Saturday, April 10, 2010

J-lab/New Voices: Thoughts from the front lines

As mentioned in previous post, am at a New Voices meeting in D.C. where we are reviewing five years of experience with these funded local/citizen journalism/community news sites.

Ours, Hartsville Today, was one of the original 2005 grantees, and, after a recent crash that wiped it out, is slowly being reborn.

Some things that struck me from the first session:
  • People often think these sites are, as one speaker put it, "a real newspaper and expected us to send reporters." It takes a lot of education to get around this. For our part, after talking to people in the community before launch, they clearly told us we were the "J"ournalists. They didn't want to be, but they felt they had a role in filling in the cracks and extending the local twice-weekly's coverage. That's why we have tended to use the term "community storytellers."
  • It's critical to figure out who your audience is (so "old" media, isn't it?).
  • "Just keep going" if you are convinced you are providing a service.
  • People love the police blotter. Tracking shows they read items on it three or four times (Susie Pedner, NewCastleNow).
  • Save as much money as you can to pay writers (in our grant we built that in as an expense)
  • Use things like Spot.us to extend your ability to fund writers (especially with Spot.us now expanding) - Susan Mernit, Oakland Local.
  • "Facebook is the AOL of Today" - Mernit. Lots of people hang out here and Oakland Local gets lots of referrals this way. (Note: I agree with her. I think I've mentioned here that I now get more comments on this blog's feed fed into FB than I do on the blog itself.)
Mary Lou Fulton, the force behind one of the original local news sites, Northwest Voice (now Bakersfield Voice) and now with The California Endowment, says more foundations are looking at funding media and the key is aligning with their areas of interest.

Several people talked about how to engage community - send out postcards, use business cards, make sure your contributors know their stuff is being read. (We found the business cards and a couple of relatively inexpensive banners - total about $150 - made at a local print shop were useful.)

And from Clodah Rule, Cambridge Community TV: You can train people to use the technology, but you can't train them how to be invested in the community. So find those invested and work with them. Amen - exactly what we found with HVTD.

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