposals that have been submitted to two other foundations The Snow Foundation and the local Community Trust Foundation.
Tell It on the Mountain
Unabashedly liberal and determined to rout citizen apathy, the Appalachian Independent - motto: “The Dialogue of Democracy” - seeks to create a virtual community in the mountainous region where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet. The area’s disparate towns and hamlets make difficult a physical sense of community, and its geographic and cultural isolation from urban areas limits a diversity of perspectives, AppIndie’s founders say.
Launched in September 2008 by a group of nine friends, neighbors and colleagues in Frostburg, Md., AppIndie takes as inspiration Abraham Lincoln’s dictum from the Gettysburg Address: “[G]overnment of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
The Appalachian Independent is staffed primarily by volunteers. Managing Editor Richard Kerns, Community Manager Kurt Hoffman, Technical Director/Webmaster Steve Robinett and Technical Intern Ben Strozykowski receive annual stipends that total $5,500. Business Manager Cherie Snyder is unpaid. Each member of the core staff is responsible for a particular area or bureau. (For a brief overview of the staff, click here.)
The Appalachian Independent strives to be a source of diverse perspectives and a new kind of news organization: “We hope to encourage critical consumers of the media and ‘independent’ thinking in our readers.”
Not least, AppIndie also aims to produce stories that celebrate and preserve Mountain Maryland’s unique heritage. “It’s a core part of what we’re doing,” says Cherie Snyder. “It’s a very poor community and Appalachian heritage is not particularly known or valued.”
An Oct. 30, 2008, story focused on a trip through Appalachia by a Frostburg State University professor and six students. Their intent was to survey the results of “mountaintop removal,” a controversial method of coal mining that does what it says: removes the peaks of mountains, the better to uncover seams of coal. In so doing it devastates communities and the environment.
Professor Kara Rogers Thomas vividly described the scene at the top of the decapitated mountain: “Surveying the ruin, we gathered around [local resident Sam Gilbert] as he gazed over the Mountaintop Removal project on Hale Gap, near Whitesburg [Ky.]. With tears welling up in his eyes, he told us how he’d grown up at the base of this mountain. It was here that he’d learned the ways of the woods. ... Mountaintop Removal is destroying more than the mountains; it is jeopardizing a way of life for a people who maintain a strong bond with the natural world.”
Encouraging citizen vigilance is an integral part of AppIndie’s mission. Helping create a “watchdog effect” - keeping citizens apprised of what their elected officials are up to - is one of the online newspaper’s core values, Snyder says.
Snyder, AppIndie’s business manager and a social worker trained in mind-body therapies, oversees the site’s Wellness section, which seeks to promote good health in a community rife with obesity and poverty. “We’re trying to build self-care skills [that] very much tie in with the concept of empowerment,” she says.
After much debate, the fledgling AppIndie staff chose Joomla!—a free, open-source product—as the paper’s content-management system. Though this saved money and was philosophically in tune with AppIndie’s mission as a grassroots news site, the learning curve has been steep. Not all members of the core staff are technically skilled, so logjams and frustration have been common.
Interactivity is still an issue: AppIndie’s overworked tech staff has yet to create a comment-response button to articles that would foster a writer-reader dialogue—a core part of the project’s mission. AppIndie is also still working to create an online community calendar. In addition, the tech staff is setting up AppIndie YouTube and Flickr accounts. Site users will be encouraged to submit video and still photos.
In addition, AppIndie’s staff would like to dramatically increase news reporting by citizen journalists; much of the site’s current content is commentary. “Although a great majority of stories remain generated by the core [staff], there is a nascent but encouraging trend toward ‘outside’ authorship,” AppIndie reports.
From early September 2008 to mid-January, 11 staff members and 33 contributors posted 239 articles on the AppIndie.org website.
The staff is also working to develop a short-term marketing program aimed at increasing awareness of the paper and readership. Considerable outreach has been done in the community, including AppIndie.org spots on local radio, displays at area events and venues and a large banner hung across Water Street in Frostburg.
Meanwhile, discussions are under way about using advertisements to generate revenue, with the goal of making the newspaper self-sufficient. Staff members also visited the New York office of the Foundation Center and identified several potential funding sources. Proposal summaries were submitted to three national foundations and phone contact was made with three others. AppIndie is working with two local colleges to request that the online newspaper serve as a project for a student team that would develop a marketing and/or business plan. For now, a student is conducting an online search for small social-action grants that would fund AppIndie projects to engage senior citizens, young people, minorities and other underserved populations.
The Appalachian Independent receives an average of 26.5 hits per day, with a total of 4,272 unique visits since the site was launched in September 2008. Almost 17,000 pages have been viewed, with an average of 3.9 pages viewed per visit. The site has 58 registered users.
The last Census cites Gunnison County, CO as 96% White, but this rural and remote area has changed. KBUT Community Radio has partnered with the Crested Butte News and Gunnison Country Times to explore the issues, impacts and history of immigration in the Gunnison Valley. Local immigrants as citizen journalists are recording personal diaries, interviews and blogs. Stories will broadcast on KBUT and kbut.org will have an audio archive and additional content including listener/user feedback. KBUT will share MP3 files of the broadcast pieces with Colorado’s 12 other community radio stations.
The last quarter of 2008 was a productive period for KBUT’s immigrant journalism project, despite turnover among the immigrant journalists and the radio station staff.
Since the last KBUT quarterly report in November 2008, three of the then-five immigrant participants dropped out to return to their native Mexico. The two that remained - Clara Valdes from Oaxaca, Mexico, and Marketa Zubkova from the Czech Republic - have been joined by Alejandra Gonzalez from Mexico City and Miguel Mansilla from Lima, Peru.
Kim Carroll Bosler, the project leader, recently left the station to take a job elsewhere. Staff producer Chad Reich succeeds her as project leader.
The radio station’s homepage at www.kbut.org includes information about the immigrant journalism project, including photos and biographies of the journalists, photos of the training sessions and archived audio. In one piece, Clara Valdes stops to interview a man on the street whom she overheard speaking Spanish while he shoveled snow. A mechanical engineer, Hugo Cisneros worked for Hewlett-Packard in Guadalajara, Mexico, for almost 20 years until his job was outsourced to Malaysia last summer. Seeking employment, he moved to a Colorado ski town that he had visited in better times. In fluent, nearly unaccented American English, Cisneros describes - without rancor - how he does building maintenance and shovels snow to make money to send home to his wife and two children. (He has since returned to Mexico after developing carpal tunnel syndrome, Bosler says.)
Asked what drew her to the KBUT program, Valdes says: “I am an immigrant and I meet many other immigrants [in her thrift store]. It’s very hard for us to have American friends. We go to work; we go home. We are ghosts. We are tools. We have no voice. I want the community to know my story - our stories.”
Bosler reports that the project’s four immigrant journalists took part in a daylong workshop at the KBUT studios. Also, six newspaper reporters from the local Gunnison Country Times and the Crested Butte News participated in a two-day workshop designed to shift their reporting skills from print to broadcast.
Both training sessions covered writing for the ear, using sound to tell a story, field production and reading on-air. Independent radio producer Adam Burke, a frequent contributor to National Public Radio, led both workshops. Burke’s intensive classes also included equipment training, audio examples of citizen journalists’ radio diaries and tips on how to gather sound and conduct successful interviews. Bosler reports that the newly trained print-to-radio journalists created content specific to the project and provided information for KBUT’s newsletter (www.kbut.org/media/pdfs/Red%20Newsletter%20Win%2008-09.pdf).
Burke’s work with the newspaper journalists paid off, Bosler says. “The daily news modules the reporters are submitting to the station have been much improved since the workshops,” she writes. “[The reporters] are no longer simply narrating a story that they wrote for the paper. Sound is increasingly driving the story, actualities are replacing quotes and the writing is crisp, efficient and focused in the present.”
While the new radio journalists’ material is available online, project leader Reich plans to edit and package the audio into a special series, the first installment of which is to air in summer 2009. It, and all future series, also will be archived online.
In addition, Reich hopes to amass material for short segments that could air on a regular basis.
- Hope Keller, 3/13/09
Opening the Door to Non-Citizen Journalists
Clara Valdes of Oaxaca, Mexico moved to Crested Butte, Colo. in order to provide her children with an American quality education. She did that. Her oldest daughter graduated from high school. Valdes is a hard-working woman; she runs a home-based day care and a thrift store. She’s also a community activist. Valdes pushed the local town council to donate a kitchen in a public building so that immigrants make and sell their native foods. Her next big thing? She’s going to be a citizen reporter for KBUT-FM’s New Voices project, “Immigration: The View From Here.”
“She does more before noon than most people do in an entire day,” said Kim Carroll Bosler, the project leader. “She’s activist-oriented; for her to have a chance to tell her story and have a voice is a motivator.”
KBUT has partnered with the Gunnison County Multicultural Resource Center to identify potential participants and contributors from the immigrant community. The center hosted the first meeting where about a dozen (mostly Mexican) men and women attended. “The response from the immigrants was very positive and enthusiastic,” said Bosler. “Four people have signed on to the project.”
“People want a chance to say, ‘We are coming here to work hard and take care of our families. We want the same things you do,’ ” said Bosler.
KBUT has struggled with the question of how to compensate its citizen journalists who may not be citizens at all. Instead of cutting checks, the station has decided to provide gift cards for local supermarkets and Wal-Mart.
Immigration: The View From Here also represents an historic collaboration between the three main media outlets in Gunnison County: the radio station, the Gunnison Country Times and the Crested Butte News. KBUT has committed six journalists to creating content for the project and each newspaper has offered three. “We’ve had the partnership with the two local newspaper for a year now, but this is the first time content is being pushed by KBUT,” said Bosler.
KBUT has hired an independent producer to provide training workshops in October and November. Print reporters will learn how to use recording equipment, write for the ear, use sound to tell a story, read copy on air, incorporate sound clips. Immigrant journalists will also learn how to use equipment, interviewing tips and the basics of blogging.
So far, the project has been challenged by staff turnover at both KBUT and one of the newspapers. As a result, the timeline has adjusted to meet the new reality. “We had hoped to use our local immigration stories to frame the national debate about immigration in time for the November 2008 election. We won’t be ready,” said Bosler. “We’ve realized that for this project, creating content starts with building relationships,” and that takes time.
VetVenue is a technology based information site for veterans that includes a blog, newsletter, website and webcasts. Veterans communicate daily with
each other on the blog and determine the subjects that are featured in the interactive monthly webcasts. The site has a primary focus on employment readiness and available jobs. Veterans share information about job openings, veterans’ discounts, and their employment needs. VetVenue is maintained by Fast Forward, a community technology center in Columbia, South Carolina.
A redesigned site, more content and a marketing campaign to help sustain their efforts are some of the newest developments at Fast Forward’s Vet Venue.org.
Giving veterans the tools to improve their lives is the mission of Fast Forward, a technology training center in the military community of Columbia, S.C. And Fast Forward’s site, Vet Venue.org, aims to provide veterans access to information, resources and support.
Since its last update in November 2008, Dee Albritton, the executive director of Fast Forward, said two new writers are contributing to Vet Venue.org. “Hope Furtado has joined us as a veteran correspondent. Furtado served in the Army and is going to begin conversations with veterans. We have also worked with a professional writer in Columbia, Rachel Haynie, who is contributing stories on some local veterans,” she said.
The work created by these writers, and others who contribute, will be live on the redesigned site that is scheduled to make its appearance during the summer of 2009. In the spring, the Vet Venue team worked with local veterans to see how they could improve the site to appeal to its target audience. Albritton said the redesign of the site will be based on feedback from focus groups of these veterans about their needs and what they would like to see on Vet Venue.
“We are most pleased with the ownership the veterans are beginning to take in the site, their interest in the changes and their participation in the new design.”
“We have been working to incorporate more graphics and easier access while maintaining our handicapped compliance,” said Albritton.
Fast Forward has formed a relationship with nearby Midlands Technical College to help with the maintenance of the site. And it’s also started a marketing campaign to sell banner ads on the new site. Albritton said Fast Forward has scheduled meetings with six companies as part of this campaign.
While traffic has been relatively slow - in June 2009 it was 386 site visits - Vet Venue has attracted an international audience, with traffic from 18 countries on five continents.
Countries with the highest page views, outside the US, were Israel, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and India; pages were viewed in 11 different languages; 66.84 percent were new visits to site (257); 32.9 percent of the visits lasted between two and 10 minutes; 53.37 percent were from referring sites; 36.27 percent were from direct traffic; and 10.36 percent of referrals came from search engines.
Albritton said more than 20 vets have attended job fairs that they found out about on Vet Venue.
With its new design and additional content, Albritton is optimistic about the future of Vet Venue.
“We are still very concerned about the number of veterans using the site, although the ones who are see a definite benefit. We are most pleased, however, with the ownership the veterans are beginning to take in the site, their interest in the changes and their participation in the new design.”
A New Venue for Vets
Giving veterans the tools to improve their lives is the mission of Fast Forward, a technology training center in the military community of Columbia, S.C. And now, the center has something new in its arsenal: A website that provides veterans access to information, resources and support.
As of October 2008, VetVenue.org has hosted two live audio Webcasts, mainly to find out from vets what they need from the site and what they most want to learn. The site’s blog has generated 415 visits, including posts about job openings in the region.
“We are really focusing on vets talking to vets right now. And we’re taking away some of the preconceptions about who vets are,” said Dee Albritton, the executive director and project leader. “They aren’t all 24-year-old men. They don’t all know how to use Skype. One of our vets, Laura, is 50, and she deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Simplicity and functionality weighed heavily in the design of the black-and-white site. “We are tech nerds here but we had to pare down the site to meet the needs of our clientele. Once they are not afraid of it, they will be more inclined to use it. We are facing the digital divide. We have some people in their late 20s who have never owned computer.”
Plus, Albritton said the site needed to be fully handicapped accessible. “We’re seeing a lot of vets with vision problems from TBI (traumatic brain injury) and they respond more to a simpler format.”
FastForward has hired a tech-savvy college student to manage the site in-house.
Albritton said the next big step for the site is to incorporate video. Her team has learned how to use closed captioning software to make those videos more accessible, too.
Promotion is also on the agenda. Albritton had the opportunity to talk the project up on a local radio showcalled “UNeed2Know” and in a keynote address she delivered at a recent Combined Federal Campaign/United Way event. She also said the new service is mentioned on a lot of military e-lists around the country.
“What happens with military - they stay in contact with each other,” says Albritton. “We are hopeful that [VetVenue.org] will market itself.” With five military bases within a 45-minute radius and a Veteran Affairs Hospital, the outreach possibilities are endless.
“I’m hopeful that people will begin using the site as a means of communication to share employment information. Finding employment, transitioning from military life into civilian life, developing a supportive community” are the key goals, Albritton said. “The news part is going to come later.”
A CUNY Graduate School of Journalism professor and students have launched a site that allows users to share information and tell stories about the financial, social and emotional impact of incarceration on lives. The site posts content from “columnists” from the affected communities and from graduate students. Even folks who stumble across the site and want to share their own stories of the impact of incarceration can share their stories by joining the community to post their own photos, videos and audio. The site is updated several times a week.
Family Life Behind Bars is a site designed to encourage people to share information and tell stories about the financial, social and emotional impact of the incarceration of family members on their lives.
The website’s community “is both geographical and one that shares a common experience regardless of geography,” says Sandeep Junnarkar, CUNY journalism professor and project director. “These are people who have a family member in prison.”
Yet while the site aims to be a place for people from across the country to talk about these issues, the reality is that “the community we tap is from NYC, usually Brooklyn and the Bronx.”
Our community “mostly does not have high speed Internet access at home.”
But it faces a not-totally-unheard-of problem for a community site trying to reach a group that is underserved by most other media. Many of the people Junnarkar and his student staff hope to reach don’t have high-speed Internet. Or any Internet at all.
So much of the summer was spent strategizing about how to bridge this digital divide, Junnarkar says.
“I am in the process of starting a new set of workshops this fall that will involve community members in creating content,” says Junnarkar. “I am trying to find older people who can dial in, using a telephone to leave a message, which can then be posted on our site.”
He says he has cultivated and worked with about eight community residents and hopes to turn them into regular contributors.
Currently, Family Life Behind Bars receives about 2,000 page views per month, with about 500 unique visitors per month.
Junnarkar says the site’s BlogTalk programming - a monthly web radio show that people can listen to over their phones or on the Internet - has been successful but in order for it to grow, some shoe-leather marketing will be needed. “We plan to hand out fliers to let people know about it rather than e-mail messages because the community does not have as much access to the Web.”
Family Life Behind Bars depends on interacting with the community it serves, but engaging people in those interactions isn’t always easy. The hardest thing has been to get people who find the site to leave comments and messages. The site often poses questions designed to encourage debate, but most people leave comments that avoid the question and instead write about how they liked the site. But again, some non-web ideas have helped the website.
“Nonetheless, our implementation of Skype voice message [visitors can use a regular phone to call a regular phone line] has resulted in several people calling in and leaving messages on our site,” he says. “This is yet another attempt to bridge the digital divide.”
Another growth pain has been interesting sponsors in supporting the site.
“Corporate sponsorship of this topic has been difficult because not too many companies want their brand associated with prison,” says Junnarkar. So he will try a new approach this year. This fall, he plans to work with business students at Baruch University to help train members of the community to do some hyperlocal ad sales.
- Tom Regan
Prison News 2.0
Family Life Behind Bars launched on Sept. 26, 2008 with a site that incorporates content from professional journalists and community collaborators. So far, three community columnists have been trained in video: Makeba Lavan, Davian Reynolds and Emani Davis. The goal is to get the work of one of them posted on the site each week.
Family Life Behind Bars is a news and social networking site for people whose lives have been affected by the incarceration of a family member. With more than two million Americans in prison, and many others with experience in the criminal justice system, this new site holds tremendous promise for capturing human stories and overcoming stigma.
Sandeep Junnarkar, the CUNY journalism professor who is shepherding the project, said most of his outreach has been to younger people, who seem especially interested in learning the tools of production.
“A lot of these young people have no one to guide them, so the training helps make them media literate and gives core skills that can be used for something positive. It resonates with them,” said Junnarkar. He added that he hopes to attract contributions from the diversity of people affected by imprisonment, such as a grandmother who has sons in prisons.
“As in any reporting project that involved communities who are stigmatized, I have had to build trust within the communities affected by incarceration of a family member,” said Junnarkar. He has attended meetings with the Osborne Association, which provides assistance to families of prisoners, and CASA NYC, which provides court-appointed special advocates for children in foster care.
From these connections, Junnarkar has gathered a team of columnists who will tell their own stories in their own words. He said they have provided helpful feedback on the project and recommended that the site aggregate news on prison issues from around the world which would be of great interest to that community.
“I’ve gotten e-mails from around the U.S., Reston, VA to Texas, inviting me to come do a workshop to teach people these tools,” said Junnarkar, with some surprise. “Because the U.S. has the biggest prison population in the world, this could become more of a national thing.” While chat forums exist for families of incarcerated people, Junnarkar’s project offers them journalistic training. “Once they finish a workshop, I give them a certificate.”
Family Life Behind Bars has also set up a ning, a social networking site. A month after launch, the ning has 16 members. Junnarkar is strategizing ways to boost that participation, and community involvement in general. He’s creating flyers for students and community columnists to hand out, inviting conversation, and has purchased a Skype phone number which will allow people to call in and leave voicemails about their lives and concerns. The professor’s work-study students have compiled a list of blogs on incarceration issue and are posting comments inviting conversation and links back to Family Life Behind Bars.
Junnarkar is thrilled with the tremendous interest from students at CUNY. He said 20 attended a meeting in September, which turned into a pitch session for multimedia stories for the site. Some CUNY faculty have agreed to allow their students to produce features for the site for class credit. Two graduate students working on their master’s degree capstones will also create content for the site.
Building relationships will be key to this project’s success. “I’m in the process of getting permission to go to Bedford Hills, a maximum security facility in New York that offers a college training program. It’s up to the warden to decide what kind of equipment we can bring in and which graduates of the program we can speak with,” said Junnarkar.
He said he is monitoring traffic on the site carefully and has noticed that the site is busier earlier in the week, so he’s rethinking his posting schedule.
As participatory and citizen journalism explode, lawsuits with sometimes scary damages claims are sparking anxiety.
If you’re running a citizen media site or contributing to one, these 10 rules will help you avoid potential legal piftalls. Get advice in videos from Harvard Berkman Center experts and Media Law Resource Center attorneys. The module was produced for the Knight Citizen News Network by Geanne Rosenberg, associate professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and Baruch College.
In conjunction with the module, Rosenberg has also created a Question & Answer blog to help those with concerns not covered by the module.
“Whether you’re a hyperlocal citizen journalist or someone practicing journalism of any sort, or a blogger of any sort or a publisher of any sort ... you need to know how to stay safe.” —Jeff Jarvis, Journalism Professor, CUNY