News Chops: Beefing up the Journalism in Local Public Broadcasting

Publication Date:

July 8, 2013

Authors:

Jan Schaffer

Formats Available:

hard copy, pdf (available soon!)

What people are saying

"Nicely done. This will get some important attention."

— Mike Marcotte

What people are saying

""One of, if not the best, treatment I've seen of what we are trying to accomplish here.""

— Doug Price President & CEO, Rocky Mountain PBS

News Chops: Beefing up the Journalism in Local Public Broadcasting

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Now available as a PDF >>

Unfettered by competitive pressures and fortified by trust in their brand, public broadcasters are finding new ways to engage in more local journalism, especially more investigative and enterprise journalism, than ever before.

From unprecedented mergers to unique partnerships, from shared workspace to shared reporters, creative approaches are positioning public radio and television stations to step up to new roles in their local news ecosystems. In the process, some are becoming critical linchpins for state and metro-wide news networks. 

J-Lab at American University examined various efforts, large and small, through nine case studies in its new report, News Chops: Beefing up the Journalism in Local Public Broadcasting. The report was funded by the Wyncote Foundation, with additional support from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Profiled are the creation of statewide news cooperatives in Oregon and Connecticut and New Jersey, building newsrooms from scratch in Denver and New Orleans, merging two existing newsrooms in St. Louis, and adding reporting firepower in San Diego, Salt Lake City, and the rural Blue Ridge Mountains region of western North Carolina.

Recent Publications

Table of Contents

Overview

Mergers

  • Denver: Jumpstarting a Newsroom from Scratch
  • St. Louis: Merging Two Major Newsrooms

Networks

Content

Acknowledgements


News Chops in the Media

Partnerships between public broadcasters and news startups are filling holes in local coverage
- Poynter (July 8, 2013)

With a coming void in Oregon’s news ecosystem, public broadcasting’s trying to build a new kind of state wire
- Nieman Lab (July 8, 2013)

In St. Louis, two news organizations are navigating the tricky path to a merger
- Nieman Lab (July 9, 2013)

In New Jersey, a university teams up with local news orgs to collaborate for impact
- Nieman Lab (July 10, 2013)

In New Orleans, public radio, local startups, and more are teaming up for the news
- Nieman Lab (July 11, 2013)

Public Media Join Non-Profit Startups to Collaborate, Fill Local News Gap
- PBS MediaShift (July 11, 2013)

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J-Lab

Networked Journalism: What Works

Lessons from Nine Collaborative Journalism Projects

Publication Date:

November 27, 2012

Authors:

Jan Schaffer

Formats Available:

hard copy, online and pdf

What people are saying

"...an excellent, must-read study..."

— Alan Mutter, Newsosaur

What people are saying

"Paradigm-changing"

— David Boardman, The Seattle Times

What people are saying

"Transformative"

— David Shribman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Networked Journalism: What Works

Read the Report > >

Three years ago, eight legacy newspapers and one public radio station were invited to partner with at least five independent news efforts in their community for at least a year. Now the results - and lessons learned - are in. The nine hub newsrooms grew their networks from 44 partners to 169. Final score: five wins, two hits, two losses. The project was funded by the Knight Foundation.

"I was enthusiastic about this, but I had no idea of how transformative this would be for us," said David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which launched the Pipeline site to cover fracking. "It changed the center of gravity for our whole organization."

Said Seattle Times Editor David Boardman, "I think this program . . . has been hugely, hugely paradigm-changing for our newsroom and for me, individually.”

Bottom line: At its height, the nine hub newsrooms had grown their networks from 44 partners to 169; 146 partners are still participating.

We've learned, however, that all networks are iterative: Partners come and they go. Some divorce the network, some die in an emerging news ecosystem that is still quite fragile. Indeed, only two of the projects still have the identical partners they launched with.

The overall score: Five wins, two hits and two losses.

Two key takeaways: Content sharing overall can be a win-win for both legacy newsrooms and indie start-ups. Revenue sharing, however, is still a nut to be cracked.

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Recent Publications

J-Lab

Engaging Audiences: Measuring Interactions, Engagement and Conversions

Publication Date:

May 30, 2012

Authors:

Jan Schaffer and Erin Polgreen

Formats Available:

pdf

What people are saying

"“We feel these numbers only give us part of the information we need. We’re interested not just in breadth of engagement but more in depth of engagement.”"

— — Survey Respondent

Engaging Audiences: Measuring Interactions, Engagement and Conversions

The rise of social media tools in recent years has empowered online news startups to increase content distribution, market their sites and track users. But most say they cannot lasso data to track whether they are turning users into supporters who will help their sites survive.

According to a national survey on audience engagement, nearly eight in 10 online survey respondents said they could not measure whether their engagement strategies were also converting readers into advertisers, donors, content contributors or volunteers.

“Such an effort is beyond our capacity,” said one respondent. “We need help,” said another.

These are among key findings of a new survey, funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, focusing on how “digital-first” news sites are engaging their audiences and measuring that engagement.

Recent Publications

J-Lab

Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards

A Report on the First Year

Publication Date:

December 15, 2011

Authors:

Jan Schaffer

What people are saying

"We were interested in what happened if enterprising news organizations had resources to focus on under-reported topics. The results have been outstanding."

— Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO, William Penn Foundation

What people are saying

"Most of all, we learned that a new generation of public-interest journalism is being hatched in new venues. "

— Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO, William Penn Foundation

What people are saying

"There was collaboration and stories that normally would not get done, did get done."

— Tom Ferrick, founder, Metropolis

Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards

Read the Report > >

This report tracks the progress of an experiment J-Lab designed to see if there were ways to incentivize media collaborations and amplify, beyond narrow silos, the journalism being created by emerging news sites in the nation's sixth largest city.

Philadelphia has a vibrant media landscape consisting of niche reporting sites, legacy newspapers and an active community of creative technologists. In 2009, the William Penn Foundation commissioned J-Lab to explore the city's media ecosystem with a focus on the state of public affairs reporting. You can read that April 2010 report here.

One of the recommendations was to incentivize with $5,000 enterprise reporting awards several discrete, in-depth journalism projects that required news creators to collaborate. J-Lab issued a competitive request for proposals and announced the winners in October 2010.

This report details the outcome of that experiment. By any measure, they were a home run and they offer a replicable model others can employ to jumpstart good public affairs coverage.

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J-Lab

Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism

Publication Date:

July 20, 2011

Authors:

Scott Rosenberg, Jan Schaffer (editor) and Andrew Pergam (editor)

What people are saying

"...Offers encouraging and reassuring signs that as the torch of local journalism is being passed, the flame of at least ethical aspiration remains strong."

— Ed Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics, Washington

What people are saying

"The first consideration of the contributors is always: What impact will my decision have on the community? ... There’s no “them” and “us” in the new newsroom."

— Tom Grubisich, Street Fight magazine

Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism

Foreword

When I commissioned "Rules of the Road," I knew that entrepreneurial news startups were confronting entirely new ethical dilemmas.  Our grantees emailed thorny questions, our panelists chronicled hard decisions, and we watched as site founders tiptoed through difficult decisions involving sustainability, privacy and participation.

The truth is, standard journalistic Codes of Ethics don't adequately address some of the challenges news startups are facing as they work in communities comprised of readers, donors, advertisers and competitors. You'll see nothing in this booklet, for instance, about plagiarism, staging news events, or Photoshopping images.

Instead, ethical judgments are arising serendipitously, generally informed by an ethos to do less harm. These "Rules of the Road" are very much a work in progress, shaped by a news landscape in which:

  • The threshold for news is lower.  Misdemeanors, not just felonies, constitute news.
  • Stories unravel in real time. Editors post updates as they come in rather than wait for a fully baked story.
  • "Google juice" makes micro news have a macro afterlife.
  • Ethical decisions are as open to community feedback as the stories themselves.
  • Attachment to the community is valued more than dispassionate detachment.

The good news is that the internal compasses of new site founders are working well. There is a notable lack of arrogance. Indeed, many site founders actually draw more stringent rules for behavior than traditional news organizations do. Many, for instance, insist on moderating comments before publication rather than allow any uncivil discourse to pepper their sites.  All wrestle with competitive pressures over police-blotter reports, fully knowing that an arrest does not a conviction make.

Site editors interviewed have generously shared early mistakes that informed later policies.

Scott Rosenberg did an excellent job of distilling key takeaways. But they are not hard and fast rules. They are intended to help startup news sites chart a responsible course.  We invite you to participate in the conversation. On every page you can add your problem and solution.

We especially thank the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, which made this guide possible.

Jan Schaffer
J-Lab Executive Director

 

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Recent Publications

J-Lab

New Voices: What Works

Publication Date:

October 8, 2010

Authors:

Jan Schaffer

What people are saying

"We're not a fan of the many breathless reports and studies on hyperlocal these days, but this one is based in reality and worth the time to read. "

— Cory Bergman

What people are saying

"This is absolutely wonderful! You’ve done it again, and your good insights will help guide our next steps for our own local initiatives at NewsTrust."

— Fabrice Florin

What people are saying

"A masterful analysis of how to run a grassroots news site"

— Alan Mutter, Newsosaur

New Voices: What Works

Through 2010, J-Lab's 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 report 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.

Read the report.

Recent Publications

J-Lab

Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia

Publication Date:

April 19, 2010

Authors:

Jan Schaffer

What people are saying

"This may be the brave new world of American journalism"

— Gene Gibbons, former executive editor, Stateline.org

Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia

In the nation’s sixth largest city, a vibrant media landscape exists with niche reporting sites, legacy newspapers and an active community of creative technologists.  But there is also a notable decline in public affairs reporting and little collaboration between these media entities.

The William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia commissioned J-Lab to conduct this study of the city’s media landscape and the state of public affairs reporting and make recommendations for a possible media investment strategy. 

While this represents a new direction for the foundation's funding, communications director Brent Thompson says, "We're beginning to approach journalism as something important in and of itself rather than as just an extension of our policy goals."

This report details J-Lab’s key findings and recommendations.

See the foundation’s plan for its next steps here. Track the progress on its blog here.
 

Contents:

Overview
- Key Findings in Brief
- Key Recommendations in Brief

A Scan of the Media Ecosystem
- Content Analysis: Mainstream Media Coverage of Public Affairs
- The City and Its Emerging Media Ecosystem
- Mapping Philadelphia’s Media Assets
     Asset I: Blogs and Niche Websites
     Asset II: WHYY
     Asset III: Data Gatherers
     Asset IV: Creative Technologists
     Asset V: Indy Hall
     Asset VI: Temple University’s Journalism Program

Full Recommendation: A Networked Journalism Collaborative
- Tasks for a Central Website
- Tasks for Networked Journalism Collaborators
- Baselines for Success
- Additional Recommendations

Conclusion

Acknowledgments


Overview

Philadelphia is a city with enormous talents and assets that need to be better leveraged to achieve a well-informed electorate, an accountable leadership and a robust sense of place - importantly, a sense of place that acknowledges the New Philadelphia while attending to the Old.

The city’s mainstream newspapers are steeped in a journalism of the 1970’s and 1980’s - even as they acknowledge they cannot do as much as they once did with only half the staff they used to have.

Many of the city’s new media players, meanwhile, have come to understand what they can do. They are launching public policy and niche websites with a gritty entrepreneurship and considerable personal investment. Some are refugees of the city’s traditional or alternative media. Others know the doors of The Inquirer or the Daily News will never be open to them so they are inventing their own futures. A few have thought about creating a citywide public affairs news site.

Philadelphia is home to an extremely collaborative creative-technology community that is well connected and organized. This community, with a forward-thinking anchor in Indy Hall, embraces a mindset that they don’t need anyone’s permission to do what they want to do - and anyone is welcome to participate if they abide by their collaborative values.

And then there are the ordinary citizens and every-day news consumers.  For them, Philadelphia’s Golden Era of Journalism is long past. They are weary of the newspapers’ drama of survival and express pronounced antipathy at what remains - even as they credit the city’s two major papers with undertaking some excellent, albeit episodic, enterprise journalism.

Between late June and late October 2009, J-Lab conducted more than 60 interviews of Philadelphia residents, performed content analyses of the city’s two daily newspapers and four commercial television stations, and undertook a scan of the city’s 260 blogs, and hyperlocal or niche websites.

These key themes emerged in a four-month study of the problems and possibilities in the news infrastructure of the nation’s sixth largest city. This study, commissioned by the William Penn Foundation, set out to understand gaps in public affairs reporting, map assets, explore opportunities and make recommendations for a possible philanthropic media investment strategy.

Between late June and late October 2009, J-Lab conducted more than 60 interviews of Philadelphia residents, performed content analyses of the city’s two daily newspapers and four commercial television stations, and undertook a scan of the city’s 260 blogs, and hyperlocal or niche websites. We have found about 60 blogs and websites that have some journalistic DNA.  More have launched since the summer. On January 7, 2010, we invited more than 50 representatives of the city’s legacy and new-media outlets and foundations to hear a report on initial findings and recommendations. Input from that meeting is included in this report.
 

Key Findings in Brief

  •     The available news about Philadelphia public affairs issues has dramatically diminished over the last three years by many measures: news hole, air time, story count, key word measurements.
  •         People in Philadelphia want more public affairs news than they are now able to get.
  •         They don’t think their daily newspapers are as good as the newspapers used to be.
  •         They want news that is more connected to their city.
  •         People from both the Old Philadelphia, anchored by the city’s union and blue-collar workers, and the New Philadelphia, representing tech-savvy, up-and-coming neighborhoods, want to be involved in helping to generate that news.
  •         The city is awash in media and technological assets that can pioneer a new Golden Era of Journalism.
  •         There is strong, but guarded, interest in exploring a collaborative journalism venture.
  •         A significant number of Philadelphia’s new media outlets have expressed interest in pursuing a collaborative media initiative.
  •         Any collaborative news effort must validate and support the fiercely independent mindsets of the city’s new media makers.

Key Recommendations in Brief:

We recommend that this collaborative be anchored by an independent news website that would both curate and aggregate some of the excellent reporting originating in many of the city’s new media sites as well as provide original reporting on a half-dozen key topics and serve as the connective tissue for the partners.

We suggest that the media ecosystem in Philadelphia is ripe for an innovative Networked Journalism Collaborative that would give citizens of Philadelphia a fresh opportunity to learn about - and participate in - what is going on in the city.

We recommend that this collaborative be anchored by an independent news website that would both curate and aggregate some of the excellent reporting originating in many of the city’s new media sites as well as provide original reporting on a half-dozen key topics and serve as the connective tissue for the partners.

This should be a supplemental, rather than comprehensive, news enterprise. It should not try to cover everything the city’s daily newspapers do.  A new website should focus, initially, on Philadelphia government, politics, the local economy, and what it means to live in Philadelphia, supplemented by news from existing and emerging websites. The goal of the collaborative is to add new voices and amplify coverage of public issues, providing smart, interactive news and information that will add value and understanding for the region’s residents. The collaborative needs to set aside competition and leverage existing news and information producers in the region, giving a megaphone to their valuable information so all Philadelphians can learn about important issues.

And it should invite broad participation from throughout the community - via creative technologists, expert columnists, subsidized office space and pro bono marketing, legal and business advice. Such partnerships will help generate buzz and build a genuine sense of community ownership.

The collaborative should seek to involve the city’s younger residents, not just in consuming the news, but also in creating new forms of participatory and interactive forms of journalism.

As important, the collaborative should seek to involve the city’s younger residents, not just in consuming the news, but also in creating new forms of participatory and interactive forms of journalism. We believe that in partnering new media makers with creative technologists, a Networked Journalism collaborative will serve as a unique and important laboratory, engaging in nimble experiments that will chart a course for the future of news in metro areas around the country.

This future must focus on the needs of the community more than on the needs of particular corporate entities.  We believe it can usher in a new Golden Era of innovative, public affairs journalism in Philadelphia.

How this is Different from Philadelphia’s Legacy News Outlets

  •         A new independent public affairs news site would have a sharply defined focus on only six to eight issues to start.
  •         It would shoulder the tasks of building and maintaining relationships among, and support systems for, the collaborators.
  •         A collaborative would build on existing content from responsible media makers rather than replicating stories or competing with them.
  •         It would amplify excellent coverage, driving new eyeballs to existing sites.
  •         It would be open to experimentation, pilot projects and new applications.
  •         It would expand the definition of interactivity beyond just posting comments and video and involve users in working with choices, consequences, options and solutions.
  •         It would have a higher comfort level in building community, not just covering it.
  •         It won’t have all the answers; the partners must play a role in inventing how a collaboration would best work.

In the following sections, we offer highlights from our interviews and content analysis, and we sketch the shape of the city’s evolving media ecosystem.

A Scan of the Media Ecosystem

The Newspapers: Interview Highlights

Simply put, people in Philadelphia are mad at the city’s dailies and most of their anger homes in on The Inquirer - even as they credit the paper with occasional good enterprise reporting on such topics as the Board of Revision of Taxes, Vince Fumo, and “Bonusgate.”

Throughout our interviews, Philadelphians asserted that news coverage in the daily papers is superficial, follow-ups are missing, and stories are often days late.

Throughout our interviews, Philadelphians asserted that news coverage in the daily papers is superficial, follow-ups are missing, and stories are often days late. They say reporters want stories they can “turn” quickly. And they feel the papers “don’t have a pulse on [Mayor] Nutter.” For those in the know, the issues they hear talked about around town are not reflected in the papers, contributing to a pronounced sense that the daily newspapers are not well connected to the daily goings on. (Some of the observations were quite harsh so here we focus on key threads of their input. We also have elected not to attribute all the quotes by name in the interest of safeguarding good will in the community.)

“There are fewer and fewer stories presented to me that I want to read,” said the chief executive of a local tech company.

People, again and again, recount specific stories that were missed. And they point to a lack of urgency that is reflected in the quality and comprehensiveness of the reporting. “If I get a call at 2 p.m. to comment on a story and I call back at 6 p.m., the quote is not in the paper the next day,” observed one non-profit official. “It used to be that if I left a voicemail, they’d call back at 10 p.m. That was The Inquirer ethic.”

One communication scholar yearned for “cheap, easy aggregating by someone. We need the ‘finders.’ ”

The Inquirer, in particular, is criticized for not reflecting the city’s significant minority population. A local journalism educator sees a paper run by “middle-aged white guys who did journalism 30 years ago and think that’s the gold standard.”

The Daily News engenders more fondness among city residents for being quicker off the mark. However, more than one-third of its coverage of public affairs issues comes from columnists, not reporters, according to our content analysis below.

The Philly.com website was taken to task in our interviews for trying to drive traffic with sports, entertainment and sex and for not originating much content, just packaging it.

The site is hobbled by efforts to maintain three separate brands - for The Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com, a situation that doesn’t seem to make any of the partners happy. “We don’t feel it expresses our journalistic values at all,” said a top Inquirer editor. “We want more of our content on it.”

The Inquirer now has about 280 reporters and editors, less than half the 600 it had earlier this decade. Bureaus have been cut. Circulation is down to about 300,000 on weekdays and just over a half-million on Sundays. The so-called Neighbors editions that covered suburban counties have ended. An auction to determine ownership of the media company is in legal limbo.

Still, top editors view the paper as the “only game in town.” They express a limited awareness of the city’s emerging media ecosystem.

At the same time, Mayor Nutter’s press secretary describes how his media list has grown from about 40 to 700 in the last two years as more residents and websites seek news directly from City Hall.

Although many other metro newspapers around the country are collaborating with independent online news outlets in their cities and states, Inquirer editors voice a limited view of such partnerships, especially if they don’t think the partners are “as good as us.”

Although many other metro newspapers around the country are collaborating with independent online news outlets in their cities and states, Inquirer editors voice a limited view of such partnerships, especially if they don’t think the partners are “as good as us.”

The Daily News, however, has exhibited a higher comfort level with collaborations, especially involving City Hall news. They include the “It’s Our Money” and “City Howl” projects spearheaded by the paper’s editorial page and the highly successful TheNextMayor.com project, which preceded the 2007 election and demonstrated the benefit of collaboration between the newspaper, WHYY and the Committee of Seventy. The William Penn Foundation funded all of these initiatives.
 

Content Analysis: Mainstream Media Coverage of Public Affairs

It is not surprising that with fewer reporters on the street, both the number of stories and the space and airtime devoted to public affairs reporting has suffered in both daily newspapers and on commercial television newscasts over the last three years. Here is a recap of our findings.

Coverage was marked by fewer stories and fewer column inches in The Philadelphia Inquirer and by fewer stories, albeit more column inches, in the Daily News. Public affairs news coverage on Philadelphia’s four commercial television stations also decreased, but there was not a significant amount of coverage for either period measured.

In The Inquirer, both the number of stories and the column inches devoted to public affairs coverage declined from August 2006 to August 2009. The latter, ironically, was a particularly newsy month in which the city’s budget crisis dominated the news.

  •         The number of public affairs stories dropped 17.4 percent, from 190 articles in August 2006 to 157 stories in August 2009.
  •         There were 682 fewer column inches of public affairs news in August 2009 - a 17.1 percent decline to 3,297 inches in August 2009, from 3,979 inches in August 2006. (A full column of news, without advertising, in The Inquirer is 19 inches long and there are five columns to a standard page.)
  •         This meant there were nearly 36 fewer columns of public affairs news for the entire month of August 2009 than in the earlier period. This is equivalent to a decline of seven full pages plus one additional column of news for the month.

For the Daily News:

  •         The number of stories declined 7.2 percent, from 83 to 77 stories from August 2006 to August 2009.
  •         Ironically, the amount of news space given to public affairs journalism increased by 5 percent, or an additional 63 column inches in August 2009 over August 2006. (This is because more than one-third of these stories were opinion columns and most columnists write to a prescribed length - about 600 words, or 17 to 18 inches, which is longer than many news articles in the Daily News. Of 83 public affairs stories published in the 2006 period, 28, or 33 percent, were by columnists; for the 2009 period, 29, or 37 percent of the 77 stories, were columns or editorial pieces.)
  •         This means there were six additional columns of public affairs news in the Daily News for August 2009, equivalent to one additional full page plus one additional column for the month. (A Daily News column is 10.5 inches long, with five columns to a standard news page.)

For commercial TV newscasts, both the number of stories and the number of minutes devoted to public affairs stories declined on local Philadelphia television evening newscasts from 2006 to 2009. It’s hard to describe this decline as precipitous because there wasn’t a great deal of public affairs reporting to begin with.

  • J-Lab commissioned both time logs and story-subject logs for the nightly newscasts of WCAU (NBC 10), WPVI (ABC 6), WTXF (Fox 29) and KYW (CBS 3) for May 1-7, 2006 and May 1-7, 2009.
  •         From May 1 to 7, 2006, the four stations aired a total of 46 minutes, 30 seconds of public affairs stories about the broadcast market region during their nightly newscasts. For the same period in 2009 all four stations aired only 38 minutes, 58 seconds, a 16 percent drop.
  •         A larger discrepancy occurs for coverage aimed more specifically at Philadelphia and South Jersey. Of the 46.5 minutes devoted to public affairs coverage in May 2006, 32 minutes, or almost 69 percent, focused on local issues. For the same period in 2009, coverage of local issues dropped to 17 minutes, 22 seconds or only 44.5 percent, of the 38 minutes, 58 seconds aired.
  •         Of the approximately 1,000 minutes per week the four Philadelphia stations devoted to local news in 2006, the four stations spent only 32 minutes on local public affairs - about 3.2 percent of their overall news budget. In May 2009, the 17 minutes, 22 seconds of local public affairs stories aired represented about 1.7 percent of their overall news budget.

The City and Its Emerging Media Ecosystem

Several of our interviewees stressed that there is an Old Philadelphia and there is a New Philadelphia. The Old Philadelphia is made up of row houses, blue-collar workers, political patronage, sports fans and marked poverty. The New Philadelphia finds young do-it-your-selfers and start-up entrepreneurs, technically multilingual, converting pockets of the city into very cool places.

Any networked journalism collaboration would need to bridge both of those communities.

“The more we behave as a ballet pole for them, the more they dance.”

“Young entrepreneurs don’t want to work in the institutional settings - or they can’t. They feel they can do things that the establishment is not inclined to do.  They’re very savvy about that,” said a local expert in creative economies.

“The town is now flourishing in a way that is remarkable, but not noticeable,” he said. The trick is to create an environment that allows them some ownership and doesn’t impose agendas. “The more we behave as a ballet pole for them, the more they dance.”

For many of the new media makers and creative technologists who populate the New Philadelphia, this is the city they want to call home.

Pa2010.com, for instance, came about when founder Dan Hirschhorn’s other news organization went belly up.  He could have worked elsewhere, but decided to stay in Philadelphia and launch his own “nonpartisan news” site focused on this year’s elections. “My passion for journalism and my passion for Philadelphia are very much intertwined,” he said.

He has dreamed of a new independent website to provide news for Philadelphians. “I don’t think it would take that much to do that in Philadelphia but money and a bunch of good journalists with a passion for Philadelphia and I would hope to be a part of that.”

One thing Joey Sweeney strives for in his successful Philebrity.com is reconciling “the Starbuckyness of the New Philadelphia with the gritty weirdness of Old Philadelphia that we all grew up on.”  He dreams of soon hiring professional reporters and has also thought about launching an independent news website.

A few of the city’s new reporting initiatives have attracted grants, including funding from the William Penn Foundation, to support in-depth reporting on specific topics. Philadelphia Public School Notebook (thenotebook.org) has made important inroads in its coverage of local schools, and the award-winning PlanPhilly.com has earned respect for its reporting of planning and preservation issues. Like many of the city’s new online new sites, they offer niche information to specific communities of interest but would welcome bigger audiences for their information.

Wendy Warren, Philly.com vice president, sees young tech people and site founders “stalking around the city waiting for an organizing mission to bring them together.”

The fierce entrepreneurial spirit of many of the new media makers in the New Philadelphia is an important asset. Any attempt at collaboration would need to validate and support their sense of personal ownership.

“This is the next thing, don’t you think? Go for a larger audience and aggregation.”

But they all want to grow their audiences. “If you want to have influence, you have to have audience,” said Tom Ferrick. “This is the next thing, don’t you think? Go for a larger audience and aggregation.”

Currently, while the newspapers are cutting back, WHYY public television and radio is trying to increase its local news coverage with a $1.2 million initiative. It is moving forward with reallocated funds and a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which currently has a keen interest in enhancing the local journalism efforts of public media. WHYY plans to beef up reporting and train citizen journalists in eight Zip codes in Northwest Philadelphia.
 

Mapping Philadelphia’s Media Assets

In examining possibilities for enhanced coverage of public affairs in Philadelphia, we took note of many media assets currently providing news and information. We believe their content would inform and enlighten local residents – if readers could easily find it. It would also benefit the media makers if their content had wider audiences.

Of significance, we note that, collectively, there are at least 100 reporters producing stories on the various independent news sites and blogs that we tracked.  Here’s what we found.
 

Asset I: Blogs and niche websites

We have found at least 260 active blogs and public policy or niche websites. Of these about 60 have some journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it.

Philadelphia is awash in new media makers.  We have found at least 260 active blogs and public policy or niche websites. Of these about 60 have some journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it. This is more than San Diego or Minneapolis had prior to the launch of independent metro news sites in those cities - although it is about the same number that Chicago has.

Some of the newest initiatives, such as Tom Ferrick’s Metropolis, are started by professional journalists who have left their news organizations. Older online initiatives are maturing into new phases, hiring commissioned ad sales people, or launching affiliated niche sites.

One newcomer has made a quick impact. TechnicallyPhilly.com was founded in the spring of 2009 by three Temple grads. Since then, it has achieved a notable level of recognition for its coverage of the city’s technology community. And it is moving forward to hire an ad salesperson, who will work on commission.

“They break the news that needs to be broken,” says one tech entrepreneur, who points to TechnicallyPhilly as a key example of what can happen in the city. “They remain timely, relevant and interesting” in part, he says because “they are there when the story breaks because they would be anyway.”

The Notebook and PlanPhilly, together with other sites that receive funding from the William Penn Foundation, field some 16 journalists providing in-depth coverage of their specialty areas.

Of the Philadelphia news sites that are receiving grants, Public School Notebook is already comfortably collaborating with the city’s mainstream media, says founder Paul Socolar. He has been moving his efforts from a monthly newsletter to a regularly updated blog and focusing on developing new revenue sources. PlanPhilly.com is now doing most of the city’s available reporting on planning, zoning and historic preservation. The Notebook and PlanPhilly, together with other sites that receive funding from the William Penn Foundation, field some 16 journalists providing in-depth coverage of their specialty areas.

Several of the city’s newsy online sites are more hobby than business. SEPTA Watch focuses on mass transit’s customers and riders and was registering about 11,000 page views a month. The Inquirer occasionally picks up stories from the site. Founder Michael Froelich sees a subset of public policy blogs that might be open to a loose confederation, as long as it was structured in a way that preserved independence and credibility.

Dan Rottenberg, founder of the arts site BroadStreetReview.com, said he sees opportunities to grow and he is benefiting from professional reviewers who are writing for his site now that The Inquirer is no longer reviewing Broadway shows.

The disappearance of at least two valuable online sites has been acutely felt in Philadelphia’s online community - an indicator that good sites are noticed and appreciated. Phillyblog, a robust discussion and reporting site, abruptly went dark in July 2009. Hallwatch, which gathered important city data, also disappeared soon after its founder got married.

Any Networked Journalism collaboration must respect the fierce independence of these startups while validating their strengths and shoring up their weakness with a business support system, which could include business plans, legal help, tech support, even employee benefits.

While this executive summary cannot go into the merits of every site, we are impressed with the energy even as we understand the challenges. In Philadelphia’s online news community, interest in collaborating in a Networked Journalism consortium runs the spectrum: There is guarded interest among the more successful sites and welcoming interest among smaller sites that want help. And a few prefer to go it alone rather than join a collaboration.

J-Lab has observed that the most successful hyperlocal sites around the country are not creations of mainstream news organizations. Rather they are products of the passion, ownership and entrepreneurship of their founders, be they hobbies or businesses.

Any Networked Journalism collaboration must respect the fierce independence of these startups while validating their strengths and shoring up their weakness with a business support system, which could include business plans, legal help, tech support, even employee benefits.

 

Asset II: WHYY

Although WHYY is mostly known for its syndicated radio talk shows, it recently has been trying to ramp up efforts to do original reporting with both professional and citizen journalists. We believe WHYY should be regarded as a media asset. A Networked Journalism collaborative can give a megaphone to and get story tips from the kinds of hyperlocal citizen media initiatives WHYY is seeking to nurture. These small-j journalism venues can be the listening posts for tips and insights that will help jumpstart Big-J reporting on the ramifications of public decision-making.

We also believe a Networked Journalism project could amplify through links and/or content sharing both WHYY’s arts and culture and its environmental stories. On the environmental front, WHYY is involved in a regional initiative to cover the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds with other public broadcasters along these waterways.  We believe WHYY could tap network partners to appear as reporters or commentators on a nightly newscast planned for launch by the end of 2010.

A collaboration between WHYY and a networked collaborative could also open pilot project opportunities that could be attractive to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. 
 

Asset III: Data Gathers

Philadelphia has at least two valuable data gatherers:

Both would benefit from collaborating with a Networked Journalism site that would give their information a bigger megaphone and, in the case of MPIP, do more journalism on their numbers. Both would also benefit from collaboration with technologists who could improve visualizations and develop interactions and exercises to allow people to engage with their information. We encourage pursuing these possibilities.


Asset IV: Creative Technologists

Philadelphia has a robust creative class of designers, architects, performers, artists, chefs, and others. However, we particularly think there are exciting possibilities for involving the city’s creative technology community of computer programmers, designers and inventors in a journalism collaborative. And we think the University of the Arts could be a key player.

We think an annual Pitch-It competition should award top prizes to best ideas coming out of the creative technology community. The prize would fund prototypes to be built and tested on the Net-J main site and/or partner sites.

The city’s technologists are already creating things that don’t quite have a home. Things like Rip-it, a DVD backup archive. Or iSEPTA, a mobile application that helps mass transit riders find ways to get from Place A to Place B.

Such utilities can have enormous applications for journalism and we believe they should be deliberately incentivized as part of a Networked Journalism project. Moreover, the project should serve as a futures lab to test them out. We think an annual Pitch-It competition should award top prizes to best ideas coming out of the creative technology community. The prize would fund prototypes to be built and tested on the Net-J main site and/or partner sites.

New data mining, geomapping or mobile tools and other entry points to information would give a journalism collaborative the coolness and buzz that will not only supply momentum in the overall community but will especially hook the 20- and 30-somethings into civic life in new ways. A site that only appeals to the 50-somethings in Philadelphia won’t go far.

 

Asset V: Indy Hall

IndyHall is considered to be more than just a place; it’s regarded as a “movement.”

Philadelphia is uniquely endowed with Indy Hall, a networking and co-working space that has already tripled in size due to demand, growing from 1,800 to 5,400 square feet last spring.

IndyHall is considered to be more than just a place; it’s regarded as a “movement.” IndyHall co-founder Alex Hillman is credited with being a “super connector” and a major information hub.  He is a big believer in what he calls “small pieces loosely joined.”

“We have established a set of core values: community, collaboration, accessibility and sustainability,” Hillman said. “We’ve been picky who we align with to further establish those values.”  He has many lessons to share on collaboration.

Hillman himself is involved in a Web enterprise that is a case study in how to build a flourishing niche website by building the community first so that the financial support comes later. Two Guys on Beer has grown, virally, from podcasts on beer reviews to a highly visible partnership with Philly.com. It has grown a community in which brew masters from around the world seek their reviews and want to sponsor their events.

“I want to give our fans the tools to market for us. Give them the story worth telling over and over again. Not just link to us,” he said.

A Networked Journalism collaborative should pay attention to how he grew his passion.

Hillman recommends that in any Networked Journalism collaborative, a distribution of resources needs to be “an enabling body, not a crutch.”  It should be clearly defined as an experimental lab approach and the people who are participating need to understand that “the longevity of involvement need not be permanent.”  He notes, “We rarely do anything that can’t be undone.”

 

Asset VI: Temple University's Journalism Program

A part of the journalism schools curriculum involves about 80 student reporters working for Philadelphia
Neighborhoods.com, which fields students to cover city neighborhoods.

Philadelphia is blessed with a journalism school that “gets” it. It understands what it should be teaching and how it should be preparing students to participate in the emerging new media ecosystem.

A part of the journalism schools curriculum involves about 80 student reporters working for PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com, which fields students to cover city neighborhoods.Temple brings to the table budding entrepreneurs. In addition to the TechnicallyPhilly team, Temple grad Shannon McDonald has launched the NEast site for Northeast Philadelphia and a few other non-news sites have launched.  And the school is seeking funding to help jumpstart other entrepreneurs.  Students are urged to think “how to monetize this stuff,” said Andy Mendelson, chair of the Department of Journalism.

Temple has been hosting workshops on the future of journalism and it has launched the Temple Journalism Review, which could play a role in keeping the city’s new media makers honest.

 

Full Recommendation: A Networked Journalism Collaborative

Eight important media makers circled back to J-Lab to say they wanted to participate in a collaborative journalism project in Philadelphia.

Forty-five people attended the Jan. 7, 2010, brainstorming summit, including many who had participated in our interviews. They heard the key findings and early recommendations and weighed in with additional suggestions. In follow-up surveys and interviews later that month, eight important media makers circled back to J-Lab to say they wanted to participate in a collaborative journalism project in Philadelphia.

At least four others embraced the idea, although not all are regularly generating news content. That represented 50 percent of the possible partner organizations that attended the meeting (not including funders). Importantly, they are a desirable 50 percent, generating the sorts of news and information that could aggregate citizens of the region around the public issues at the core of the William Penn Foundation’s mission.

Nearly all of those who said they were “in” wanted to move forward quickly.  At least one proposed that the collaborative have co-working space.

There was some discussion both at the January brainstorming meeting and in follow-up feedback about the merits of anchoring a collaboration with a central public affairs website that would also produce some original reporting versus just the “process” of collaborating without it being reflected in any “product.”

Several participants paid homage to the idea of aggregating good content from the city’s various media makers, but they could not address, when asked, where those aggregated links might appear if not on a website that was trawling for and curating the good stories.

J-lab is very encouraged by this baseline level of interest and recommends all parties move forward with pursuing the creation of an independent public affairs initiative.  We suggest that this be a collaborative enterprise and we recommend that it be anchored by a central website tasked with helping the new venture create a brand, achieve momentum and attract notice.

We see two scopes of work: One for the central website and one for affiliated partners.
 

Tasks for a Central Website

We see a series of specific tasks for a new central website that, in addition to generating stories, would also need to attend to managing any collaboration.  Some of these tasks include:

  •     Generating original stories - news and information on six to eight key issues or “beats” that need additional coverage.
  •     Also providing a place where city officials, agencies, NGO’s and others can share their information with the public.
  •     Curating the best content from individual media makers in an efficient way that pulls quality from some uneven efforts.
  •     Serving as connector for existing information silos so that citizens of the region can more easily learn about and navigate the kinds of news and information that might not be in their immediate interest zones.
  •     Serving as a connector in the community by aggregating special-interest audiences, not just content, and amplifying to more citizens the responsible news and information coming from the region’s existing media makers.
  •     Building a sense of community, and of the region, by advocating for the good of the region, something that can be out of the comfort zones of traditional news organizations, and which individual media makers might not consider part of their mission.
  •     Engage in ambassadorial work - with nonprofits, city agencies, other audiences -to elicit needs and pique interest.
  •     Collecting input for developing Web wireframe.
  •     Supporting and serving as a laboratory for news tools developed by the city’s robust creative technologists.
  •     Marketing the existence of the region’s news and information providers and other assets.
  •     Supporting partners in the region’s media ecosystem with a back-end support network.
  •     Administering possible licensed content deals with national media outlets and apportion revenues to participating content contributors.
  •     Organizing events or community discussions around important public issues, as needed.
  •     Cataloguing the region’s organizations, civic groups and websites.


Tasks for Networked Journalism Collaborators

We believe the participants in any news collaborative will ultimately need to determine what works and what does not work for them. But we think there are multiple merits in sharing assets, content and photos, in crowdsourcing knowledge and tips, in engaging in collaborative investigations and enterprise stories, and in participating in the development of forward-thinking Web and mobile applications. Partners could:

  •     Draft partnership agreements, ethical standards, mission statements for the collaborative.
  •     Engage in collaborative enterprise stories and investigations, calling out to their audiences for crowdsourced input on how city policies and legislative decisions are affecting people on the street.
  •     Administer an Enterprise Reporting Fund that would make awards to network-partner sites to enable them to hire a reporter temporarily and quickly pursue and “turn” important stories as they see them. This would add further glue and stimulate an important knowledge network, tying together the consortium by helping members know about and possibly contribute to their partners’ reporting.
  •     Propose and serve as test sites for news applications that would be built by the city’s creative technologists.
  •     Raise the profile of their best stories by contributing them to a national partner such as the New York Times or another national news outlet. This could generate licensing income, validate the partners’ efforts and provide enhanced branding opportunities.
  •     Engage in revenue-raising events, inviting Philadelphians interested in, say, education, planning or entrepreneurship to attend specific events.
  •     Share back-office support systems that could supply such things as business plan assistance, marketing help, payroll processing, employee benefit pools, fiscal agent status for startups not yet ready to spin to a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity, and an advertising sales staff.
  •     Explore and realize possibilities for a localized ad network.


Baselines for Success

It should be fun, informative and cool.  It may have a voice but should avoid being snarky.

A Networked Journalism initiative must meet some baselines to be successful:

  •     It must adhere to journalistic values of fairness, accuracy, and truth telling.
  •     It must have a comfort level being deeply connected to the community - caring about it without being boosterish. A cool, dispassionate objectivity will not work in the new ecosystem, or give the collaboration enough sizzle.
  •     It must be transparent about it supporters, advisors, and partners.
  •     It must have a bootstrapping, entrepreneurial mindset, willing to experiment and take risks - with the understanding that any deal can be undone if it’s not working.
  •     It must rethink the kinds of journalism the community needs. One challenge would be to recruit an editor who understands this and is willing to experiment with new forms of storytelling.
  •     It should be fun, informative and cool.  It may have a voice but should avoid being snarky.


Additional Recommendations

We recommend planning for at least three to five years of philanthropic support for this project, to allow for reputation to be established, buzz to build and revenue streams to be created.

Reader Involvement: It is recommended that the core site use crowdsourcing and reader tips to help inform coverage and jumpstart enterprise stories. It is recommended that all reader comments be moderated to ensure a civil, safe place for community dialogue.

Do Not Covers: It is not recommended that this site attempt original sports coverage, movie or restaurant reviews, an entertainment guide, coverage of parades or community events, or coverage of local companies and business, except as they impact living in Philadelphia.  It is recommended that good content on these topics be curated from other sites in the city as well as the city’s dailies and the Philadelphia Business Journal and audiences be directed to those content generators for stories.

Advisory Board: It is recommended that the initiative have an Advisory Board to help guide opportunities, open doors, and relay news tips.

We anticipate guerrilla-marketing ideas. We do not envision Class A office space or swanky quarters.

Mindset: We do not think this project should launch as a Cadillac project because it would set too high a bar for sustainability. It needs to start with an entrepreneurial, bootstrapping mindset. We anticipate guerrilla-marketing ideas. We do not envision Class A office space or swanky quarters.  We do envision some pro-bono services.

Structure:  We think the project should launch under the auspices of fiscal agent, to be identified. However, we think it should move to become either a 501(c)3 or L3C, which might enable it to straddle nonprofit and for-profit status.

Sustainability: We recommend planning for at least three to five years of philanthropic support for this project, to allow for reputation to be established, buzz to build and revenue streams to be created. We would hope that there are opportunities for philanthropic collaborations among funders as well as content collaborations for this project.

Revenue Sources:  We can see possibilities of revenues from a number of sources, but we generally find all business plans for these sites to be overly rosy at the start.  We recommend a slow build.

Future: We believe in future years a statewide Investigative News Network should be established. We also recommend following the Chicago Community Trust’s model of issuing an RFP and supporting small news projects that are getting off the ground that could be future satellite collaborators.


Conclusion

We have used the term “Networked Journalism Collaborative” as a generic descriptor only. While we have laid out a framework of recommendations, we have not delineated all of our specific ideas because we believe it is critical for the participants of any new collaboration to spearhead development of the project. They must be charged with building it, and re-building it, as they invent how it will ultimately work.  We will continue to lend our support.

Bottom line: We believe the focus of any new public affairs initiative has to be what is best for the citizens of Philadelphia - not what is best for any commercial news organizations or individual Web start-ups. While collaborative processes, alone, might be good for individual news sites, they don’t do much to build a collective audience for public affairs news and information.

While many foundations, including William Penn, were once hesitant to create competition for mainstream news outlets, they are now moving forward because of concerns about the need for high-quality information for civic and public dialogue and debate.

Philadelphians are not getting all the public affairs news and information that they once did. There is a robust media ecosystem that has emerged in the city.  There is a talented and organized community of creative technologists.  People in the community feel that the city’s traditional media outlets are failing to cover some important issues or covering them in a haphazard manner with undependable follow up. 

At the same time, there is interest among enough media makers doing journalism to partner with a new public affairs initiative. They see potential in creating something bigger out of “small pieces loosely joined.” While many foundations, including William Penn, were once hesitant to create competition for mainstream news outlets, they are now moving forward because of concerns about the need for high-quality information for civic and public dialogue and debate.

What can be created in Philadelphia is something very different from a newspaper or television station doing “journalism.”  What needs to be created is an initiative that will engage in new paradigms for the future of news in communities.  It is what one Columbia University doctoral student has labeled “news work.”

News work is more than reporting and publishing stories. It involves curation, aggregation, data-gathering and visualizations, interactive opportunities for the public - and a mission that doesn’t just cover community, but helps to build it as well.

We feel confident that Philadelphia’s media makers can build something that will not only be transformational for the community, but for the future of journalism as well. We firmly believe plentiful building blocks are in place. And we believe there is sufficient interest to start.

We also believe this will happen because it makes sense.

 

Acknowledgments

This report was prepared under the direction of Jan Schaffer, who wrote it and did most of the interviewing.

Supplemental reporting by Sean Scully.

Content Analyses of Newspapers/TV Stations by Tom Regan.

Keyword Analysis by Virginia Roach.

Blogs and website Analysis by Ilana Kalmbach, Trace Dominguez and Anna Tauzin.

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New Entrepreneurs: New Perspectives on News

Publication Date:

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J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs Initiative undertook this study to understand how women are interacting with news, participating in the news, creating the news and consuming the news. Funded by the McCormick Foundation, the study explored perspectives and behavior with regard to both new and traditional media.  Using focus groups and in-depth interviews among women news consumers and news creators, the research lends important insights into the impact the changing media landscape is having on how journalism is being practiced and how it is being consumed.

The study included four focus groups, three among women news consumers and one among women news creators (primarily traditional news creators, but with some who are creating in new media) and 11 in-depth interviews among new-media news creators who are founders and editors of online news sites serving geographic areas. The research was done between April and July of 2009.

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New Media Makers Toolkit

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This is a book about people, not technology. Sure, there’s a lot of technology in the pages to follow, but if you boil it all down to its core, its essence, you’ll find people trying to extend a noble and grounded craft into a new and unpredictable landscape. And it’s the people who matter, not the latest software or Web site.
If the people in this equation learn how make technology work for them, the rest is just details.

As journalists, we need to change our practices to adapt, but not our values. We’re like sailors in the English proverb I chose for the title to this introduction: No amount of wishing for a return to smooth seas will calm the water around us.

To carry the sailing metaphor even further: It’s time to tack. It’s time to turn the bow of our ship and make the wind in this new sea work for us, not against us.
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