Sunday, February 12, 2012

A salute to MyMissourian

Clyde Bentley, a friend and professor at Missouri who was the guiding force behind one of the earliest citizen-journalism sites, MyMissourian, announced this week that the site was shutting down. Its content will be folded into the regular Missourian's From Readers section.

It's worth taking a moment not to mourn the passing, but to celebrate all it has represented and all the changes that have have come along in eight years so that, for the most part, we really don't debate anymore whether readers should have an extensive place at the journalism table - both as consumers and as producers of information.

True, there are still those moments of agonizing, but they are becoming rarer as everything from the Patches of the world to the Oakland Locals to the West Seattle Blogs to your city's and town's traditional media sites to about every place in between is taking advantage of people's ability to effortlessly share information.

As one of the original J-lab grantees, we followed not too far behind MyMissiourian with Hartsville Today, an experiment to see whether smaller papers could take advantage of community contributions at a time when most of the attention was focused on major metro areas. It was to be a two-way experiment, giving a twice-weekly a chance to also reach its community more often and strengthen its readership ties.

That site limps along, primarily because of a few dedicated people at the Messenger, as Media General gropes its way to wherever it will end up being. But we also learned a lot and wrote the first "cookbook" (PDF) for starting and running such a site.

But it was Bentley and his graduate students who led the way, not only probing many of the intricacies and, in those days, new and tough questions, but also producing valuable research from the effort.

So while MyMissourian will be another nameplate in history, it won't be forgotten, along with sites like Oh My News (which, unfortunately, has become a cesspool of malware on its English URL) and Northwest Voice, when we look back and assess this turbulent era. For that, we should all say thanks.

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