Monday, June 30, 2008

6/5: Briefing on Citizen Journalism

Some semi-random notes from our large-group morning session: Hey! That's the outfit sponsoring the web side of the South Dakota Horizons project! South Dakota's 21 sites in the project are among 150+ such "visioning projects" in the upper Plains. Our speaker says the project is having "mixed success."

One fun characterization of what community websites do: "Random Acts of Journalism."

Visualizing the news is a big deal.
  • offers a pothole map where readers can mark potholes. Visual and interactive!
  • Charticles: combine text, photos, and graphics. Print media love 'em; we can turbocharge them online.
  • J-Lab launched a "Fix Your Commute" project in Everett, Washington, that gave commuters a clickable map to give their input on traffic problems.
News games: combine fantasy football with your state legislature, let people bet on and trade bills before your House and Senate.

Food chain metaphor: perhaps citizen journalism is the plankton to the big media whales. I'd really rather not be the green gunk in anyone's baleen, but the metaphor does suggest a healthier metaphor, more of an ecosystemic partnership. The whales don't just eat us; they need us to thrive and be everywhere. An ocean with nothing but whales is a dead ocean.

Parajournalism: The Fort Myers News-Press (another Gannett paper with the same online template as the Sioux Fall Argus Leader) is trying out citizen writers. They called for applications, got 100, accepted 20, did a little training, and now have these volunteers going about getting stories for the online edition. We can see similar efforts at (Colorado) and (Chicago suburbs). Such efforts are "high-touch" (that term again!), requiring very active mentoring, editing, and support.

Former journalists are getting in the act, too: see the New Haven Independent and

Community Journalism Characteristics: Whoever's doing it, here are some characteristics you'll recognize among the citizen journalists:
  • Passion for community and strong sense of place.
  • Paying attention to their community.
  • Feel their community is underserved by other media.
  • Had journalism "done to them" at some point.
  • High ethics.
Citizen journalism and democracy: what a pair! We are good for democracy. The Knight Foundation attributes increased voter turnout to the efforts of The Forum in Deerfield, New Hampshire. One of their big features (which turned into a print edition) was a municipal election feature. The Forum founder Maureen Mann was also asked by her neighbors to run for legislature! (Mann won the special election last January. Wow -- public school teacher and online journalist in public office... could be a dangerous combo!)

Note also the abovementioned Everett commuter map project: 2500 people gave their input. You just can't get input like that at the typical public meeting. No one is saying get rid of public meetings, but online journalism and even government-sponsored outreach efforts offer more channels for gathering information on which citizens and officials can base their decisions.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

6/5: Richard Anderson,

Richard Anderson joins us for breakfast by Skype to tell us about his project,

Anderson says newspapers have to expand to become community hosts. To understand what he means, think of the difference between a lecture and a trade show and how differently you would organize each. If you were organizing a lecture, you'd get a big hall with a stage and lots of seats, a podium, a microphone, maybe some special lighting. Everything would be set up to focus attention on the presenters and separate them from the audience. If you were organizing a trade show, you'd arrange for lots of booths in a common hall, chairs more dispersed and arranged for numerous simultaneous small conversations and just plain resting between visits, maybe a few larger spaces set aside for feature presentations. You'd create a much more interactive, fluid space which exhibitors and visitors alike would customize—exhibitors with their various displays, visitors with their different patterns of movement and attention throughout the exhibit hall.

We can see the same distinctions between newspapers and real community websites. Newspapers follow the lecture model:
  • main speakers (the journalism staff)
  • passive listeners and underwriters (readers and sponsors),
  • fixed presentation stage (the printed paper).
Community websites (at least the juicy participatory ones we're trying to create) can follow the trade show model:
  • shifting roles: an exhibitor may take a break from her booth and walk around for an hour to learn from other exhibitors. A visitor may strike up a conversation with a vendor and find himself pitching his own business to the vendor. Likewise on the community website, you may go from a reader to a writer, a learner to a teacher, in a second. An advertiser may also jump into the conversation, or may just sit back and learn from the chatter among other readers about her services. Everyone is a partner, able to participate in a number of ways.
  • instant interaction: Q&A is not a separate time at the end or a limited space on page 3. Interaction is everywhere, all the time!
  • less control of message: the trade show creates a space where a lot of talk takes place that may not fit under the narrow definition of the show's mission but which serves as community glue. There are also a lot more people deciding what to talk about, and they may talk about everything, not just the highlights preferred by the editorial board or Chamber of Commerce.
To make a "virtual community expo" like this work, Anderson says you need to be an expert on your community while remaining a peer and partner. You have to be able to see the big picture, but you still stand in the place where you live.

Worried about that message-control thing? Don't be: remember that trade shows work even with competing products and services on display, even with some vendors talking smack about other vendors in the hall. We can compete and disagree and still thrive.

Anderson echoes Matt Thompson's comment yesterday: Attitude is more important than technology!

Some business nuts-and-bolts: Anderson finds a key to's success is letting businesses post whatever and whenever. He has 300 businesses that pay $19.95 a week (that's $1000 a year per biz!) for the privilege of posting items to front page BizOffers® column. Heck of a deal for instant interactive ads that no other medium can offer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

6/4 Evening: Patchwork Nation

So many sessions to choose from—there's no way I could capture it all. We closed the evening by breaking up into a bunch of small sessions. I attended one hosted by Dante Chinni, who talked about Patchwork Nation, the project he directs for the Christian Science Monitor.

Patchwork Nation is cool in numerous ways. The title comes from the map that shows every county in the U.S. defined as one of 11 community types. The main map shows each county as the one type it fits the most. For more detail, you can click on each community type and see just how much each type appears in the DNA of different places. For instance, you might see two counties listed as Evangelical Epicenters, but you might find that one is strong in that category and not in any others, while another county is only slightly higher in the EE category than in two or three other categories, suggesting more diversity in that latter community.

O.K., I could play with the demographics alone all night. For us bloggers, Patchwork Nation is not just a source of cool stats. The citizen-journalism side of the project is the bloggers CSM has recruited from each type of community across the nation. These bloggers give the local perspective on the 2008 Presidential campaign... the real local perspective, not just the perspective as perceived and filtered by the big-media journalist who parachutes in for a day or two, gets a few quotes, then writes her story on the plane back to New York City.

This project feels a little like the GIMBY stuff Ned Hodgman talked about Thursday (that's a separate post -- stay tuned!). CSM is focusing Patchwork Nation on the Presidential campaign, but it could so easily be tapped for following the impact of politics, economics, cultural events, you name it on diverse portions of the country, on local communities whose voices just aren't sampled by the media in any systematic fashion. This project is the kind of journalism that can assemble a lot fo small pictures into a better big picture than we usually get from the media. Very cool.

6/4 Evening: "Legacy Media"

I heard the term "legacy media" for the first time at this conference. Why am I always the last one to hear this stuff? A quick Google search pins the term's origins at least to 1998. This 2004 discussion treats the term as relatively new... but isn't everything we're doing new?

Computer folks refer to old hardware and software as "legacy systems," the old junk that folks still patch into the network, even though the original vendors stopped supporting it (or disappeared from the market) years ago. So legacy media would be the old media, the mainstream newspapers, radio, and television that used to dominate the market and now finds itself sharing mindspace with the new journalism of the Internet.

Legacy carries the loaded suggestion that the media so tagged are dead-end enterprises, on life-support, waiting to die. The term is thus more argumentative than descriptive: calling the Sioux Falls Argus Leader "legacy media" stakes out your advocacy of the argument that the mainstream media will die, or at least mutate into something unrecognizable. Any one of us could turn out to be legacy media. Blogs, wikis... how long until the kids with the next new idea start calling us legacy media to hasten our demise?

Suppose we finally kill off big media... yikes! No more New York Times for me to quote on my blog! Where would we get all the news that we talk about?

Don't worry: someone would go get those stories and make them available. We'd go back to some 19th-century-style correspondence... and we might still find the stories that interest us just as quickly, thanks to Google and the joys of search. We all can be storytellers; we all can contribute a little bit to the collective knowledge and make that little bit available to everyone.

A related note: Remember the Cray supercomputer? Now there's a legacy system I'd like to have in the basement. And they're still in business! Anyway, Arnie mentioned that the Cray supercomputer, once the fastest computer in the world, was replaced by a thousand PCs. You don't build one massive machine; you just wire a whole bunch of regular everyday machines together and get them working together. (The majority of the 500 fastest supercomputers today are computer clusters... and over 3/4 of those 500 supercomputers run Linux... open source software.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

6/4 evening: Building and Engaging Community... with Folklore?

Michelle again mentions folklore: fascinating word, and apt! Folklore is the stuff we tell each other, the stories that move through and fix themselves in the collective consciousness organically. Folklore reinforces community. If journalists hop online from the mainstream media but still turn to their same old Rolodex of sources, they may be failing to engage the community.

Online citizen journalism works differently. If it works within Michelle's folklore paradigm (and perhaps I overtag it as a paradigm -- what do you think?), our form of journalism finds its stories in what people are talking about before the media get to them. We tell our version of those stories, and then leave the door open for others to add to and remake those stories and tell their own stories on top of it all. That's the interactive community-building folklore that can happen online.

Now maybe my kind of blogging fits here too. At the Kiwanis meeting in Madison right before the conference, Charlie Stoneback said that my blog puts big stories in a local perspective that no one else gives. Who else talks about the farm bill or the presidential race or the cyclone in Burma in terms of Madison, South Dakota? Well, we do. My blog does. Folklore is about local events and mores, but it also reaches out to the stories of the larger world to put them in our own terms. Folklore isn't just local tales. It is the stories we tell to make sense of our world, the whole world.

6/4 Evening: Making Money

Matt Thompson: "payment may not always be monetary."
Definitely not what most folks in the room wanted to hear! But as Arnie commented to me, it's like health care: outcomes are measured in much more than money. You don't go to the doctor based on how much money his prescription or treatment will help you make; you go for your health. We don't blog just to make a million bucks (though don't let me stop you from making a donation!). We blog to contribute a valuable service to our communities: telling stories, building social capital, weaving a thicker social tapestry.

Blogging for profit may cause us to fall victim to the GDP Fallacy: making money doesn't mean we're succeeding. Think of your community blog like Cheers. Remember Sam? He didn't value that bar for the money he was making. He valued it for the people, the community. Of course, he wasn't running the bar as a charity; he had to pay the rent. But when Sam closed the show saying, "I'm the luckiest [s.o.b.] in the world," he wasn't thinking of his bank balance.

We do need to pay the bills, and a number of folks at JTM convened sessions on business models, insurance, and other pocketbook issues. Alas, I can't tell you much about them. I told myself I was going to this conference to learn how others have found ways to turn their online efforts into financially sustainable enterprises, but every time I saw such a discussion posted, I saw another session on Democracy 2.0 or government transparency, and I forgot all about business. Silly me—always putting the commonwealth ahead of financial wealth. ;-)

Paying the bills is nice. We can only do so much for free or for love. But even if we start breaking even or better, we always need to build social capital, not just the capital in our bank accounts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

6/4/ Circle: Notes Big and Small

In this big circle session, we did the usual introductions, plus an experiment in which we had to come up with a brief headline -- a "Twitter" -- to desccribe what we hoped to get from the conference. My headline: "Madville Times raids best minds in country, takes brilliant ideas home to make South Dakota smarter, freer, funner." Bit long for a headline, but maybe I can use that last part for my next (first!) book.

I described myself as geocentric, thinking geography, then realized the better word for my online efforts (and others) is topocentric, centered on place. All this talk about dispersed online communities is interesting, but it would make Wendell Berry nervous. Place, literal place, matters.

Olivia Ma from YouTube informs us that YouTube has created a new account labelled reporter.

Bob Cox from New York observes that four years ago, no one at the Journalism That Matters gathering was talking about making money. He sees here a sign that the community journalism scene is becoming more stable: we're figuring out what we want to do and now can spend time figuring out how to make a living from it.

Tish Grier of Placeblogger says we are the stewards of the communities we create.

Michelle Ferrier fires off a couple great comments:
  • her headline: "the nexus of folklore and the future." Folklore! The stories, the knowledge, the shared language and narrative that make our memory collective!
  • "social capital is the infrastructure that allows for democracy" -- placeblogging builds social capital! It builds connections along which democratic discourse and collaboration can flow.

6/4 Circle Discussion

Don't forget: the circle is the oldest form of human communication! The old hunter gatherers didn't sit in rows all facing the same direction. They spread out in a circle so everyone could look everyone else in the eye.

Some key concepts:
  • hi-tech, hi-touch journalism: we can put all these tech tools to work, but we also have to be deeply involved as people, giving our journalism a voice people can recognize and engaging with our fellow participants
  • Ready Fire Aim!: Just do it! Put your words out there, in rough-draft/you-draft form, let the story evolve collaboratively. This is conversation, not lecture: we don't go to parties with prepared written statements. We build our most important narratives on the fly.
  • media literacy: we've got to prepare kids for all this! Evaluating and engaging in participatory community journalism is very different from being a consumer of mass media.
    • [CAH] Now maybe this isn't as big a challenge as we think. We all grow up getting fairly good practice at reading conversations; maybe we just need a little more heads up now to apply our common-sense community interaction filters to this new media. Maybe it's just a matter of unlearning whatever we've learned about mass media literacy.
  • community is now often so big that you have to have technology to get the word out.
    • [CAH] If you're placeblogging someplace like Madison, SD, you'd think this wouldn't be a problem. You tell your neighbors over the fence and at the grocery store, they tell their friends, boom! Message disseminated.
    • But even here, media and community are fragmented. People commute to Sioux Falls and Brookings, work night shifts that keep them out of the loop, tune in different TV and radio, read different websites.
    • Even Madison can use a shared, asynchronous portal to serve as a little bit of community glue.

6/4/ small group: discussion

various comments:

  • "Build it and they will come" doesn't work! If you want to build an online community, you have to nurture your users, show appreciation
    • implications for DSU research: we can't just adopt some system and say to the organization, "O.K., everybody, start blogging!" We need someone at the tiller, helping to establish the culture of the online community: expectations, rules, boundaries, etc.
  • Journalism should evoke interaction (again, we are participants, and we want everybody else to participate!)
  • Citizen journalism is here to tell the stories the papers don't.
    • This isn't just beating the corporations and power-peddlers; this is telling about the debate team, the visits, the human things that maybe don't make the cut for the paper but which build community, which give different groups a sense of belonging.

6/4 small group: Chris Naff on Coaching, Changing the World

Chris Naff, HumanKind Media
  • "media for the global citizen" reads her logo
    • [CAH] interesting slogan to put in the context of a conference on placeblogging.
    • [CAH] Can we be "hyperlocal" and "global" citizens at the same time?
    • [CAH] Can we establish a sense of community with all these people we connect with online and with the people we see at the grocery store every day?
    • [CAH] Will local community and dispersed community have the same qualities?
  • Chris wants to change the world [my kind of goal!]
  • Go beyond the crime and violence; do stories about people making positive change.
  • Community participants needs lots of coaching

6/4 small group chat: Michelle Ferrier

Michelle Ferrier, Ph.D., proprietor/managing editor,, Daytona Beach, FL:
  • Community calendar is the "gateway drug" on it's the easiest feature for new users to use, introduces them to putting content online, inclines them to go further.
  • Photos are usually the next thing users start posting [everybody loves pictures!]
  • Stories are the hardest to get from participants [remember what Mary Turck said about how skittish people are about getting negative feedback from their writing?]
  • 75% of the MytopiaCafe audience is women. The community is much more social and inviting than the forums on the associated/sponsoring newspaper site, where you get the typical hot-air insult contests [just like the KELO and Sioux Falls paper fora]

Monday, June 9, 2008

6/4 Opening: Mary Turck, Building Community

Speaker: Mary Turck, editor, Twin Cities Daily Planet
Topic: Citizen journalism, building community
  • Agrees with Matt that the challenge is motivate people to create content.
  • Citizen journalists are deterred by criticism, negative feedback, catching heck from subjects of articles. [CAH: Think about how nervous kids are about writing reports for class, how sensitive they can be to criticism from profs. For most people, that's the last formal writing experience they had. Now you want them to write out loud, for public consumption? Uff da!]
  • Getting people to participate takes work: mentoring, editing, encouragement, writers workshops. [Think of it as gardening!]
  • Tech is a challenge: gotta fight spam, keep image files small [folks dump huge photos on community sites, don't think to shrink the file, maybe don't even know what huge resolution their cameras are operating at].
  • Financing is a challenge, too!

6/4 Opening: Matt Thompson on Citizen Journalism

Speaker: Matt Thomspon, deputy Web editor, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Topic: Citizen Journalism

  • The strength of a citizen journalism site is not its features. Add all the multimedia whizbangery you want, but the real driver of an active, vibrant online community is deeply invested individuals.
  • Communities coalesce around individuals.
  • Citizen journalism usually takes place in a geographical context, but you can find some overlap with how dispersed online communities evolve and function.
  • In journalism, perhaps the citizen/professional distinction is less useful than the individual/institutional distinction.
  • "How do we motivate consumers?" may be the wrong question. If Margaret is right about our desire to create, and if Matt is right about the importance of deeply invested individuals, then it may be just as important for those of us who would start an online community to ask, "How do we motivate creators?"

6/4 Opening Session: Margaret Duffy, Media Research

Presenter: Margaret Duffy, University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Topic: "Citizens at the Gates: A Research Briefing"

  • A surprising finding: Blogs are not as participatory as we might think. Content analysis shows that news sites allow more user uploads and submissions than blogs.
  • Still, traditional newsroom folks just don't get what customers want (be careful with that word!).
  • Massive media fragmentation since 1975 really messes up the traditional advertising model.
  • People want to create media (we want to be not just consumers, but producers, participants in the media game!) Fewer people feel the need to read/watch/listen to daily news; generally, the younger the subject, the less interest he/she has in daily news.
  • RSS, iPod, TiVo -- people want what they want when they want it. They want customized pieces, not whole programs.
  • Word of the day: aperture -- the idea that readers/viewers/users have different goals at different times of the day (and week, and arguably month and year). TV stations and advertisers know this: they put small news bites on weekday mornings, stockyard reports at lunch, entertainment in the evening, longer news programs Sunday morning.
  • Four main needs our users seek to fulfill: connection, information, entertainment, and shopping!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Journalism That Matters -- Minnesota Gathering, June 4-6, 2008

This blog archives my notes and observations from the Journalism That Matters Minnesota gathering, held at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus June 4-6, 2008. I took notes on paper during the conference; here I will transcribe those notes with additional observations and links. I will also offer some reflections on the discussions I had the pleasure of participating in, as well as some thoughts that have struck me now that I've gotten back to the prairie and had time to process in the peace and quiet of my home prairie.

I was one of 107 participants from around the country. I was the only South Dakota blogger there -- go figure! (The closest SD connection I could find: Kate Myers, who just graduated from Luther, said she lived in South Dakota while her dad interned at McKennan.) No pictures, alas -- I need to start packing a camera, since, as Griff said, pictures are a must.

But pictures or no, here we go!

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